ing New Knowledge Environments (INKE) and TAPoR and as scholars
work on subsequent projects they bring both technical skills and lessons
learned from legacy projects.
Collaborating makes sense when the work is this challenging. Besides having to learn their discipline’s fundamentals, DH scholars also
need to learn the basics of computing – the kind of knowledge that seems
unnaturally technical for humanities types. Many practitioners have
learned how to code in one or more programming languages, and even
those who don’t program are familiar with the syntax around coding.
Digital humanities also promotes collaboration within a single institution, and not just among academic disciplines. At Ryerson University,
the head of library information technology services, Fangmin Wang, got
involved in the Centre for Digital Humanities’ new children’s literature
project, which began as a collection of Excel sheets representing 2,300
books and will be moved to the university’s publishing platform and
eventually be made public.
“There’s a natural match between the Centre for Digital Humanities
and the library,” says Mr. Wang, who has degrees in computer science
and library information science. Librarians, he notes, contribute subject
expertise and project management skills, while absorbing DH principles
from practitioners. He is the sort of collaborator that DH scholars hope
will become even more prevalent.
If DH specialists are enthusiastic by nature, their enthusiasm has
been bolstered by the forward-thinking attitudes of Canada’s granting
council committees in support of digital humanities. Many scholars
name Chad Gaffield, a historian and digital humanities scholar who is
now president of SSHRC, for his leadership in making Canada a pioneer
and a powerhouse. The council’s early championing of digital humanities
helped shepherd the discipline to its current stature, says Dr. Siemens of
UVic. The principles that informed the council’s Image, Text, Sound, and
Technology research grant program in 2000, says Dr. Siemens, are now
being copied by the U.K. and the U.S.
Despite its almost mainstream reputation today, digital humanities
wasn’t always regarded in a benign way. “When I was at UVic and got a
modem in my office, it was seen as science invading,” recalls Dr. Gaffield.
“People interested in computers were seen as interlopers, not historians
as much as number crunchers – a dangerous revolutionary thing.”
While Dr. Gaffield says the quantitative versus qualitative opposition
has mostly faded away, occasional commentaries – like the 2012 series of
blog posts by Stanley Fish in the New York Times, the October 2012 article
“People interested in computers were
seen as interlopers, not historians as much
as number crunchers – a dangerous
by Canadian Stephen Marche in the L.A. Review of Books entitled “Lit-
erature is Not Data: Against Digital Humanities,” and even some of the
discussions at the Modern Languages Association conference in January
2013 about the “dark side” of DH – are reminders that tensions may al-
ways surround the field.
Suzanne Bowness is a freelance writer and recent English PhD from the University of Ottawa
who wrote her dissertation on 19th-century Canadian magazines.