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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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As a scholar in a literature department, I end up doing some very odd things. Among these is the development of various pieces of software for the typesetting and production of scholarly articles. I'm also going to be co-supervising some computer science MSc places. This digital inflection then leads me to wonder whether what I do should be termed "digital humanities". Does it matter?

On the one hand, I write very conventional scholarly articles on contemporary literature. I have not, to date, used text mining techniques, computational analysis or any other distant reading methodologies. On the other, I advocate for a philosophical programme of pragmatic intervention into the ills of the academy, which is a conjunction of critical analysis of the university (and particularly its publising mechanisms) and the development of strategies both technological and social that address these problems as I perceive them. I guess the question here is not whether some of what I do is distinctly in the realm of the digital -- I think that working with XSLT, Python, regular expressions, PHP and the *nix command line probably put me in that camp -- but whether I do the digital and the humanities, rather than a conjunction of the two.

Interestingly, however, although much of this digital activism is taking place from the sciences side (such as the OAButton project, to which I contributed code over the weekend), there is also a history of this type of critique of the university from the humanities side and particularly from within English departments. Bill Readings, who wrote The University In Ruins was Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the Université de Montréal. Stefan Collini, author of What are Universities For?, is Professor of English Literature and Intellectual History at the University of Cambridge. Samuel Weber, author of Institution and Interpretation is the Avalon Foundation Professor of Humanities at Northwestern University.

While the history of technological utopianism teaches me to be cautious about proposing technology as a saviour, there is, given this lineage, a good case for saying that critique of the university (certainly in book form) is often undertaken from within humanities departments. From there it is only one step to integrate a digital activism and brand my activities as "digital humanities". Do I want to, though?

Digital Humanities is a segregated discipline at present (if it even represents a discipline, or sub-discipline and not just a loose terminological amalgamation). Its practices do not often find credence in the traditionally prestigious journals (too few people within the disciplines are able to interpret the methods, techniques and conclusions) and so it finds itself isolated. I think this is a great shame, but it does make me wonder whether I should put myself under this rubric, or just do good things(TM) and let others work out how it should be termed...