what is the economic model of the digital humanities?


I ask this question a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I think a more serious version of the question is one that has not yet been adequately answered. Who does the work that produces digital humanities output? This is the conundrum underlying most questions of  evaluation (particularly for tenure credit) of digital humanities work, of much of the altmetrics conversation, and to some extent the question of what training our advanced graduate students require.

To be sure, there are other important questions that are continuously being asked of DH: what are we doing? To what end? Particularly in history, is the tool that we use for our project contributing substantively to the scholarship it purports to represent?

Yet as I read the short introduction to DH from the book Digital_Humanities,[1] which speaks of DH projects in terms of project management, deliverables, and development cycles, I can’t help but wonder: who is responsible for this work? Who is teaching history PhDs to write technical documentation? To evaluate, choose, and implement metadata standards? To do database administration? Are those instructors departmental faculty? Does the single-apprenticeship model of scholarly training still hold up? Is coursework on proper LAMP implementation taught the same semester as paleography?

Or, alternatively, does DH methodology allow the humanities to borrow more efficiently from the model used in the physical sciences, with small armies of grad students and postdocs doing “grunt work” (text encoding or map reading) in support of a primary investigator’s research and output?

As to the expert option, if professionals (programmers, information architects, designers, and publishers are all possible collaborators identified by Roy Rozenzweig[2]) are used, by whom are they paid? For whom do they work? Does the future of humanities research depend on the grant-funded research structure? What is the scholar’s role in the production of a high-tech undertaking that requires professionals to develop it? If they’re merely writing content, why not write a book?

[1] Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp. Digital_Humanities. The MIT Press, 2012.

[2] Douglas Seefeldt, and William G. Thomas III. “What is digital history? A look at some exemplar projects.” (2009), 3.