DH Too Human?
On my way back from #dhiha5, the airlines on strike combined with the floods that block German trains at Berlin’s doors are offering me plenty of time (too much, really) to think about those two days. What was most important in the end? Was it the manifesto taking a real manifesto-ish shape? Was it the unease at being asked times and again by senior researchers to keep lobbying the decision takers restlessly until they hear us? “How are we in any position to do that?”, echoed the tweets as the conference was about to be concluded.
How much politics does it take to do science? That it takes some I accept. I have been of many fights – but so many of them ended in everyone returning to his/her research and some being crushed to pieces by the system while others survived. Not everyone can make it is one rule. Coping with it is certainly one of the most difficult exercises in solidary structures. How should not everyone feel hurt when hearing how immensely precarious the situation has become, how many individual lives are made unstable, aimless? What makes me most mad is the lack of alternative career paths for PhDs in the humanities when the academic system is failing them. Which is probably why I am more comfortable in the German system than in the French one after all (although things are showing signs of improvement with the access of PhDs to the higher Administration), in spite of me raising my voice against science being based more and more on projects like I did yesterday. Yes, saying that research projects are a good way of entering an academic career makes me boil when it means using brain power and then throwing away the people like old tissues. But it is true, on the other hand, that in Germany, a “dr” has a professional value on the job market.
Don’t get bitter, pick yourself up and start again, is what I have been doing over the past 12 years, raising from the newbie PhD candidate to almost-not-a-young-researcher-any-more in the informal scale of youngness of research. When we, the early career, were invited to some consultation, it never failed to feel like we were only there for the decision takers to have the good conscience to have let us speak – I was the alibi younger, the alibi Humanities scholar, the alibi woman, the alibi mother.
In that context, it certainly is an incommensurate incentive to see decisions takers like Milena Zic-Fuchs come, and listen, and act. But there are not so many of them out there, and they can’t carry all of the earth’s burden either.
After having spent hours trying to define “digital” in “digital humanities” (coding, programming, open access, databases, wikis, visualization and whatnot) yesterday, it turned out that “humanities” was even more of a problem. You can’t define DH because you can’t define the humanities. The order of knowledge has changed so much since the Humanities were institutionally formalized that the disciplines they are made of have become obsolete, especially for those who – like all of those that were present at #dhiha5 – have always worked transdisciplinarily. Are we too human?