Digital Humanities: The Question of Creation

Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s brief article “The Humanities, Done Digitally” subvertly references Stephen Ramsay’s previous speech entitled “Who’s In and Who’s Out” in an attempt to redefine the scholarly field of digital humanities. As Fitzpatrick acknowledges, the field should not admit “every medievalist with a website,” however, complexities in interdisciplinary content and methods makes the line difficult to define. Creation, as referenced in Ramsay’s analysis, is often a place-marker claimed by some experienced scholars in the field. Thus, it has been contended that a digital humanist must be a creator, whether it be in the creation of “archives, tools, or new digital methods” (to aid in the work of humanities scholarship). However, this definition has been complicated by scholars in the field who claim that the definition should expand to include those who interpret.

Fitzpatrick calls this tension the “theory-practice divide;” it exists obviously in most humanities disciplines and is manifested in cleared divided rolls such as the literary scholar and the novelist. However, in disciplines such as the media arts, after years of tension between makers and scholars, the divide is beginning to close and “an increasing number of programs are bringing the two modes together in a rigorously theorized practice.” In a dramatic and controversial sentence, Fitzpatrick claims this melding is proving that the differences in the practices is arbitrary and that in fact “the best scholarship is always creative, and the best production is always critically aware.” Thus, a connection between the analytical and the creative could expand the digital humanities study in effective ways.

This argument alone is enough to convince digital humanists that the gap should be bridged. To me, as a student of interdisciplinary humanities it seems obvious that criticism and practice go hand in hand. Movies such as Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” succeed with significant assistance from the auteur’s knowledge of film theory and cultural awareness (the shower montage, with its iconic music, suggestive imagery, rapid jump cuts and extreme plot suggests cinematic skill, a knowledge of film criticism, and audience recognition). In turn, the most intriguing scholarship is creative in its conclusions and often in style.

To take it a step further, through the lens of reader-response criticism, all analysis could be considered a new creation. Put simply, this theory suggests that meaning lies with the consumer rather than the creator; for example, in the case of a novel, the reader’s interpretation is favored over the intent of the author. Thus, by some scholars it is suggested the medium takes a new life each time it is consumed, changing with each individual’s perspectives and past experiences. Through this thinking, the act of analysis is an overt act of creation.

Thus, after reaching these conclusions, I would agree with both Stephen Ramsay and Kathleen Fitzpatrick: I believe Digital Humanities should be defined by creation, however, it is only if the definition of creation includes digital theory.


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  1. I love your thought that “all analysis could be considered new creation!” I’ve been confused ever since Ramsey said that Digital Humanities is creation, because he didn’t create very clear borders around how that creation can or should relate to the humanities. He just implied that anything created on computers has some bearing on digital humanities, which obviously isn’t true, but I can’t use his articles to narrow it down much further. I guess that’s why it felt so refreshing to hear someone agree that creation doesn’t just happen on computers, and that calling digital humanities “creation” is more complicated than Ramsey made it seem. I’m really happy with the definition you came up with at the end…now if only I had a better understanding of what “digital theory” means…

  2. Jaidyn Eardley

    I like that you use the example of successful movies, such as Psycho, which were obviously created by people who knew the theories of their field. This shows that theory is often a prerequisite to creation, and it shows that theory has value. Still, I think that the important part is finding the balance between theory and creation. For me, theory alone still isn’t quite enough.

  3. Wow, I did not look at it from this perspective. Very interesting points you make in your post here. I honestly agree with everything you said. Especially the fact that theory and practice go hand in hand. I don’t think one should be without the other. In fact if digital humanities did not have the “creators” and only had the analysts, there would be nothing for them to interpret.

  4. Reader-response theory is an interesting way of thinking about how to read Fitzpatrick (or anyone else in our class)! To what degree does our understanding of DH depend on our (creative) understanding of what she has written here? Perhaps this is why so many people have so many definitions, we’re all just communicating poorly (like Miranda and Dev).

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