Lisa Spirio, Matt Gold, Pre-Framing the Conversation of Digital Humanitites

Lisa Spirio’s article “This is Why We Fight” is a single piece from her collection of essays that question the validity, efficacy, and sustainability of the new(“ish”) field of Digital Humanities. Matt Gold writes an introduction for this collection, “The Digital Humanities Moment,” wherein he invites readers to accept the notion that “the academy is shifting in significant ways,” and that the field of Digital Humanities has powerful influence upon that system. How, you might ask, could such a new field of literary study affect the system in its entirety? Gold explains, “When a Digital Humanities scholar includes within her tenure dossier…code for a collaboratively built tool that enables other scholars to add descriptive metadata to digitalized manuscripts, key questions about the nature of scholarship are raised.” This is a valid argument. As Digital Humanities gain momentum and become inherently and consistently included in the culture of higher education and scholarship, we humans are going to be ever eager to give it parameters, definitions, and offer those who many not understand it clear insight into the field. Lisa Spirio is aware of the shift in the times and dares to address a potential solution to what Gold calls the DH’s “variety of ills- a lack of attention to the issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality; a preference for research-driven projects over pedagogical ones, an absence of political commitment; an inadequate level of diversity among its practitioners.” Spirio’s solution seems to be born out of a Business Economics course: first, create a unified statement of values that reflects the field of Digital Humanities. Then, use that communally-created set of values to act as the foundation of conversations moving forward. She is pre-framing the conversation, and in so doing she steps into a powerful role of mediator. I am reminded of the phenomenon that occurs when young children set out to play a make-believe game. There is always a set of rules each player agrees to before playing, typically at the command of an influential leader. Before they get the ball rolling on whatever imagined game they want to create, there is always a pre-game conversation. Spirio’s essay could be deemed that pre-game conversation. Spirio writes, “I propose that the digital humanities community develop a flexible statement of values.” She wants the entire community involved- so as to assure readers that this will not be an exclusive set of values created by close-minded scholars, but, rather, it will be one that works as “a living document that can help guide planning and decision making.” Spirio defines the three most important values she’d like to announce as the building blocks of this living document: openness, collaboration, and collegiality/connectedness. She invites input from peers and non Digital Humanities scholars, she acknowledges that a set of solid values will always be malleable should circumstances require change. Spirio, like Gold, touches upon the potential ways in which DH threatens the current academic system. “For the digital humanities, information is not a commodity to be controlled but a social good to be shared and reused.” This is the closest allusion to common-ism present in Spirio’s essay. She never directly mentions common-ism, perhaps intentionally. These values of collective, communal resources drastically oppose the current scholarly wheelhouse that values individual achievement and privileged access to information. Spirio notes “Digital Humanities values may clash with the norms of the academy.” She makes worthy observations about needing to create this set of values before the conversation goes any further, and she enacts the beginning of the conversation by proposing the aforementioned characteristics of openness, collaboration, and collegiality/connectedness. I’d encourage her to set up a platform for this to take place and also request she create a “by-when” for her action plan to be realized. She’ll likely need a board of directors and some type of organization to manifest her idea. Right now, it stands alone as a good idea in a good essay.

written by Shawna Marie Rodgers

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