Recently, Gerben Zaagsma published an excellent post on digital history. Gerben and I regularly meet since 2009 and the conference the CVCE and the University of Luxembourg organised on “Digital history in the digital age”1. He’s today working at the prestigious Huygens Institute in the Hague, Netherlands. He wrote this post as the result of his preparation of a series of lecture about digital history. I can only agree with his conclusions – history as a hybrid practice, mixing “analog” with digital practices. He emphasizes the fact that one of our challenge is to make our colleague aware that, when they use digital material, they could use lots of tools to enhance their research – text analysis, data mining, etc. I can only agree with this conclusion.
That’s why I tweeted the title and link of the article. It’s been retweeted, far more than any of my post. I could not avoid to wonder why. The first answer is obvious: most of my posts are in French. Most of, not all of them. I looked at my stats: when I write in English, I don’t have more visitors.
This recalled me of something: the last Digital Humanities conference, in Hamburg, had as a theme: Digital Diversity: Cultures, languages and methods. Both keynotes were linked to this theme: Claudine Moulin’s introducing one about Dynamics and Diversity: Exploring European and Transnational Perspectives on Digital Humanities Research Infrastructures and Masahiro Shimoda’s concluding one on Embracing a Distant View of the Digital Humanities. Both were definitely interesting and stimulating. But as we would say in France “c’est l’arbre qui cache la forêt”2.
I did, a few months ago, a small study of DH 2012’s reviewers. And the result is striking: more than half of them are from UK and, mainly, USA. I could not identify everybody but the ratio, I think, is probably still right. There are other studies that show a “digital divide” between the UK and the USA on one side and, well, the rest of the world on the other side. Other publications confirm this divide: Shawn Graham’s visualisation of THATCamp on twitter show a divide between North America and Europe, though THATCamp Paris was soon to happen. Melissa Terras’s famous post on Quantifying Digital Humanities confirms this.
My experience of the French-speaking Digital Humanities does not fit with this. In 2010, I could participate to the organisation of the first THATCamp Paris. The first week after the annoucement of the unconference, the number of registrations raised slowly. We expected 30 people, we had 80 places (in case). In the end, we had to refuse people. When, more recently, the DH french speaking distribution list was opened, more than 500 people got registered in a few weeks. The second THATCamp Paris was also a real success.
My knowledge of other countries, such as Germany or Italy, does not correspond either to this supposed divide betwen UK/USA and the rest of the world. I could not say anything about Asia or South America, but lots of French colleagues are working with scholars from French-speaking African countries.
There is another element that makes this supposed divide strange to my eyes. Well, even if there is a rather “official” history of DH (Father Busa, then the first adventurers, then Linguistics computing, which became Humanities computing and, during the 2000’s years, Digital Humanities), there are some things that does not really fit to this classical history of DH. The first academics who experimented the use of computing in Humanities do not really refer directly to Busa – though he is a very important reference, he became so mainly in the 1990’s if I trust Google Ngrams – but to quantitative economics and quantitative economic history – the US new economic history school or the French school of the Annales3. When Moretti wrote his Graphs, maps and trees4, his first reference is the Annales School.
So where does this discrepancy between my (and lot’s of colleagues’) experience of French-speaking DH and the image of a field that is supposed to be mainly English speaking?
Well, I suppose that, in the end, Digital Humanities, though claiming to be new and revolutionary, are structured in a very classical way for an academic field, where those who master the english language and the english speaking and impact factor based academic journals are the most visible (and the most quoted). And to be honest, the French are rather well represented in comparison to other geographic areas or to other speaking communities.
DH multicultural revolution has still to happen.
- Proceedings soon to be published!
- Domenico Fiormonte wrote on the same subject, with more investigation: see Towards a Cultural Critique of Digital Humanities
- See Haber, Peter. Digital Past. Geschichtswissenschaften im digitalen Zeitalter. München: Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, 2011. Print.
- Moretti, Franco. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. Verso, 2007. Print.