Expanding Debates in the Digital Humanities

Jen Howard has a review in the Times Literary Supplement on Matthew Gold’s edited volume, Debates in the Digital Humanities. Gold is an assistant professor of English at New York City College of Technology, an advisor to the Provost for Master’s Programs and Digital Initiatives at the CUNY Graduate Center, and is the director of the CUNY Academic Commons.  Earlier this year, I posted some of my reflections on the book in a post entitled, A Boundless Domain of Culture.

The arrival of the volume in the UK (and the upcoming launch of its online platform) comes on the heels of extensive coverage in North America and raises some important questions concerning the current monolingual nature of such debates (at least in print) and the dilemmas of digital humanists whose geographical and digital presence on the hub and spoke system of the map above continues to be dependent upon economic and political factors. It is, in fact, not such a boundless domain of culture after all.

This Global Internet Map, by Telegeography, illustrates the Internet’s highest capacity routes and its global hub cities. We could easily compare this map to centerNet’s map of their international network of digital humanities centers and see a general convergence of the two. Yet,  Telegeography’s assessment of future functionality of the Internet, a prerequisite for the growth and diffusion of the digital humanities as a scholarly practice,  signals future challenges to scholarship not just for the digital humanities, but to all  scholars working in the digital age.

“For the Internet to function, the world’s internet service providers and content distributors must interconnect their networks. While some providers freely exchange traffic between themselves, a practice called “peering,” most providers must purchase upstream “transit.” In a transit agreement, the customer network pays to have its traffic carried by the transit provider to the rest of the Internet. Transit prices are cheapest in cities where major IP backbone operators have presence and competition is strong. As such, the price of a transit port can serve as a proxy for how close a city is to the economic “center” of the Internet. The cheaper the transit, the closer the city is to the Internet core.”

The essays in Gold’s volume touch on debates among those who inhabit cities proximate to that “Internet core.” Lisa Spiro, director of the US National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education Labs, indicates in her essay that the digital humanities converge around something called “Internet values.” These may include collaboration, the open sharing of information, and experimentation, but I would argue that they also should extend beyond what Howard Rheingold has dubbed netsmarts  to questions of digital hegemony that are raised  by the Internet’s physical infrastructure, explored recently in a book by Andrew Blum. Expanding these debates in the digital humanities to reimagine our notions about culture, knowledge, or communication could be, in the words of Andrew Prescott, the challenge of making the digital human.

Cross posted at HASTAC and at Digital Histories.