In the comments section below are my notes on a session titled “Manifestos, heresies, and revolutions” at THATCamp 2009. The session grew out of this blog post by Tom Scheinfeldt (a.k.a. @FoundHistory) and the comment thread that followed.
In part, this session is a response to “A Digital Humanities Manifesto.”
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Dan Cohen addresses the issue of demand: students (for example) come to campus with their own non-campus digital tools, so they’re not longing for new tools (digital humanities or otherwise). “I’d like to think of more ways in which we could … get the ‘street’ to pull more on this stuff so you can create the change. Just saying stuff (gestures to the manifesto up on the screen) isn’t going to do that.”
The language of revolution permeates conversations about the digital humanities. But is this really a revolution? Or are we just making claims that are grander than what we can legitimately demonstrate?
There are 2 fundamentally different kinds of revolutions that are being conflated (in the manifesto, for example):
1. Revolution in our methods, how our disciplines work.
2. Revolution in our profession, how we establish and sustain our social capital, our professional reputation. Collaboration, for one thing, is much more important to digital humanities.
David Parry: It isn’t a revolution if we just replace the tools for the old model with new tools for the same old model. “In the moment of creative destruction, you have the opportunity to fill that vacuum” with something radically new.
To what extent does revolution happen in response to a demand, and to what extent does revolution have to work to create that demand?
The purpose of communication in a revolution is the opposite of memory… It’s to articulate something new that doesn’t yet exist.
What this particular manifesto proposes doesn’t seem all that new. Much of what it proposes already exists.
Dan Cohen: http://CapeTownDeclaration.org/ is an example of a succinct and direct statement: “to accelerate efforts to promote open resources, technology and teaching practices in education.”
Barbara Hui: Maybe a manifesto is not the genre for breaking down walls. This document coming out of an art historical manifesto tradition. cf. Futurist Manifesto. This is not a collaborative genre.
If the goal is collaboration, then why isn’t the Digital Humanities Manifesto a wiki?
…One concrete task that we could all sink our teeth into (it seems) like a pit bull: kill Blackboard!
…Textbooks: Dan Cohen quote Cliff Lynch (?) saying that 90% of the textbook market is 50 courses. So if we were to create high quality textbooks that met this demand, that would save billions of dollars.
(That’s the demand that Dan referred to earlier!)
If everybody wants to see textbooks like these created, then why aren’t more people creating them?
For one thing, there’s no professional capital in writing a textbook.
“If you’re going to create a new textbook, don’t use the model of the old textbook to do it.”
Allowing for voice, personality of the author.
Tom Scheinfeldt proposes lobbying NEH to support the creation of open-source, digital textbooks as collaborative projects.
See also the THATCamp wiki page for this session.