Stephen RamsaySep 6, 2023
On the Digital Humanities
Essays and Provocations
University of Minnesota Press 2023
Stephen Ramsey's On the Digital Humanities: Essays and Provocations (University of Minnesota Press, 2023) is a witty and incisive exploration of the philosophical conundrums that animate the digital humanities. Since its inception, the digital humanities has been repeatedly attacked as a threat to the humanities: warnings from literary and cultural theorists of technology overtaking English departments and the mechanization of teaching have peppered popular media.
Stephen Ramsay’s On the Digital Humanities, a collection of essays spanning the personal to the polemic, is a spirited defense of the field of digital humanities. A founding figure in what was once known as “humanities computing,” Ramsay has a well-known and contentious relationship with what is now called the digital humanities (DH). Here Ramsay collects and updates his most influential and notorious essays and speeches from the past fifteen years, considering DH from an array of practical and theoretical perspectives.
The essays pursue a broad variety of themes, including the nature of data and its place in more conventional notions of text and interpretation, the relationship between the constraints of computation and the more open-ended nature of the humanities, the positioning of practical skills and infrastructures in both research and pedagogical contexts, the status of DH as a program for political and social action, and personal reflections on the author’s journey into the field as both a theorist and a technologist. These wide-ranging essays all center around one idea: that DH not forsake its connection to the humanities. While “digital humanities” may sound like an entirely new form of engagement with the artifacts of human culture, Ramsay argues that the field well reveals what is most essential to humanistic inquiry.
Hallel Yadin is an archivist and special projects manager at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.