Introduction: Theory and the Virtues of Digital Humanities

I came to theory because I was hurting—
the pain within me was so intense I could not go on living.

—bell hooks, “Theory as Liberatory Practice”[1]


The silicon chip is a surface for writing.

—Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto”[2]


The debates around the role of “theory” in digital humanities are debates about the relationship between saying and doing. It therefore seems appropriately inappropriate to introduce a special section on digital humanities and theory with poetry, a kind of utterance in which language, it is still conceded, may do as well as say. Marianne Moore’s “In the Days of Prismatic Color” begins:

Not in the days of Adam and Eve but when Adam
   was alone; when there was no smoke and color was
fine, not with the fineness of
   early civilization art but by virtue
of its originality; with nothing to modify it but the

mist that went up, obliqueness was a varia-
   tion of the perpendicular, plain to see and
to account for...[3]

The poem describes a prelapsarian world of unified meaning, in which “obliqueness was a varia-/tion of the perpendicular.” Once upon a time, the story goes, word and referent had a more than arbitrary relation, and the words “let there be light” could indeed call light into being. But this originary state of efficacious language met with a Fall, called “modernity.” In the beginning was the Word, but in the early modern period the Word devolved into mere “words, words, words.”[4]

With modernity, language’s relation to reality changed, and therefore so did the status of evidence. Gradually resemblance, discourse, and logical argumentation ceded epistemological authority to a factual register established through experimentation, witnessing, and testimony.[5] This was the seventeenth-century turn to “the experimental life,” as the historians of science Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer termed it in their 1985 study Leviathan and the Air-Pump. Knowledge, once established through discursive proof, became a matter of the physical. We seem still to be in this modern moment. In the historical contest between the epistemologies exemplified by Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan and Robert Boyle’s experimental air-pump, it seems clear that Boyle and the air-pump “won,” for a facticity resting on phenomena witnessed and recorded now sets the public standard for what counts as knowledge.[6]

But of course, it is Hobbes whose work we humanists are more likely to study and teach. The humanities’ perpetually defensive position vis-à-vis what Yeats rather contemptuously called “the noisy set/ Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen” rests on this story of the modern Fall, for there is an archaic logic of resemblance that remains powerful and persuasive in humanistic inquiry, arguably underwriting its special ability to illuminate aesthetic questions. Indeed, if the humanities has ever seemed to triumph epistemologically, it was perhaps in the heady moment of “high theory” in the American university, when we learned “how to do things with words,” and stories of man’s first disobedience seemed to have been—ever so briefly—undone.[7] Not for nothing were the 1970s and 80s the age of the argument by allegory and by pun.[8] But “It is no longer that,” as Moore puts it, and indeed, for many digital humanists this conceptual sundering of saying and doing—“hack” and “yack”—is not a thing to be mourned, but rather a felix culpa.

I am proposing, then, that the question of theory is a question about the place of digital humanities in a set of disciplines that have continually wrestled with the status of the word in the production of knowledge.[9] The essays included in this special section are therefore embedded in a complex set of institutional histories that bear on these questions of epistemological authority: the rise of the American university system, the relative cultural authority of the humanities and sciences within that system, the history of humanities computing, the “information age” and the close yet complex relation between knowledge and capital that characterizes it, the relatively sudden institutionalization of academic digital humanities, and its concomitant popularization—what Bethany Nowviskie has (with caveats) termed the “eternal September of the digital humanities.”[10] These histories are complicated and—of course—political. Gestures that consolidate professional legitimacy also name those actors who are and are not to be regarded as legitimate, with consequences that propagate unevenly across race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, and institutional status.

Epistemologies of doing

What, then, are the options for a postlapsarian humanities? One is to make the case publicly that “we have never been modern,” insisting on the mutual constitution of saying and doing.[11] This has been a powerful refrain in literary and cultural theory, from Wittgensteinian language-games to Butlerian parody. By and large, however, digital humanities has taken another tack. Digital humanities does not so much contest the modern division between saying and doing as attempt to dilate the critical power of doing.[12] In its strongest version, digital humanities insists on an embodied, experiential, extradiscursive epistemology, what Jean Bauer, in her contribution to this special section, succinctly glosses as the assertion that “the database is the theory.” Historians of science often call such experiential knowledge “tacit knowledge,” but digital humanists generally call it “hacking.”[13]

The language of “hacking” pervades conversations around digital humanities, for instance, in Tad Suiter’s discussion of the term in his introduction to the crowdsourced volume Hacking the Academy. “Hackers,” Suiter writes, “are autodidacts. From the earliest hackers working at large research universities on the first networks to anyone who deserves the term today, a hacker is a person who looks at systemic knowledge structures and learns about them from making or doing.”[14] Stephen Ramsay—to some controversy—likewise promulgated an epistemology of doing in his remarks at the 2011 MLA panel on “The History and Future of Digital Humanities,” arguing that “if you aren’t building, you are not engaged in the ‘methodologization’ of the humanities, which, to me, is the hallmark of the discipline that was already decades old when I came to it.”[15] As Ramsay later elaborated, digital humanities is characterized by a “move from reading to making” that amounts to a fundamentally nondiscursive theoretical mode.[16]

For Ramsay, this epistemology of doing is necessarily a form of “tacit knowledge” that accounts for charges—like my own—that digital humanities is undertheorized. “At its most sneering,” he writes, “this is a charge of willful exogamy: we’re not quoting the usual people when we speak. But there’s frankly some truth to it.” Ramsay goes on to quote Geoffrey Rockwell’s argument that “[digital humanities] is undertheorized [in] the way any craft field that developed to share knowledge that can’t be adequately captured in discourse is. It is undertheorized the way carpentry or computer science are.” Happy fault—not only have signs lost the power to do, but doing has also lost its power to signify.

Epistemological claims are ethical claims

Suspending for a moment the question of whether this is necessarily the case—a question that Tom Scheinfeldt, Ryan Shaw, Trevor Owens, and Mark Sample take up in this volume—I wish to point out the ways in which these epistemological debates are implicitly ethical ones as well. We can already see the ethical dimensions of method in the rhetoric by which experimentalism came to be legitimated in the early modern period, as Shapin has detailed:

Experiments had really, and laboriously, to be done, not merely to be “thought.” [...] Rejecting traditional contempt for manual operations, the new gentleman-philosopher was not to think of himself as demeaned by mucking about with chemicals, furnaces, and pumps; rather, his willingness to make himself, as Boyle said, a mere “drudge” and “under-builder” in the search for god’s truth in nature was a sign of his nobility and Christian piety. The rhetoric that presented new scientists like Boyle as craftsmenlike practical doers has been immensely effective….[17]

Boyle’s experimentalism separated saying from doing, and made doing into a way to produce knowledge. In disarticulating saying from doing, the “experimental life” therefore reversed (but kept intact) the manual/mental hierarchy. This reversal was understood as an ethical good: the epistemology of doing was a repudiation of snobbery and an embrace of humility. Both rhetorics—of manual labor and of its ethical concomitants—are almost uncannily echoed in the disciplinary discussions around digital humanities today. In addition to the language of “hacking,” terms abound that attribute to digital humanities a particular version of “doing” associated with manual labor: “hands-on,” “getting your hands dirty,” “dirt” (as in the Digital Research Tools wiki), “digging” (as in the Digging into Data Challenge), “mining,” and of course “building.”[18]

Perhaps the cleanest expression of the way that epistemological and ethical ideas travel in tandem is Tom Scheinfeldt’s much-cited post on the “niceness” of digital humanities:

Digital humanities is nice because we’re often more concerned with method than we are with theory. Why should a focus on method make us nice? Because methodological debates are often more easily resolved than theoretical ones. Critics approaching an issue with sharply opposed theories may argue endlessly over evidence and interpretation. Practitioners facing a methodological problem may likewise argue over which tool or method to use. Yet at some point in most methodological debates one of two things happens: either one method or another wins out empirically or the practical needs of our projects require us simply to pick one and move on.[19]

I am less interested in evaluating the claim than in bringing into relief the way that Scheinfeldt explicitly predicates a social relation—niceness—on the distinction between saying and doing (here rendered as theory and method) and, in particular, on the elevation of the latter over the former.  Hacking is more than a method; it is an ethos.

Indeed, “niceness” is just one term in a whole set of ethical ground rules for digital humanities practices—what I have called, in my title, the “virtues” of digital humanities—which also include collaboration, humility, and openness.[20] Lisa Spiro has usefully codified some of these values, insisting simultaneously on their methodological and ethical valences, in her essay “ ‘This Is Why We Fight’”: openness (“on several levels”), collaboration (“guided by a new ethos”), collegiality, diversity, and (harking back to Boyle) experimentation.[21]

Ethical claims are normative claims

It would be impossible, I think, to deny the salutary effects that this disciplinary epistemology-ethos has had on the wider profession; Korey Jackson seemed to speak for many when, shortly after the 2012 convention, he wrote that digital humanities was “how MLA found its heart.”[22] I am personally persuaded that digital humanists are almost universally committed to the ethical values that are emergent from the epistemology of doing—niceness, openness, and all the rest. And yet this ethos plays out in uneven ways, often with unintended consequences. Nowviskie’s post on “eternal September” pointedly speaks to the ways in which compulsory niceness to n00bs can lead to burn-out on the part of experienced digital humanists, and as Miriam Posner has more recently pointed out, “[s]ome people can easily afford to be nice; for others, the cost is higher.”[23] It is easier to be “nice” when one is not routinely met with casual racism, for example, and the costs of niceness—and of refusing to be nice—are distributed unevenly across race, gender, class, academic status and rank, and other social factors.

Who can afford to be a “hacker” or a “builder,” with the concomitant ethos of collaboration and niceness? In discussing Boyle’s self-presentation as an “under-builder” and “drudge,” Shapin and Schaffer observe that “it is absolutely crucial to remember who it was that was portraying himself as a mere ‘under-builder.’ Boyle was the son of the Earl of Cork, and everyone knew that very well. Thus, it was plausible that such modesty could have a noble aspect, and Boyle’s presentation of self as a moral model for experimental philosophers was powerful.”[24] It is not that Boyle was in any way disingenuous in presenting himself as an “under-builder”—though many of his experiments were carried out entirely by the hands of servants in his employ—but that social factors positioned his “drudgery” as authorizing, whereas the literal drudgery of Boyle’s servants has meant their effacement from historical memory.[25] Certainly, no high school student today is taught “Boyle and his Assistants’ Law.”

The epistemology of doing, in a highly collaborative discipline often involving significant division of labor, means that, as labor is distributed across collaborators, so too is the attribution of knowledge. By this I do not mean “credit,” a much-discussed and serious question in its own right, so much as epistemological authority.[26] The manual/mental hierarchy, flipped in the valorization of “hack” over “yack,” too often returns in full right-side-up force just when it matters for attributing knowledge to the undergraduates hired to scan archival materials, say, or the workers in India who did the base TEI encoding. To espouse collaboration over authorship, one must have an authorial voice to cede; to be “nice,” one must be in a position in which “niceness” does not connote “servility.” Audre Lorde writes that “anger expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification.”[27] Does that “clarification”—a form of knowledge, to be sure—have a place in an epistemology of doing, with its ethos of niceness?[28]

Claims about doing are economic claims

In quite another register, the epistemology of doing has come to be framed in strangely specific terms, with social consequences for how it plays out in the wider discipline. “Hands-on,” “getting your hands dirty,” “digging,” “mining,” “building”—these terms offer quite a specific vision of what constitutes doing, conjuring up economic productivity (stimulus packages and infrastructure initiatives loom into view) of a distinctly social, distinctly virtuous, distinctly white, male, blue-collar variety. The field might look very different if the dominant metaphors for “doing” digital humanities research included weaving, cooking, knitting, and raising or nurturing.[29] Indeed, we need not even look outside the academy for models for understanding the theoretical dimensions of praxis: performance and activism are forms of praxis that have been richly theorized in disciplines like performance studies, women’s studies, and ethnic studies. The (apparently accidental) choice of “building” for the dominant metaphor of digital doing was never an inevitability. In this postindustrial age, as Alexander Galloway has argued, “it is impossible to differentiate cleanly between nonproductive leisure activity existing within the sphere of play and productive activity existing within the sphere of the workplace,” and that feature of contemporary life appears to be one of the ones that the digital humanities, among humanistic subdisciplines, is uniquely equipped to handle.[30] Yet the distinctive methodologies of digital humanities are typically represented in comfortingly industrial terms.[31]

As Shapin and Schaffer write, “[s]olutions to the problem of knowledge are solutions to the problem of social order,” and indeed, to the still-beleaguered postlapsarian humanities at large, therein lies the great hope of the digital.[32] It is no secret that in the past few years many administrators have come to see in digital humanities a potential stimulus package for increasingly underfunded departments like English, history, comparative literature, classics, and so on. It is no wonder that alt-ac jobs, which require specialized skills and can be as difficult to attain as tenure-track jobs—or more—have come to be represented in the profession as shovel-ready projects just waiting to put our Ph.D.s back to work.[33] Digital humanities thus comes to be represented as a return to a (white, male) industrial order of union jobs and visible products, when in reality it is the subdiscipline of the humanities most closely implicated in the postindustrial “feminization of labor,” with all that follows upon it: the rise of contingent and modular work, interstitiality, the hegemony of immaterial labor, the monetization of affect. Yet in its best version, digital humanities is also the subdiscipline best positioned to critique and effect change in that social form—not merely to replicate it.[34] In her essay “Theory as Liberatory Practice,” bell hooks recounts how she turned to theorizing as a way of “making sense out of what was happening.”[35] Surely such a making-sense is called for in this institutionalizing moment, and surely digital humanities itself is up to the challenge of doing it.

Claims make claims upon us

The question of “digital humanities and theory” ranges across historical, philosophical, institutional, and social registers, and each of the essays included in this special section attempts to address those registers in partial but interarticulated ways.  The section begins with two posts that pose some initial questions, my own “When Digital Humanities Was in Vogue” and Ben Schmidt’s “Theory First.” Contributions by Will Thomas, Jean Bauer, Patrick Murray-John, and Elijah Meeks then consider the immanent knowledge in digital tools, whether as sources of theoretical richness or as undercurrents of unexamined assumptions. Brief comments by Tom Scheinfeldt and Ryan Shaw stake out strong positions in the question of whether digital humanities’s “tacit knowledge” demands to be rendered as discourse, whereupon Trevor Owens and Mark Sample expand on why and how digital humanists should aim to communicate their work to a wider public. The section ends with contributions by Alexis Lothian, Peter Bradley, Tim Sherratt, and Moya Z. Bailey. These pieces describe existing or imagined forms of digital “building” and “communicating” that benefit from explicit engagements with critical theory and its legacy.

One way of reading this special section might be as a soothing narrative in which the “provocation” of theory is raised, only to be shut down with the reassurance, in the end, that digital humanities is already “doing” theory, that no transformation is necessary, and that liberal “niceness” is already conducing to liberal equality. But I hope that readers of this special section will take it another way, as a serious questioning of the reluctance to “transform” despite our characteristic eagerness to “hack,” as a suggestion that we have only just begun to understand the ways in which “the database is the theory,” how we might “formulate a theory out of lived experience,”[36] or the ways in which we might communicate “tacit knowledge” after all (say, to students who may not have had the luxury of developing their “tacit knowledge” by way of unlimited childhood access to a computer). Above all, I hope that the pieces we have included that suggest existing or imagined theoretical engagements for digital humanities will not be thought sufficient. The aim of this special section is not complacency but instigation.

As the quarterly journal stemming from the ongoing work of Digital Humanities Now, the Journal of Digital Humanities selects online work in part on the basis of metrics that have shown that the work in question has already given rise to new thought and discussion within the field. This represents a response to recent calls for new, postpublication models of peer review. There are, of course, flaws in the system: for example, the group of scholars using the Twitter hashtag #transformDH, including Alexis Lothian, Amanda Phillips, Anne Cong-Huyen, Tanner Higgin, Micha Cardenas, Melanie Kohnen, and Anna Everett, have been central to the ongoing discussion of digital humanities and theory. Yet some of their most significant contributions have taken the form of face-to-face discussions, including at sessions at THATCamp SoCal and a roundtable at the 2011 American Studies Association conference. The online activity generated by these formats is incommensurable with that generated by blog posts, and difficult to track. Similarly, because shorthand versions of who and what digital humanities is can self-reinforce in the social network, it is often difficult to catch work that expands our notions of the field’s boundaries. Moya Z. Bailey’s solicited contribution to this volume is meant to help counterbalance that centripetal tendency. Such examples show that as we work toward realizing a new model for peer review, structural gaps continually require our attention and correction.

As must by now be evident, I am not, for my own part, persuaded that the digital humanities’ epistemology of building is enough of a saving grace to render the hack/yack division a happy fault. My sympathies rest with bell hooks’s insistence that theory can solve problems that urgently need solving, that articulating in words how things work can liberate.  I am troubled by the ease with which the epistemology of building occludes and even, through its metaphors, legitimizes digital humanities’ complicity with exploitative postindustrial labor practices, both within the academy and overseas, and I wish to see digital humanities dismantle as well as build things. And yet, as the contributions to this special section attest, the methods and metaphors of digital humanities are far from settled. What is needed is not self-flagellation (much less defensiveness) but attempts to develop the discipline within which we wish to work. This special section is offered to that end.


Many thanks to Joan Fragaszy Troyano, Dan Cohen, and the staff at PressForward for inviting me to work on this special section, and for their thoughtful collaboration throughout the editing process. Lauren Klein and Miriam Posner offered valuable feedback on this introduction as well. Some of these thoughts were developed in a discussion with Stewart Varner’s graduate seminar “Topics and Tools in Digital Humanities” at Emory University; I thank Stewart and his students—Carla Almanza Galvez, Devin Brown, Anthony Cooke, Louis Fagnan, Scott Lisbon, Priyanka Sinha, and Tim Webber—for a lively and productive discussion. I am grateful to the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Emory University for research support.

  1. [1] bell hooks, “Theory as Liberatory Practice,” in Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (New York: Routledge, 1994), 59.
  2. [2] Donna J. Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto,” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (London: Routledge, 1991), 153.
  3. [3] Marianne Moore, “In the Days of Prismatic Color,” in Becoming Marianne Moore: The Early Poems, 1907-1924, ed. Robin G. Schulze (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).
  4. [4] Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage, 1994).
  5. [5] Robert Boyle, Shapin and Schaffer argue, helped to bring about a radical epistemological shift in the early modern period. Whereas previously “knowledge” had been categorical, arising from logical demonstration, the English experimentalists established a form of knowledge that was “probabilistic and fallibilistic,” that is, contingent. Experimentalism’s physical “intervening” thus opened up a register of the factual that could compel assent partially and contingently, on the basis of observation, witnesses, and testimony, rather than on the basis of irrefutable logical or geometric demonstration. Demonstration revealed knowledge “in itself”; experiment revealed knowledge by way of observation, testimony, and consensus. The turn to experiment was therefore also a turn away from the unity of signification that was demonstration’s premise—less a turn away from representation than the initiation of our postlapsarian sign/referent understanding thereof. See Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (1985; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 23-4.
  6. [6] It is this experimental legacy that has historically so deeply informed the digital humanities and, perhaps, stood in the way of its integration into the broader humanities. See Ramsay, Reading Machines: Toward an Algorithmic Criticism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011), 2.
  7. [7] J.L. Austin famously describes a category of utterances that he names “performative,” before ultimately suggesting that all utterances are in some degree performative, and therefore that words do, indeed, do things. The moment of “high theory,” from Foucauldian discourse to deconstruction to Lacanian psychoanalysis, was deeply concerned to investigate the ways in which language could indeed perform. My comments above allude in particular to Jacques Derrida’s critique of the metaphysics of presence in Of Grammatology.
  8. [8] In its ludic deformations of resemblance, Stephen Ramsay’s “algorithmic criticism” seems in sympathy with the deconstructive moment
  9. [9] Indeed, one of the great defenses of humanistic enterprises (if not what we now call “the humanities”), Shelley’s “Defence of Poetry,” is a response to Thomas Love Peacock’s satirical “Four Ages of Poetry” (1820), which argues in familiar terms that poetic discourse is irrelevant to an action-oriented modernity. In an important message to the Humanist list in October 2010, Alan Liu argued that digital humanities was in a privileged position to undertake that defense because its aims and methods were congenial to a broad popular understanding of productivity. Liu’s continued efforts in this vein have resulted in the work of 4Humanities, “a site created by the international community of digital humanities scholars and educators to assist in advocacy for the humanities,” building on the digital humanities’ “special potential and responsibility to assist humanities advocacy” (“Mission”). That digital humanities, with its thorny relationship to discursive methods, appears in this moment to be the best hope for “defending the humanities” perhaps brings into relief the deeper historico-philosophical issue at work. See Peacock, “Four Ages of Poetry” and Shelley “Defence of Poetry” in Peacock’s Four Ages of Poetry, Shelley’s Defence of Poetry, Browning’s Essay on Shelley, ed. H. F. B. Brett-Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, 1953); “Mission,” 4Humanities: Advocating for the Humanities, accessed February 10, 2012,; Alan Liu to Humanist Discussion Group mailing list, October 25, 2010, no. 24.431,
  10. [10] [Bethany Nowviskie, “Eternal September of the Digital Humanities,”, accessed February 10 2012, Nowviskie explains, “‘Eternal September’ is a notion that comes from Usenet culture—the early peer-to-peer newsgroups and alt.* discussions that were, for many of us, an introduction to networked discourse and digital identity. Because Usenet activity centered around colleges and universities, a large influx of new students each September had disruptive effects on its established, internal standards of conduct, or netiquette. About thirty days in, newbies had either acclimatized to Usenet or they had dropped away, and the regular roiling of September could be left behind for another eleven months. As the mid-1990s approached, Internet access became more common and less metered by the academic calendar. Once AOL began offering Usenet to its subscribers, September was eternal.” Arguably, the recent institutionalization of digital humanities, with its concomitant proliferation of MLA and AHA panels, new digital humanities centers, NEH workshops, graduate certificates, and THATCamps, has produced a similar influx of “newbies” that, as Nowviskie observes, makes significant demands on the time, energy, and good will of experienced digital humanists.
  11. [11] Latour frames modernity’s great divide as a sundering of nature and the social, a version of the saying/doing divide. See Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).
  12. [12] A third view is endorsed by the New York Times columnist and erstwhile Miltonist Stanley Fish, who argues that we are indeed modern, and that the humanities are simply irrelevant (but, oddly, are nonetheless worth engaging in). See Fish, Professional Correctness: Literary Studies and Political Change (New York: Clarendon Press, 1995); Fish, “Will the Humanities Save Us?,” New York Times, January 6, 2008, accessed February 15, 2012,
  13. [13] As Lorraine Daston observes, there is no reason in principle that such knowledge should be “mute.” See Daston, “On Scientific Observation,” Isis 99.1 (2008), 101.
  14. [14] Tad Suiter, “Why ‘Hacking’?” in Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt, eds., Hacking the Academy, accessed February 12 2010, Emphasis in the original.
  15. [15] Stephen Ramsay, “Who’s In and Who’s Out,” accessed February 12, 2011, On the epistemology of building, see also Ramsay and Geoffrey Rockwell, “Developing Things: Notes toward an Epistemology of Building in the Digital Humanities,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 75-84.
  16. [16] Stephen Ramsay, “On Building,” accessed February 12, 2011,
  17. [17] Steven Shapin, “The Invisible Technician,” American Scientist 77 (November–December 1989), 556.
  18. [18] On Digging Into Data, see Digging Into Data Challenge, accessed February 12, 2012, On DiRT, see Lisa Spiro, DiRT Digital Research Tools Wiki, accessed February 12, 2012,
  19. [19] Tom Scheinfeldt, “Why Digital Humanities Is ‘Nice,’” Found History, May 26, 2010, accessed February 12, 2012,
  20. [20] We might understand collaboration as a methodological value rather than an ethical one, but in its usage it frequently has ethical overtones. Indeed, Roger Whitson argues that “collaboration is solidarity.” “Openness” is another ostensibly neutral term of art (as in “open access”) with an ethical dimension. See Whitson, “On DH, Solidarity, and Humility—or Why @miriamkp Rules,”, January 11, 2012, accessed February 12, 2012,
  21. [21] Lisa Spiro, “ ‘This Is Why We Fight’: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2012), 16-35.
  22. [22] Korey Jackson, “ ‘Once More with Feeling’: How MLA Found its Heart,” MPublishing Blog, January 18, 2012, accessed February 12, 2012,
  23. [23] Miriam Posner, “Utopianism and Its Detractors,”, January 11, 2012, accessed February 12, 2012,
  24. [24] Shapin and Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump, 66.
  25. [25] On Boyle’s technicians and what they did, see Shapin, “The Invisible Technician.”
  26. [26] The issue of credit is a separate and thorny one, on which see especially Bethany Nowviskie, “Where Credit Is Due,”, May 31, 2011, accessed February 12, 2011,
  27. [27] Audre Lorde, “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde (Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2007), 127.
  28. [28] On refusals to be “nice,” see also Sara Ahmed on the “feminist killjoy,” in The Promise of Happiness (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 50-87.
  29. [29] On “digging” in particular, see especially Bethany Nowviskie, “What Do Girls Dig?”, April 7, 2011, accessed February 12, 2012,
  30. [30] The emphasis on collaboration, collegiality, and the like in digital humanities bears striking resemblance to the values of corporate culture (e.g. “teamwork”) that Alan Liu describes in The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).
  31. [31] Alexander R. Galloway, “Can the Whatever Speak?” in Race After the Internet, ed. Lisa Nakamura and Peter A. Chow-White (New York: Routledge, 2012), 120.
  32. [32] Shapin and Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump, 332.
  33. [33] See, for example, Leonard Cassuto’s recent call for Ph.D. programs to train graduate students for non-academic jobs. Cassuto quotes the public historian Richard Rabinowitz, who tellingly advises graduate students to “‘[g]et out of the library’ and ‘spend a year or two doing the work.’” Cassuto, “Making a Public Ph.D.,” Chronicle of Higher Education (February 12, 2012), accessed February 17, 2012,
  34. [34] On the feminization of labor, see e.g. Antonella Corsani, “Beyond the Myth of Woman: The Becoming-Transfeminist of (Post-)Marxism,” trans. Timothy S. Murphy, SubStance 36.1 (2007), 107-138. See also “Devenir femme du travail et de la politique,” special section, Multitudes 12 (Spring 2003). On immaterial labor, see Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000) and Hardt and Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York: Penguin, 2004).
  35. [35] hooks, “Theory as Liberatory Practice,” 61. It is important to observe that hooks is deeply critical of theoretical work that, through elitist vocabulary and deference to the writings of white men, reproduce the structures of domination that they are meant to undo. Yet, as hooks writes, “[w]ithin feminist circles, many women have responded to hegemonic feminist theory that does not speak clearly to us by trashing theory, and, as a consequence, further promoting the false dichotomy between theory and practice. Hence, they collude with those whom they would oppose. By internalizing the false assumption that theory is not a social practice, they promote the formation within feminist circles of a potentially oppressive hierarchy where all concrete action is viewed as more important than any theory written or spoken.” See hooks, “Theory as Liberatory Practice,” 65-6.
  36. [36] hooks, “Theory as Liberatory Practice,” 75.

About Natalia Cecire

Natalia Cecire is a postdoctoral fellow at the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Emory University, and a managing editor at Arcade.