DH Reads

DH Read: “Twitter’s Response to ‘The Digital-Humanities Bust'”

Over the last few years, DHNow staff have observed a declining number of blog posts that make some sort of insightful argument about digital humanities (I have discussed this previously in this post). One of the explanations that we have identified is the shift from the blogosphere to Twitter as the preferred platform for conversations about digital humanities. In my opinion, I don’t think Twitter could ever fully replace the blog format—there just isn’t the same space to completely flesh out your analysis (although I will be interested to see how the new character limit changes DH discussions on Twitter). Twitter encourages you to share your thoughts in the moment, not reflect, reconsider, and revise. I usually find that I don’t know my own thoughts until I start writing; I’ll write something down, keep writing, and then realize I’ve actually changed my mind about my initial point. This is part of why I find it useful to blog about digital humanities but have yet to start my own Twitter account. Notwithstanding my own qualms about this apparent shift from blogging to tweeting, I do think it’s important that DHNow find ways to meet the conversations where they’re happening. My last rotation as Editor-in-Chief provided a perfect opportunity to do just that.

As I often do to find pieces for DHNow during slow weeks, I was browsing DHNow’s Twitter feed, and it was impossible to ignore the overwhelming response to a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Timothy Brennan titled “The Digital-Humanities Bust” (paywalled). There weren’t yet any blog-length posts in response like those we usually post on DHNow, but it was clearly dominating DH discussions at the time, and I wanted to be able to capture that. After a bit of experimenting, Amanda Regan, Joshua Catalano, and I were able to make Twitter’s response our Editors’ Choice piece. Collectively, the tweets make some compelling points and are worth reading. However, my purpose in writing this post is not really to engage with the tweets or the original piece. I am more interested in what this moment shows about the future of DH communication and DHNow. Although a number of blog posts have since been written in response (as well as a couple of rebuttals in the Chronicle), I felt like the Twitter format really served its purpose here. Choosing to respond through tweets that mainly linked out to existing articles, blog posts, and digital projects sent the message that there’s really no need to try to defend digital humanities yet again from the usual worn-out criticisms; the case for digital humanities has already been made, and those who want to challenge it should at least read up on the basics first. Clearly, there is room for criticism, but that criticism should be informed and substantiated—that’s the message I got out of this Twitter conversation, and I’m glad that DHNow was able to capture it in some way and hopefully direct even more attention to it. Twitter also clearly facilitated a much more immediate and visible response than blogging, and I think that was crucial in this case given how many non-DHers (and even non-humanists) were already reading the original piece and forming or reinforcing their opinions of DH with it. This experience has shown me that maybe there are more advantages to the shift from blogs to Twitter than I first thought.

See the original Editors’ Choice piece here.