The grammar of the digital humanities

I confess: I like grammar. I like grammar not because I like following rules (though I often get mistaken as a rule-follower by inattentive observers), but rather because I like searching for rules — and that’s really what grammar is all about.

Take, for instance, this article in the Chronicle, which those with subscriptions should be able to access in full. The author takes the occasion of a grammatical confusion — whether the term ‘Digital Humanities’ is singular or plural — to indicate, as she puts it, “something about the field.” What she wishes to indicate is that the field is undertaking some boundary work:

Every “What is Digital Humanities?” panel aimed at explaining the field to other scholars winds up uncovering more differences of opinion among its practitioners. Sometimes those differences develop into tense debates about the borders of the field, and about who’s in and who’s out.

What’s interesting is how uncomfortable folks are when strict boundaries don’t exist. But, dare I ask, are strict boundaries really necessary?

In an earlier post I suggested that philosophy is about what philosophy is about. That is just to say that philosophy is a reflective activity. And when other fields, such as the Digital Humanities, are being reflective, they are also being philosophical. In seeking the rules for conducting themselves, ‘Digital Humanists’ are engaging in the sort of reflective rule-seeking that constitutes philosophy.

Boundary work need not result in strict boundaries that force one to violate them in order to say anything new. Nor should grammar be the sort or thing that restricts what can be said — or at least, not simply. The rules, if we find them, are there to help us say more, not less. We shouldn’t be so concerned with following the rules that we miss what’s philosophical about grammar. And digital humanists should stop fretting over boundaries and get comfortable with the idea that boundary work can involve play.

This entry was posted in Future of the University, Interdisciplinarity, Metrics, New Lexicon, Public Philosophizing, Transdisciplinarity. Bookmark the permalink.

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