Survey: Is Creating an Online Journal a Digital Humanities Project?

I posed this question on social media last night as I was preparing for a series of talks on “What is the Digital Humanities.” In constructing these talks I’ve found Miriam Posner and Paige C Morgan’s blog posts on what digital humanists actually do very helpful. Miriam and Paige have listed projects such as online galleries/exhibitions, mapping projects, digital editions and online events as examples of digital humanities projects. But how large is this DH project tent? For example, would creating an online journal—completely traditional in scope and breadth, just born digital—count as a digital humanities project? Does the journal need to be about digital humanities in order for it to “count” as a digital humanities project?

Below are a range of answers I’ve gotten from different people. I’ve not catalogued everything, just what I’ve found to be most useful in answering this question.

1. You’re asking the wrong question.
Don’t call it DH, call it 21st Century Studies.

As Richard Grusin (@rgrusin) points out, calling it “digital humanities” overemphasizes the digital and underemphasizes the humanities part. We’re only talking about part of a whole shifting field. To be so obsessed with the digital might also lead us to neglect the more important aspect of DH to humanists—the “humanities” portion. So let’s emphasize the “h” by calling it 21st Century Studies.

2. No, not necessarily.
A DH Project has to be Technically Innovative.

If the journal or form of publication is not technically innovative, this will not count as a digital humanities project. Folks of this persuasion feel that as the barriers to entry for online publication (ranging from WordPress to Open Journal Systems) have gotten increasingly low, simply having some kind of online presence does not equate to digital humanities. In other words, having a blog does not qualify you to be a digital humanist. People who responded this way feel that a project that calls itself DH has to be technically innovative, or experimental, in some way.


3. Yes, if.
If it’s experimental.

An online journal that would count as a digital humanities project has to be experimental in some way, outside of simply delivery. This can in ways which are not technical, such as use, purpose etc.



4. What is Scholarship? 

Focus on the Scholarship, Not whether it is DH.

Folks of this persuasion ask, rather, is it important to have something termed “digital humanities”, or to make a contribution to scholarship? They answer that the latter is a more important question.




This seemingly easy question is particularly significant at a moment here the term “Digital Humanities” is becoming a strategic goal for many departments and institutions, bolstered by the belief that this is where the future (and funding of the humanities lies.)

What are your thoughts? Would an online journal count as a digital humanities project? Why or Why Not?

Survey: Is Creating an Online Journal a Digital Humanities Project?

6 Responses

  1. What Bethany said, combined with what Richard Grusin said. If you asked me whether a given project counts as “Marxist scholarship” or as “close reading,” I would have a way to answer the question. But I’m not sure it’s very meaningful to ask whether a given project is or isn’t DH; I’m not sure it’s a meaningful intellectual category.

    It’s true that DH is a social category over which a lot of fuss is currently being made. But in that sense I would compare it to a word like hipster. People definitely have opinions about that word! Some people probably aspire to be hipsters; others are strongly anti-hipster. But that doesn’t mean we can really decide whether so-and-so “is” or “isn’t” a hipster — or that it matters. “Hipster” isn’t a word with clear intellectual content; it’s more like a channel for a particular set of social energies and antipathies.

    Disciplinary labels may always have that character. When Pinker & Wiesenthal et. al. go on about “science” and “humanities” in The New Republic, it feels just as empty to me. These aren’t words we can actually do without, but I try not to lose any sleep over them.

    tedunderwood September 19, 2013 at 6:31 pm #
  2. Adeline, I tried to leave a comment here, and it was too long or too linky and it wouldn’t go. I posted here.

    Natalia Cecire September 20, 2013 at 1:04 am #
  3. Thanks for putting this together Adeline. In general, I think that this was/is an interesting conversation worth pursuing. I think that an online journal “counts” as DH, and my perspective is colored primarily by my work at Southern Spaces (, an online OA journal here at Emory.

    The responses in #2 and #3 seem to ignore the fact that, in many ways, simply publishing a “traditional” journal format online IS experimental/innovative because of the political statement that bucking the print/paywall expresses. Perhaps I am saying “yes, if it is open-access,” but isn’t changing paradigms and challenging traditional publishing models a major part of “DH?” And if so, why would this not “count?”

    Alan G Pike (@agilchristpike) September 20, 2013 at 8:42 am #
  4. I’m a fan of humongous tent digital humanities, especially because it helps make the work of DH accessible to undergraduate institutions, community colleges, non-traditional learners, and the public. There are many different levels of complexity in DH projects. But if the work is connected to the central question of the humanities (what is it to be human?) and uses digital tools in a critical and reflective way, then I would call it Digital Humanities.

    Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer) September 20, 2013 at 10:49 am #
    • I guess my answer to Adeline’s question, then, is: It’s Digital Humanities if the project or its makers think critically and reflectively about the relationship between the project’s digital-ness and its humanities-ness.

      Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer) September 20, 2013 at 10:55 am #
  5. I like Richard Grusin’s idea! Problem is, it would leave us with only one center for the activity in the entire world (as opposed to the dozens of digital humanities centers already in existence):

    And, well, no. Certainly, the creation of an online journal wouldn’t count — or, one presumes, any digital project at all. But we’d be “emphasizing the h!”

    On a less sarcastic note (and forgive me, but a statement like that is so obviously self-serving, it’s hard not to respond this way). By all means, let us study the twenty-first century. Let us also study the twentieth century, the nineteenth, the eighteenth, and the twelfth. What on earth is the problem here?

    Is creating an online journal a digital humanities project? I don’t know. Take it to a DH conference or some other similar forum and see how it goes. If people stand around saying “What does this have to do with DH?” then the answer is probably “no” (which is no different from what would happen at a Shakespeare conference, were someone to give a paper that — in the opinion of those in attendance — didn’t seem to have much to do with Shakespeare). They might think, “been there, done that” (which is, again, exactly what would happen if you got up at a conference on postcolonial studies and alleged that no one had yet pondered the ethical problems of investigating one culture from the standpoint of another). In the former case, your intervention might be powerful enough to make us want to change what “has to do with DH,” but you don’t get that result by repeatedly asking the question. If you find yourself in the latter situation, it means you haven’t read Spivak — or, indeed, made any effort to move within the community where such issues are discussed.

    The question, “Is x a digital humanities project?” is doomed the way all metaphysical questions are doomed. DH has absolutely no meaning outside of the specific contexts in which that term is employed. When I look over at the Center for 21st Century Studies, I see something that I (and I suspect hundreds of others) would *not* recognize as DH. That doesn’t mean it’s unimportant or misguided; it means that it’s *different.* Period. I hope it continues, and I hope it yields valuable insights for the larger scholarly community in which it exists, but it doesn’t become DH by saying that it is.

    DH may well be overemphasizing the digital at the expense of the humanities — that is something that the “DHers” at my institution talk about all the time. What we don’t talk about is (a) whether what we’re doing is DH or (b) whether we should be calling it something else. We write things, create things, and talk about things. We then take those things to conferences, speaker series, journal publishers, grant agencies, and symposia that have the term “digital humanities” somewhere in the title. They accept what we’re doing as “digital humanities.” That is it. That is all.

    This is why everyone is in a complete anesthetic torpor over questions like this. You’re basically asking, once again, “What is DH?” Why that question is felt to be profound (when questions like “What is 18th-century studies?” are not) is a great mystery to me.

    If an online journal *is* “DH,” people who “do DH” will come to it in order to contemplate it and discuss it — at which point they will not be asking *if* it is DH, but talking about whatever questions it provokes within the community that calls itself DH. At that point, you have your answer. If it mostly attracts people who do something else (eighteenth-century studies, say) you also have your answer.

    Either way, it seems to me that you are better off deciding which crowd you want to run with and running with that crowd. Maybe you can run with more than one crowd, but you can’t do one and hope that it counts as the other. It doesn’t. It *can’t.*

    Want to know whether “place studies” counts as “geography.” Go take the former to the community of the latter. Want to know whether creating websites counts as “computer science?” Attend an ACM conference and see how it goes. What you should *not* do, it seems to me, is abandon place studies or building websites because it fits within the discourse of some communities and not others. Maybe you would like place studies to be geography because that’s where the money is going, but that, in my opinion, is failing to be true to yourself and your own interests.

    Richard Grusin should do what he does and let me do what I do. He is, of course, free to critique what I do. It might even be legitimate for him to say that I *should* do what he does. But saying that what he does is actually what I do is nonsense, for the reasons I’ve outlined above.

    Stephen Ramsay September 21, 2013 at 12:04 pm #