A Critical Analysis of Digital Humanities as Two Separate Fields

In computer science, there’s not a designated class for a reflection of how computer science concepts are taught. At most, a class is required to talk about the ethics of computer science by following copyright laws and knowing the policies on intellectual property. There is no space to reflect on how programming is taught and to be critical of its traditional methods. On the other hand, humanities has had this framework of critiquing to better understand a work, whether it is literature, history, and anything in between. The next critical level would be to check our own biases in analysis of critiques done in the humanities. The discussion with Dr. So on Friday aimed to critically analyze the parts of digital humanities that make up strictly the digital and strictly the humanities to further the field of digital humanities and expand its impact on society.

By exploring the societal norms within the structure of programming practices and analyzing their effect on society, it will encourage a more critical look into the connections between society and traditional programming methods (McPherson , 2013; O’Neil, 2016). Three key features of programming practices are modularity, binary mindset, and black box theory. Each play an important part in the way programming is taught and relates back to societal norms. Modularity of code allows for a simple swap if a certain part of the code does not work with the rest of the program. McPherson explores parallels in racial segregation at the same time of the development of Unix (McPherson, 2013). A binary mindset refers to the background of programming in the way that computers work with 1s and 0s. This association with 1s and 0s lends itself to society and sorting individuals into good and bad, the best and the worst, with little room in between. An unfortunate programming practice in the digital community is the black box issue. There has always been a barrier between those that code and those that do not by excluding those from the process of coding. O’Neil explores both the binary mindset and the black box issue through the use of “weapons of math destruction”. But through this analysis and through a critical view of these things that are accepted parts of reality, it’s possible to change these parts of reality to shift towards better, more hopeful views of reality.

On the strand of humanities, there is some backlash when exploring topics in digital humanities. When exploring topics of cultural heritage, there is potential for erasure from different cultures, based on those that are working in digital humanities. When it comes to exploring race and gender within texts through a digital analysis, its possible to cross the line of stereotyping for the sake of finding patterns within the text.

From examples of societal norms leaking in to our perception of programming and analysis of humanities, its important to be conscious of the inherent biases that can saturate our day to day. In regards to programming and its effects on digital humanities, a program is only as good as its creator. In regards to digital humanities and societal practices that have become the norm, just because a practice is prevalent may be the poorest reason for continuing it. Being critical of traditional practices, either in technology or humanities, will effect the future of digital humanities as a field, for the better.

Works Consulted:

O’Neil, Cathy. (2016). “Introduction” in Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. Great Britain: Allen Lane.

Gallon, Kim. (2016). “Making a Case for the Black Digital Humanities.” Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016. Lauren F. Klein and Matthew K. Gold (Eds.).

McPherson, Tara. (2013). “Why Are the Digital Humanities So White? or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation.Debates in the Digital Humanities 2012. Matthew K. Gold (Ed.).


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