Distinction Staves Off Extinction

Of the several issues discussed throughout the texts for this week’s readings what stands out most prominently – to me, and, in effect, to this blog – is the issue(s) of distinction, and often the lack thereof. In addressing the question of “why English?,” Matthew Kirschenbaum’s systematic and explicit numbering of the reasons with D.H. and English are intrinsically tied to one another helps to focus the conversation on specific talking points which can be traced to specific moments in time and thought. First, the structure itself presents a STEM-related harkening to what constitutes “digital,” namely that an orderly manner to the presentation of “data” (in this case, the reasons) seems electronic in some unspoken fashion. Second, there seems to be a linear approach to the argument in structuring the response to the “why English?” question in such a way.

What I found fascinating was a personal issue with distinction in reading several “chapters” and “blogs” which contribute to the conversation about [the]* Digital Humanities. Continuously I found it difficult to distinguish between the two “mediums,” namely that the writing seemed to speak to the reader in the same way. This was not a question of indistinguishable voices or style(s) but rather the acknowledgment that save for the identification of “chapters” and “blog posts” respectively there does not seem to be a distinguishable difference between the two. Is it simply the means of publication which separate the two? The mere fact that the “chapters” may be part of another, “greater” collection should not impact the presentation of such readings considering that the means by which they were accessed (by me, the class) were the same. In such a digital space in which both “chapters” and “blogs” are presented side-by-side it seems detrimental to distinguish between the two. The former implies a sort of elevated status and trustworthy nature to the work, while the later distinction tends to implicate the writing as being different in a non-normative way.

Another fascinating distinction was brought about almost in passing as Susan Hockey makes explicit mention of Fr. Roberto Busa’s unwillingness to compromise on the quality of the work in creating an index to St. Thomas Aquinas’s work (words). This included an “elegant typeset,” one that just by its nature of being notable makes it important. It seems as though the hope of Digital Humanities and Digital History is to continue to work towards legitimization, and a foundational decision at the genesis of D.H. seems to set the standard of how the field should and could be identified and in what regards it is held. Furthermore, it reminded of Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech in which he makes note that the calligraphy classes he “dropped in on” as an undergraduate were directly influential to Apple’s fonts and typesets, distinguished features of the operating system.

Lastly, Sharon M. Leon’s work highlighting the disparity between recognition of women’s work in the field of Digital History and the actual work produced by women is a stark address to a foundational issue within the field itself. By pointing to the dangers of such a prevalent process and refusal to interrogate, Leon points out that “origin stories will solidify in a way that distorts the history of the field but also in ways that shape the field disadvantageously for women going forward.” Again, it is hyper important to make a distinction between recognizing work and recognizing women’s work, the latter often a primary or dominant informant of the former. Does the lack of women in citation practices run parallel to the issue of improper citation of digital resources and editions altogether?

*as Kathleen Fitzpatrick so poignantly explores the vary real struggle of “the” in relation to Digital Humanities

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