What Happened to Digital Humanities?

Remember digital humanities? It's not gone, but it's not thriving. It is an academic field concerned with the application of computational tools and methods to traditional humanities disciplines such as literature, history, and philosophy.

Do you recall the slide that Steve Jobs often used to close a presentation?

JobsJobs said that "technology alone is not enough - it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yilds us the result that makes our heart sing."

In "The Digital-Humanities Bust"  Timothy Brennan, a professor of cultural studies, comparative literature, and English at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, says that "After a decade of investment and hype, what has the field accomplished? Not much."

"...the dream that algorithmic computation might reveal the secrets of complex social and cultural processes has suffered a very public and embarrassing results crisis. These setbacks have also led to some soul-searching in the university, prompting a closer look at the digital humanities. Roughly a decade’s worth of resources have now been thrown in their direction, including the founding of an Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities, unheard-of amounts of funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a parade of celebratory anthologies backed by crossover articles in high-profile magazines, and academic job openings in an era of tenure-track scarcity. So, with all their promise, and all this help, what exactly have the digital humanities accomplished?"

The rise of STEM and the attention and the grant money money that came with that rise made many humanities departments decide to embrace new tools. Okay, that is harsh. I was in one of those humanities departments and it was in a STEM university. But many of us really believe in using digital tools. Brennan even notes that a number of "digital techniques conform beautifully to some types of humanistic work."

Maybe the digital humanities haven't met the hype or the goals that were originally envisioned, maybe the goals were unrealistic, but they are not going away.