Digital Humanities as a Bridge over “Troubled” Waters: A Reflection

Because my work—the social consequences of classification—falls firmly in the humanities side of information studies, I was interested to see how it would fit in during my visit at the eHumanities Group (March 27 through April 3). As I listened to presentations and spoke with other researchers, I was quick to discover the commonalities underlying our work, whether computational, humanistic or both, as well as the different approaches to addressing similar concerns. This underscored for me the potential and importance of the digital humanities as a legitimate and impactful discipline.

During my visit, I participated in the CEDAR mini-Symposium; attended a Thursday afternoon colloquium, at which the featured speaker was Sarven Capadisli; and then gave my own talk on gender classification the following Thursday. The presentations were all valuable, but even more so were the interactions at coffee breaks, in hallways, or at breakout sessions. What struck me most was the optimism and problem-solving attitude in the computer scientists. Literary and critical theory, where I come from, tends to be just that: critical. We point out problems—we call it “troubling” a concept or issue—but do not necessarily solve them or even feel like it is in our capacity. It was admittedly refreshing to be approached with ideas for “fixing” or at least offering workarounds for the concerns I presented. The typical give and take of overcoming each other’s objections created a particularly fruitful and creative space because it provided interdisciplinarity of a wider scope. Overall, I gained an appreciation for the value of collaboration between seemingly incompatible areas of study and hope that my “troubling” of classification will help others take a critical eye and a humanistic view of their own work.