Digital Humanities: An attempt to place itself in a new modernity

Dibyajyoti Ghosh, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India


Modernity is often reflected through pedagogy, which in turn is frequently shaped by capitalist forces. The nature of academic disciplines continues to change with time and notions of modernity. Inter-disciplinarity, or a shifting/ dissolution/ creation of disciplines reflect prevailing notions of modernity. It is in this background, that I plan to examine the rise of the digital humanities (henceforth referred to as DH), and the manner in which DH tries to place itself in a new form of modernity. Rather than looking at specific literary and cultural texts, I shall look at the nature of texts. The paper aims to show as to how DH has changed the way of thinking about texts and accessing texts. Rather than looking at a text as a linear narrative, DH opens up the possibility of visualising para-textual matter—matter not contained within the text itself but implied by it. In a way, DH also suggests a post-modern dissolution of the text itself—if the linear narrative is not more important than the para-textual matter, is the value of the text being undermined? This paper tries to conclude by connecting these implications of DH with the nature of how such suggestions of radicality justify the inclusion of DH as a marker of the ‘modern moment’ seeking to wilfully set itself against the past.

Modernity is often reflected through pedagogy, which in turn is frequently shaped by capitalist forces. The nature of academic disciplines continues to change with time and notions of modernity. It is in this background that I plan to examine how Digital Humanities (henceforth referred to as DH) tries to place itself in a new modernity. I shall divide my paper into three sections. The first section will be utilised in discussing the nature of academic funding for DH, the second in looking at how DH changes the notion of the text, and the final section in trying to analyse how DH interacts with the idea of modernity.

  1. The nature of academic funding for DH

It is an obvious truism that academics is governed by funding. DH is primarily reliant upon soft funding, that is, temporary, non-long-term, highly competitive funding, as opposed to hard funding which governs permanent teaching positions in Indian colleges and universities. Given that in 2015, the skills needed to practice DH are not usually acquired by students at either the school level or even at the undergraduate level, DH is a post-graduate subject of academic study. In India, the only full-time DH course is the one run by the School of Cultural Texts and Records at Jadavpur University, Kolkata. That course is a post-post graduate diploma course. The course is funded by a one-time grant from the currently discontinued UGC-Teaching and Research in Interdisciplinary Innovative and Emerging Areas scheme. Under the scheme, the course could only be a one-year post-post graduate diploma course. In other countries, DH is also taught at the Master’s level.

               Given the nature of soft funding for DH, DH projects tend to be short-term (that is, something which can produce demonstrable artefacts after a period of funding ranging from a few months to a maximum period of say 5 years). Also, given that DH projects are not very well-funded but at the same time require full-time professional service, DH practitioners tend to be either permanent teachers or post-postgraduates on an ad-hoc basis. The nature of soft funding for DH also ensures that DH is restricted most often to the nature of projects, something that is seen as a research activity, as opposed to a teaching activity, which as mentioned earlier, there is only one instance of it in India as of March 2015. Such research projects also have short-term goals, as a result of which once the period of funding ends, there is practically no scope to keep updating the project. The humanities research involved in most DH projects is a laborious task and has usually a longer period of validity as opposed to the technological aspects of DH projects. However, whenever the funds run out, the technological aspect of DH projects is no longer updated. Given the short-term validity of technology, most DH projects seem outdated technology-wise within say a period of 5 years since its completion. Thus, unless the data sets that underlie DH projects is made easily accessible to the public at large (such as the Folger Shakespeare XML-TEI texts), the data of most DH projects is not amenable to re-use.

This nature of research attributed to DH is often thought of as the reason why it alienates other humanities practitioners who are not keen of using DH methods. The fact that a large number of computer science graduates are also often leaders of DH projects and programmes makes DH an area where humanities graduates are often wary of treading. DH funding is also most often granted only to permanent teachers who are allowed to take on project staff. Thus, the nature of DH funding makes it a risk-laden career choice for the project staff. On the one hand, in India, such career experience is not considered for valid Academic Performance Indicator (API) scores, where digital output is not yet a valid form of research output. Moreover, collaborative research, involving much more than 5 or so research fellows, is not amenable to the division of API scores. On the other hand, DH ‘seems’ the practical long-shot risk in the face of dwindling academic funding for the humanities in general…Access Full Text of the Article

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