Throughout my tenure as a Digital Fellow, I have struggled to relate the projects I’ve been working on and the tools and skills I have been learning to my philosophical pursuits. This has always bothered me. Why haven’t I been able to see the philosophical import in Digital Humanities projects? The projects developed within the Digital Humanities are often built upon the same objects of inquiry that philosophical theories grapple with: knowledge, identity, communication, language, logic, etc. Scholarly research in the Digital Humanities employs the same rigorous dedication to methodology that philosophical research does. But those who are doing the most research and taking on the majority of projects in the Digital Humanities are not philosophers. In fact, there is a notable absence of philosophers in the Digital Humanities, and a significant underrepresentation of the Digital Humanities in Philosophy. So…
Fortunately, I’m not the only philosopher concerned about this: after attending THATCamp Pedagogy in 2011, Peter Bradley wrote an article for the Chronicle that called attention to fact that there are very few philosophers involved in the Digital Humanities. Lisa Spiro has also written about the lack of philosophical interest in Digital Humanities work. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much more public concern over this, and any progress on incorporating Philosophy into the Digital Humanities has been very slow going.
Perhaps this is because the Digital Humanities discipline is relatively new and has yet to find its philosophical niche. Or perhaps, as Sandra Lapointe notes, the tepid reception in Philosophy has more to do with the fact that philosophers are not concerned with quantitative methods of analysis and data mining. Spiro has pointed to the numerous ways in which the Digital Humanities can benefit philosophical inquiry and pedagogy (spatial mapping, network analysis, data visualization, etc.), but many of these suggestions have a quantitative character that won’t immediately strike philosophers as compelling points of departure for research.
So, how do we get philosophers interested in the Digital Humanities? Where do these two disciplines meet? I’ve thought of a few potential paths of inquiry:
What counts as scholarly communication? The popularity of social media has enabled scholarly communication to appear in a variety of formats: tweets, videos, blog posts, wikis, emails, discussion boards, podcasts, etc. Should all of these formats count equally as legitimate forms of scholarly communication? Must scholarly communication fit a specific set of criteria?
What does it mean for something to count as digital scholarship? Does it mean that scholarship is presented in a digital format (such as an online journal), or does it mean something stronger – that digital scholarship is scholarship that cannot exist independently of a digital medium (like videos, visualizations, audio recordings, etc.)?
Oddly enough, with PhilPapers, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and the InPho Project, philosophy is actually ahead of many other humanities disciplines in having a robust digital presence that includes digital publication hubs and data repositories.
How can social media be used to encourage political movements? Can social media help us redefine public and private space? Is privacy/anonymity and publicity on the Internet the same thing as privacy/anonymity and publicity in the non-virtual world? Carol C. Gould touches upon some of these issues in her new book; this might (and hopefully will be!) a starting place for these kinds of inquiries.
How does communication through social media affect more traditional theories in the Philosophy of Language? Does a Retweet capture the original authors intention? How does Internet slang fit into language usage (Michelle Johnson has given me an excellent example regarding the usage of LOL in texting/tweeting/etc.: we aren’t actually laughing out loud, so are we being sincere?).
Lastly, should we be using Digital Humanities methodologies to quantify trends in Philosophy more broadly? Should the Digital Humanities quantify Philosophy?
What say you, philosophers?