Critical Discourse in Digital Humanities

I recently read the article “Critical Discourse in Digital Humanities” by Fred Gibbs. The three main points he has made are :

1. “Digital humanists have not created an effective critical discourse around their work.”

2. “We need more theoretical and practical rubrics for evaluating digital humanities work.”

3. “Digital humanities work requires a different kind of peer review to produce effective criticism.”

  • Firstly, he explains how digital humanities is very different from the humanities, which leads to the need for different ways of evaluating work that humanists are unfamiliar with. A critical discourse has not been made for digital humanists to criticise each others’ work. The digital humanities community has been supportive, and slow to appear unwelcoming. Although Gibbs claims we do criticize our peer’s work, it’s a public opinion that is most useful, from those outside of the digital humanities. We need to explain what is good, and what is not good and why.
  • Secondly, Gibbs explains that a critical discourse needs to be concerned with both interpretation and evaluation. He doesn’t want to see an astounding visualisation that has no meaning behind it. He also explains how the ways that old critics criticised, are needed along with the ways of critics nowadays in this new critical discourse that we are seeking. Nowadays we judge something whether it is good or bad. Back then, things were criticised based on “knowledge, disinterestedness, love, insight, style.” Gibbs tells us we are better off to evaluate things according to Barbara Herrnstein Smith, by  integrity, boundaries, coherence, features, qualities, categories to which it belongs and properties that make it what it is. So, he outlines a few of his own categories that he believes should be the criteria for critical discourse:   Transparency – to see if we can really understand what’s happening. Resusability – is there an option to export this data so other digital humanists can apply it to their projects. Data – so that it’s visible to the world and not hidden, and can be tested. Design – the medium is the message, but the decisions behind it count also.
  • Lastly, he explains that digital projects need to be published publicly for it to receive the relevant scholarly discourse. Gibbs is saying that we need a whole broader audience to do the criticising because digital humanities is a broad subject that embodies interdisciplinary practices that can’t make it alright to use the same old models of critique. The most expressive critique is one that discusses the unique characteristics and style of the creator that is reflected from their work.

This was an interesting read as a student studying Digital Humanities, it showed me how I can effectively criticise my own work, and my peer’s work so we can improve it according to the criteria stated above.


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