Jaffe on DH, IT, EDU, and Others

The second speaker in the Sawyer Seminar series was Aaron Jaffe, Professor of English and Director of the Commonwealth Center on Humanities and Society at the University of Louisville (UL). His talk, “Being, Online and –Off: The Work of H in the Age of D*,” addressed the ways in which the humanities and technology interact as one—the digital humanities—in order to propagate or stifle research in the humanities. Although Dr. Jaffe is a traditionally-trained English professor, it is clear through his writing and his research that he often intertwines literature, philosophy, and technology, which is why his vantage on DH is appreciated.

Dr. Jaffe goes into a lot of detail in his talk about various things: a flowchart that explains how DH works, a digitized, interactive version of some of Darwin’s work, definitions and derivations of both “digital” and “humanities,” and a few other things that didn’t seem to go together until the end of his talk. Despite all of these topics, what interested me most about Dr. Jaffe’s talk was the way in which he discussed the relationship between the “D,” “H,” and different departments at UL.

Dr. Jaffe asserts early on that despite what many people believe (including students at Rice) Humanities professors DO indeed have research projects and Jaffe makes it clear that not every department understands that concept. He cites a conversation he had with an IT consultant at UL where he was advised to “blog” for his research by which he seemed pretty insulted (as I think any distinguished professor and researcher would be).

He spent a significant amount of time discussing how various aspects of communications and marketing aimed to control the “D” of “DH,” and as the humanities continue to lose their “weight” IT is ready to fly in with “pseudo-curriculum.” The issue, he says, is that “non-faculty members opinions and interests seem to be at the forefront of concerns of concerns…” and that actual faculty interests are secondary.  Additionally, Jaffe says that it is not just the material support and interest of faculty that need to be kept in mind, but rather, faculty members need “commitment from staff” in order to succeed.

Honestly Dr. Jaffe’s talk gave me a newfound vantage into some of the unexplored issues of “DH”—a lot of people discuss funding (or the lack thereof) but few openly delve into the disinterest or pushback some individuals in the humanities get from their institutions. Shouldn’t technology make research easier? Is the “D” aspect of “DH” making it more difficult to conduct research or is it doing the converse? How can our institutions be more supportive and knowledgeable about DH? While Dr. Jaffe’s talk led me to these questions, the hope is that throughout exploratory methods of the Seminar we will be able to answer some of them. 


*If it wasn’t clear, “D” and “H” stand for “Digital” and “Humanities”—there was some confusion on this aspect during and after the talk.