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How to “introduce” the Digital Humanities

February 23rd, 2012

Steve Anderson

Ryan Cordell’s post, “DH, Interdisciplinarity, and Curricular Incursion,” has been receiving some traffic on Twitter lately among the digital humanities crowd, and for good reason. Cordell shared his experience of trying to introduce an “Intro to DH” course at a liberal arts college. The course was initially rejected, but more for language and approach than content.

What, after all, would be a DH introduction course? The term “digital humanities” is itself problematic, as I’ve written about recently. On the one hand, the amorphous qualities of DH point to inclusion, interdisciplinary collaboration, and real-world digital skills. On the other hand, however, lacking a solid foundation in a single discipline is a problem that can foster anxiety and confusion – what many DH’ers see as inclusiveness can also be seen as digital inside-baseball.

What I admire in Cordell’s post is his awareness of limits. Cordell surely appreciates the benefits of the digital humanities, but he also understands and appreciates the confusion and consternation surrounding DH. Cordell sees the need for an anchor, that DH must be rooted somewhere:

I use the term interdisciplinary with a strikethrough not to disavow the cross-field collaborations that underlie and energize digital humanities work, but to highlight the idea that interdisciplinary work, by definition, requires collaborators from distinct disciplines.

I plan on including that last phrase, “requires collaborators from distinct disciplines” in my definition of the digital humanities from this point forward.