Hyperrhiz 24

Matthew K. Gold and Lauren Klein, Eds., Debates in the Digital Humanities 2019

Malaka Friedman
NC State University

Citation: Friedman, Malaka. “Matthew K. Gold and Lauren Klein, Eds., Debates in the Digital Humanities 2019.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 24, 2021. doi:10.20415/hyp/024.r01

Keywords: Digital Humanities, pedagogy, critical making, social justice, care, digital methodologies.

Matthew K. Gold and Lauren Klein, Eds., Debates in the Digital Humanities 2019. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019. 472pp.


Debates in the Digital Humanities 2019 continues ongoing conversations in its Debates in the The Digital Humanities series, helping incoming scholars and students within the digital humanities field while also highlighting continuing struggles of academics within this field. The collection of chapters are broken up into standard areas of theories and approaches, methods and practices, etc. while also making connections with themes throughout the book that bring more diverse voices into digital humanities conversations. While some of the topics discussed within this book provide more of an introduction into nuanced areas of scholarship, they also emphasize why these topics still have important work that needs to be done.

What is particularly relevant and appreciated is the editors' acknowledgement of the current political atmosphere at the time of this book being crafted. Gold and Klein in their introduction note how the chapters were drafted before the 2016 United States election and as a result now more than ever these discussions within this field need to extend beyond addressing the “public” to populations most at risk at this time. This call to action prior to the beginning of the book sets an activist tone for the book itself, leading the reader to take these discussions into ongoing conversations in other fields as well. There is a shift within the book, which the authors note, towards shorter volumes in the future to address the ever changing political, social, and technological debates that occur within publishing. But this book still tends towards more the argument-driven essay format rather than a case study approach, so this change in the series moving forward will be interesting to see.

Part I: Possibilities and Constraints

True to its section title, the ten chapters within “Possibilities and Constraints” focus on opening up discussions on how current conversations within digital humanities have come to be and where they could move going forward. Safiya Umoja Noble’s “Towards a Critical Black Digital Humanities” highlights this section’s goal in particular by noting that the “colonial remnants of digital media investments” still create alienation for Black studies and does not provide a true intersectionality. In comparison Laura Mandel’s “Gender and Cultural Analytics: Finding or Making Stereotypes?” focuses on how gender analysis can be used through stylometry, a type of linguistic style analysis to identify anonymous authors, and other methods of analysis to make a distinction between gendered authors, opening up discussions on the gendered identity of authors.

While each of these chapters helps to highlight the need for discussions about how various topics in the digital humanities matter, it is chapters six through ten that fall under “Blog Posts and Short Essays” that truly shine when it comes to highlighting digital humanities projects in development.  David S. Roh’s chapter “The DH Bubble: Startup Logic, Sustainability, and Performativity” provides a refreshingly honest account of what it means to exist between the realms of academia and industry within the scope of digital humanities, as well as a critique of the concept of startup logic within both spaces. While there are a few times that these chapters discuss commonly known issues within digital humanities, they still highlight the importance of having these discussions given the changing understanding of digital humanities as a field.

Part II:Theories and Approaches

The essays within Part II of this collection focus on current ongoing discussions within the digital humanities, as well providing critiques of current techniques within the field. Such critiques can be seen in the chapter by John Hunter that suggests new digital scholars are not being educated enough when it comes to understanding digital humanities theory, in a way that may affect the overall praxis of these scholars later on in the changing digital world. Hunter’s call to action for more theoretical work and a change to current digital humanities pedagogies echoes themes from other readings within this chapter, as all in some form challenge how we currently conceptualize the way that theory operates within digital humanities for incoming digital scholars.

While these chapters do succeed in noting important work that needs to be done when it comes to considering theory, they also reemphasize how there are areas within this field that still are underdeveloped in 2019: for example Marisa Parham’s chapter dealing with Black digitality today and how social media has affected Black life. There are several lines within Parham’s chapter that resonate the continuing atrocities that are done to the Black community, most notably on pages 107 and pages 118 where Parham notes “Each day, a new hashtag” when describing the hashtags associated with each death on Twitter that constantly retrigger individuals. While a powerful chapter on its own, it is difficult at times to consider how the other chapters on Harry Potter and performative theory can fit underneath the umbrella of this section. Despite the jump in topics, there are times the chapters themselves work well at bringing in techniques from other disciplines together as seen in Kyle Perry’s chapter where he discusses the concept of “hyperbolic crochet” as it relates to Donna Harraway’s definition of the crochet reef (p. 154).

Part III: Methods and Practices

The eight chapters in this section emphasize current views in the digital humanities on the importance of teaching various methods to upcoming digital humanities scholars, notably quantitative methods through learning computer languages. This argument can be seen in Andrew Goldstein’s piece and in the piece by Taylor Arnold and Lauren Tilton. All three authors note how using programming languages like R or Python lends itself to increased amounts of data that can be used for analysis purposes. Considerations of how to increase the amount of data within research are important, especially given Kate Rawson’s and Tevor Muñoz’s argument that cleaning of data needs to be as equally careful to not overlook potential finds that could affect analyses.

Where this section really focuses on the audience of incoming digital humanities scholars and students however are within the few chapters that note the importance of pedagogy and critical making. Matt Ratto’s piece “Not Just Guns but Bullets, Too: ‘Deconstructive’ and ‘Constructive’ Making within the Digital Humanities” brings to mind to earlier essays within The Debates in Digital Humanities series when it comes to the concept of ”making,” exploring a complicated issue when it comes to 3D printing: printing handguns. Ratto highlights how digital humanities pedagogy needs to continue to explore the political ramifications of scholarship. This focus on pedagogy is also taken up by David “Jack” Norton and Rachel Mann who both challenge readers to consider how students within the digital humanities from various backgrounds and privileges might be affected due to issues with labor and underrepresentation.

Part IV: Disciplines and Institutions

Of the various sections within this volume, this section of the book deviates the most when it comes to both topics and ongoing conversations within digital methods. One such instance can be seen in “A Conversation on Digital Art History.” Authors/email correspondents Johanna Drucker and Claire Bishop provide a robust conversation that brings to mind a somewhat modern take on Socratic dialogues such as Gorgias, though both authors bring excellent points forward in their discussions, to try to negotiate ongoing discussions on digital art history and what students want to know when engaging with new digital methods. In comparison, Kevin L. Ferguson explores some instances of digital methods through the focus of volumetric cinema in media spaces, to shift understandings of 3D filmmaking space. The changing topics themselves do switch quite a bit between sections, but provide new perspectives on some of these ongoing topics. Curtis Fletcher for instance builds on previous chapters when it comes to the need for pedagogy in digital humanities, but goes further into the history of different aspects of learning, all the way from television to educational technology within humanities.

What this section does well is address several infrastructure- and pedagogy-based issues within the digital humanities. Moacir P. De Sá Pereira discusses tensions within the need for quantitative research in a field that is usually considered to be leaning more towards qualitative work. De Sá Pereira concludes that mixed methods can be used as a happy medium to attempt to bridge this tension for the field to become more sociological, as the author notes, without becoming too dependent on quantitative work. Jennifer Edmong in comparison helps consider the global nature of academic careers as well, an important discussion for soon to be academics, by noting a resurgence in “alt-ac” academic online careers that create ways for readers to consider the role geographic location plays when it comes to both American and European academic institutions, online versus in-person. Questioning these professional para-academic spaces and how they work is also taken up by the chapter by Bobby L. Smiley, as Smiley discusses their positionality as a librarian, particularly as their role has shifted over the years as librarians have become more integrated with digital humanities scholarship. Similar questions occur when it comes to labor within the academy, notably feeling the urge to say yes to every project put forward, as Smiley notes on page 416. While there is a shift to consider labor in digital humanities, we should also consider the role of adjacent roles that work within and outside of this scope. This leads to a great question for all scholars to consider when it comes to who is a digital humanist when it comes to understanding of the labor involved.

Part V: Ethics, Theories and Practices of Care

Of the whole collection, this section of the book is the shortest by far both in terms of overall content and each individual chapter itself. Lauren F. Klein and Matthew K. Gold deviate slightly by providing an introduction to this section only, expressing their emphasis on bringing various viewpoints on care being illustrated in each of these eight chapters, and while they acknowledge the lack of feasibility in encompassing all views of care they still do a good job of bringing forth a variety of voices into this section.

Similar themes within the book are touched upon, such as the issue of labor as it relates to adjuncts instructors and the need for support for adjunct instructors learning digital skills (Berens). There are also several calls to change perspectives on what care looks like, with emphasis on classical feminist ethics of care models discussed by Bethany Nowviskie, and to shift perspectives on other areas as Steven Jackson does when it comes to materiality of care.

The main critique of this section is that it only really provides a brief mention of these topics, which could could be discussed in more detail. For instance the chapter by the Crunk Feminist Collective discussing crunk feminist self-care as resisting ideas of the solo worker and recognizing emotional labor of women of color is incredibly important and could stand on its own as a full section (although that is more incentive for readers to look into the Crunk Feminist Collective and other similar groups such as the Feminist Futures). Another such chapter that could go into more detail is by Marta Effinger-Crichlow who describes how students responded to care for homes by analyzing the African Burial Ground. The student’s responses are powerful themselves, leading to more curiosity as to the lasting impact this lesson had on the lives of students.


Debates in the Digital Humanities 2019 as edited by Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein illustrates that ongoing conversations within digital humanities need to shift both in our discussion of these topics, and in the way we consider them in various spaces. This book provides a crucial introduction to current topics for new scholars and graduate students within the field, while also making sure to address instructors with regards to needs for pedagogy for the future. Both editors in their introduction and crafting of these chapters show their consideration on addressing a variety of disciplines and topics, while also representing current research being done by researchers within the field itself.

  1. Jentery Sayers. (2017). Making Things and Drawing Boundaries: Experiments in the Digital Humanities.
  2. Plato. (1909). Gorgias. Leipzig: Teubner.
  3. Feminist Futures. feministfutures.org/Info