Tag Archives: Critical making

Learning to notice and critical making

Hi All,

Re: Last week’s section on critiquing and theorizing DH, I would add Patrick Murray-John’s “Theory, Digital Humanities and Noticing,” and Roger Whitson’s blog post “Critical Making in Digital Humanities: A MLA 2014 Special Session Proposal.” Both pieces deal with the distinction between hacking and yacking, and address why this distinction is misguided.

In the former case, Murray addresses the perception that through DH, computer science is invading the humanities and laying waste to its traditions (i.e. yacking). He argues that the very opposite is happening: the humanities are invading comp sci and bringing with them questions and modes of thinking that can “help us identify why we are writing the code in the first place and help us recognize what promising directions or ideas are available.” (Granted, he also acknowledges that humanities’ practices risk (though don’t necessitate) making comp sci projects bloated and untenable.) Furthermore, he states that the hack v. yack conversation itself is a result of unfamiliarity and the fact that high theory trains one to read specific kinds of rhetoric, but not code, much like how traditional computer science trains one to read C, Java, Python, etc., but not Joyce. Thus, from within either camp, the intersection of the two may look like bad practice, when in fact it may just be different practice, which, through increased familiarity and emergent theory born out of DH projects themselves, will make more sense as a simultaneously self-critical and immediately practical endeavor.

In the latter case, Whitson gives a brief survey of “critical making” in the digital humanities and in the process he argues that “[b]uilding or making can take many different forms, all of which are critically and theoretically engaged. As Jean Bauer has argued, databases are ‘steeped in theoretical implications,’ and [], so are programming languages, data models, interfaces, algorithms, and the heads, spindles, platters, motors, and plastruders found in hardware and printers. In short, methods, tools, and applications exist in recursive relationships with discursive practices.” In other words, there is no tool that does not always already contain horizons for critical engagement, and to explore these horizons can take the form of explication through rhetoric, but it is just as possible and just as valid for this exploration to be folded into the project itself. For an example from the arts, I could write about Francis Bacon’s Crucifixions, or I could just as productively look at them and visually consider what arguments about the substantiality of paint, the limitations of representation, etc. are already folded into the works themselves. This is likewise the case for any well-thought-out DH project; at least some critical self-reflection will be embedded into the work itself. Consideration of the limits, strengths, distortions and implications of one’s tools is inherent in any mature practice.

— Ashleigh