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Stanley Fish is at it again: “Mind Your P’s and B’s”

January 23rd, 2012

Steve Anderson

In his latest blog post at the New York Times (he’s only recently admitted it’s a blog, by the way), Stanley Fish is attempting to cause a ruckus in the Digital Humanities community. It’s working, the ruckus that is, not his argument.

Once again he uses Milton to skewer the DH’ers into submission, in this case to shed light on the blasphemous ways of the quantitative. 

Fish states that the usual way of performing work in the humanities is to begin with a question that is informed by research. Good.

But in the digital humanities, “the direction is the reverse…first you run the numbers, and then you see if they prompt an interpretive hypothesis.” Not so good, and not what the digital humanities are all about.

Fish is arguing here against a purely computational process that relies blindly on quantitative analysis, and that’s okay. His argument isn’t so much about the digital humanities then, more so it concerns privileging quantitative analysis over a deep and personal qualitative reading. There is no real argument here.

The problem, one that DH’ers and Stanley Fish share alike, is solidly defining the Digital Humanities. There is no actual face to the Digital Humanities in general–there are too many aspects of the research being done, the tools being used in the classroom, and the social networking going on between faculty and students of widely dispersed disciplines and universities to give one easy definition. The fluidity, the amorphousness of the Digital Humanities appears to be the real burr under Fish’s saddle.

Fish’s latest article: “Mind Your P’s and B’s: The Digital Humanities and Interpretation