Emerson teaches us to be humble in the face of such knowledge. “Every action,” he writes, “admits of being outdone. Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.”
Perhaps it is telling that Emerson’s figure here involves a depth to be plumbed rather than a height to be climbed. For at this moment in the development of the digital humanities, we are pursuing new paths to knowledge, extending the horizons of our abilities with new tools. This is, obviously, not a teleological or progressive journey. We have exciting new tools and provocative new methods, but they are not necessarily leading us to higher truths. We are not marching along straight and ever-improving lines of progress. But we are producing tools that conform to new directions in our thought, and those tools can usefully reset our perspectives, helping us look with new sight on things we thought we understood. They can give us new vantage points and new angles from which we can explore the depths around us. And, of course, even as they make new sights possible, we remember Emerson and note that they foreclose, or at least obscure, others.
Emerson’s aphorisms provide useful reminders both for digital humanists surveying the field and for scholars observing it from its horizons. In today’s talk, I want to think through states of knowing in the digital humanities, situating our practices within larger histories of knowledge production. My talk has three parts:
- A discussion of a few approaches to text analysis and their relation to larger perceptions about what DH is and does, and how DH knowledge is produced;
- A discussion of some practitioners who are blending these approaches in provocative ways;
- A wider view of experimental knowledge in DH, with the suggestion of a new grounding, based in the arts, for future DH public work.