Apr 26, 2013
In my last post, “Definitions that Matter (Of Digital Humanities),” I did some analysis of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) fellowships offered through its Office of Digital Humanities (ODH), in which I tried to show that these grants have largely focused on what I’ve been calling “narrow” Digital Humanities. In the comments to that piece, Brett Bobley, Director of ODH, pointed me and other readers toward a recent announcement that explicitly addresses this point, and encourages applications from what many of us have been calling “big tent” DH. In particular, that announcement notes the addition of a new rubric for projects funded by ODH Start-Up Grants:
- scholarship that focuses on the history, criticism, and philosophy of digital culture and its impact on society
Since this is one of the main areas that I claim is excluded by “narrow” DH (it’s explicitly ruled out in the MIT Digital_Humanities book, for example), this is welcome news indeed. Since it suggests that scholarship focusing on the digital itself can not only be construed as but may be able to earn a formal label as “DH,” that suggests that a much wider range of scholars engaged with the digital will have a formal claim to “being” DH. Bobley tells me that this change will also extend to DH Implementation Grants (the bigger grants, that typically go to projects that have successfully made it through the start-up phase), and that he actively encourages those of us working in these areas to apply.
ODH has even recently updated its ”About ODH” page to reflect this:
In a short period of time, digital technology has changed our world. The ways we read, write, learn, communicate, and play have fundamentally changed due to the advent of networked digital technologies. These changes are being addressed in fascinating ways by scholars from across the humanities, often working in collaboration with scientists, librarians, museum staff, and members of the public.
The Office of Digital Humanities offers grant programs that address these cultural changes. This would include projects that explore how to harness new technology for humanities research as well as those that study digital culture from a humanistic perspective. To best tackle the broad, interdisciplinary questions that arise when studying digital technology, ODH works closely with the scholarly community and with other funding agencies in the United States and abroad, to encourage collaboration across national and disciplinary boundaries. In addition to sponsoring grant programs, ODH also participates in conferences and workshops with the scholarly community to help foster understanding of issues in the digital humanities and ensure we are meeting the needs of the field.
I closed that last post with a list of propositions, among which was this one: “To get funding labeled Digital Humanities, you should conform to the ‘narrow’ definition.” I’m convinced that ODH does not want this to be the case, and at least for that organization I happily reverse myself: no matter what form of DH you practice, you should apply for ODH funding. Since ODH is without doubt the major external funder of DH in the US, and therefore exerts some significant influence over what “counts” as DH, this could have important follow-on effects for everyone involved in DH, especially in my home field of English. No doubt there is inertia that will tend to keep things operating the way they have, and the 2013 round of ODH grants does not appear yet to reflect a large influx of digital studies (and other forms of big tent) DH projects (although I also think that as a group they angle a little bit more toward interpretation than does the 2010 batch I analyzed in my post): so, despite what some people and some books may say about the definition of DH, everyone who thinks what they do is DH should consider applying for ODH funds. In fact, we all should, because getting a strong batch of applications from approaches other than “narrow” DH is the only way to make it possible for ODH to support a wider range of projects.