The fallout from our current crises has not yet settled. As we have adapted to online iterations of our work, we have also experienced a profound loss of life, paired with an unprecedented economic collapse. How these crises might affect higher education writ large is perhaps already glimpsed by present conditions of austerity. For Digital Humanities (DH), the uneven and combined effects of the crises could fundamentally alter our disciplinary practice.
Digital Humanities are an assemblage of academic tools and methods that demand intellectual evolution. This is, first, a fact of DH’s disciplinary formation–interdisciplinary and technologically driven–but one that is still frequently debated. Second, the demand to evolve is a political principle realized in DH’s practice. Among its many iterations, traits like collaboration, generative thinking, and making are centered, modeling an intellectual evolution meant to resist individualism in the rush to produce knowledge within larger structures of individual gain. How these disciplinary practices are distinguished from long-established modes of humanistic inquiry define DH as much as they create inevitable tension.
Despite its digital character, institutional space—particularly the laboratory space—is most often the control mechanism that allows DH to realize its disciplinary potential. The lab, and all of its attendant costs, provides the material conditions for DH to affect humanistic inquiry because it gives us space to occupy. The DH lab might mimic more traditional iterations of the space, but it is often housed within a communal space like a library, maximizing the lab’s interdisciplinary potential. The lab is the chapter house of DH praxis, tantamount to access, technology, affiliation, and so many more aspects of what DH scholarship assumes in its practice. But what happens when the lab is closed, in some cases, for good?