On February 23, I was honored to speak at an Invited Symposium on Digital Humanities at the American Philosophical Association’s Central Division Meeting in New Orleans. Organized by Cameron Buckner, who is a Founding Project Member of InPhO and one of the leaders of the University of Houston’s Digital Humanities Initiative, the session also featured great talks by Tony Beavers on computational philosophy and David Bourget on PhilPapers.
One of the central questions that we explored was why philosophy seems to be less visibly engaged in digital humanities; as Peter Bradley once wondered, “Where Are the Philosophers?” As I noted in my talk, the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities has only awarded 5 grants in philosophy (4 out of 5 to Colin Allen and colleagues on the InPhO project). Although the APA conference was much smaller than MLA or AHA, I was still surprised that there seemed to be only two sessions on DH, compared to 66 at MLA 2013 and 43 at AHA 2013.
Yet there are some important intersections among DH and philosophy. Beavers pointed to a rich history of scholarship in computational philosophy. With PhilPapers, philosophy is ahead of most other humanities disciplines in having an excellent online index to and growing repository of research. Most of the same challenges faced by philosophers with an interest in DH apply to other domains, such as figuring out how to acquire appropriate training (particularly for graduate students), recognizing and rewarding collaborative work, etc.
My talk was a remix and updating of my presentation “Why Digital Humanities?” In exploring the rationale for DH, I tried to cite examples relevant to philosophy. For example, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a dynamic online encyclopedia that predates Wikipedia, has had a significant impact, with an average of nearly a million weekly accesses during the academic year. With CT2.0, Peter Bradley aims to create a dynamic, modular, multimedia, interactive, community-driven textbook on critical thinking. Openness and collaboration also inform the design of Chris Long and Mark Fisher’s planned Public Philosophy Journal, which seeks to put public philosophy into practice by curating conversations, facilitating open review, encouraging collaborative writing, and fostering open dialogue. Likewise, I described how Transcribe Bentham is enabling the public to help create a core scholarly resource. I also discussed recent critiques of DH, including Stephen Marche’s “literature is not data,” the 2013 MLA session on the “dark side” of DH, and concerns that DH risks being elitist. I closed by pointing to some useful resources in DH and calling for open conversation among the DH and philosophy communities. With that call in mind, I wonder: Is it the case that philosophy is less actively engaged in digital humanities? If so, why, and what might be done to address that gap?