I would like to take Golumbia’s arguments even further and suggest that Ramsay’s celebration of ‘making’ as the future of literary and cultural studies appears to draw the troubling distinction between ‘making’ and the by implication ‘making’-free – dare I say unproductive – scholarship that predated it. To do what literary critics do best, I’ll consider some economic terms like ‘labor’ out of their proper disciplinary contexts (more on decontextualized specifics later). To suggest that ‘making’ is new for scholars effaces a certain aspect of the labor involved in producing scholarship that is not reliant on digital technologies. Just, as Golumbia points out, ‘the digital’ is already a huge factor in scholarship across disciplinary divides, there are existing scholarly pursuits by those who can’t code that are equally interested in ‘making’ as scholarship. It is, in fact, the literary historicist’s desire to compose scholarly articles that not only present ‘ideas,’ (now, I mean this only in the sense of Scheinfeldt’s blog; in his way of opposing ‘big ideas’ to ‘methods’), but also revel in the show-and-tell aspect of simply digging something up and saying ‘here it is’. I’ve heard ‘theory people’ use this as a personal reason for disliking historicism: it is perpetrated by academics less interested in making arguments and more interested in sharing cool objects. I mean ‘cool objects’ quite literally – as a graduate student that does lots of cross-disciplinary work with dress culture studies among other fields, I find the most compelling scholarly work to be precisely about making, perhaps not of kilts themselves (I study Celtic masculinities), but of scholarship that seeks to interact with physical objects in ways that go beyond mere description.
The use of decontextualized scholarship from other fields is, in my honest opinion, a remarkable skill that is well cultivated by literary critics (to those who don’t know me, this may sound like sarcasm; but it’s not – I am a champion of productivity found in sloppiness). Another time, you may witness me claim that a satisfying state of the field would be one in which we are free to creatively dabble in the technical aspects of digital disciplines in much the same way as we permit ourselves to ruffle the feathers of historians, psychologists, and economists by using and perhaps abusing the findings, key concepts, and vocabularies of their fields. This is part of the reason for which I do not see the path between Ramsay’s devoted teaching of coding to individual humanists and the second of his conference-complicating assertions, “Do you have to know how to code? I’m a tenured professor of Digital Humanities and I say ‘yes.’” Why the leap from the importance of teaching a useful skill that enhances research to a tenure-based claim about the role of coding as a fundamental aspect of literacy for those who ‘make’?
What about my suggestion from a couple of weeks ago that a published piece of DH scholarship (I guess like Eric S. Faden’s video & surrounding apparatus,) might draw conclusions that could be invaluable to a piece of ‘standard’ scholarship. In fact, that video is arguably a substantial entrance into the conversation established by that Schivelbusch book. So I envision a kind of collaborative climate in which a scholar writing a traditional academic essay that seeks to enter the same conversation would be encouraged (or even ethically compelled) to mention Faden’s contribution. It is in this collaborative climate that I see the DH as having the most tangible impact on the field as a whole: whereas not all humanists will learn how to code, they will have to learn how to account for and incorporate the work of the increasing proportion of those that do. This might be as systemic as more interactive formats for the online editions of the top peer-reviewed journals, or it might be as individual as a conference presentation that spends two or three of its allotted minutes to showing or (preferably) otherwise interacting with something like the Faden video. Rather than, like Fitzpatrick in the Golumbia example, encouraging the graduate student to do a digital project because it’s the new thing (I bet that’s why the student was so vague – she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do, just that those maps people have cool looking finished products… so far we’ve proved that ‘making’ is seductive), there should be an evaluation of how the digital enhances the given project and how it would aid in its completion. This means that some projects will be more welcoming of DH methods and ways of defining knowledge than others, but that’s a good thing. But let’s stay away from the divisions between ‘reading’ and ‘making’; between ‘big ideas’ and ‘methodologies’ — they’re too close for comfort to that ubiquitously drawn line between ‘saying’ and ‘doing’ that already makes our lives as academics so difficult in the arena of popular opinion.
Oh, and the Ramsay stuff on ‘making’ that I’m referring to can be found here, though my references to the discussion were mainly through Golumbia.