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Public, First in Debates in DH

2016 July 20
by Sheila

The revised version of my blog post, “The Public is Dead. Long Live the Public” from April 2015, appears in the 2016 edition of Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matt Gold and Lauren Klein as “Public, First.”

Debates 2016 features long-form essays and shorter pieces in six sections: Histories and Futures; DH and Methods: DH and Practices; DH and Disciplines; DH and Critics; and a forum on text analysis at scale.

Read the full text if the excerpt below grabs your attention.

As a public historian who has practiced in both analog and digital modes, I am attuned to the articles in the Chronicle and conversations—on Twitter, at meetings, and at conferences—from traditional and alt-academics who see digital and online projects as a means for sharing academic research with “the general public.” Skeptics ask why academics have lost their publics, while proponents point to popular digital humanities projects (Bender). It is important to recognize that projects and research may be available online, but that status does not inherently make the work digital public humanities or public digital humanities.Public history and humanities practices—in either digital or analog forms—place communities, or other public audiences, at their core.

Digital humanities scholars and practitioners are defined by the digital, which makes the difference in their humanities scholarship. Public historians and public humanities scholars are defined by the “public,” even when definitions of these practices are contested (National Council on Public History; Lubar). Suzanne Fischer offers a useful way of describing public history as “cracking open history as a democratic project, and doing it transparently, in public.” She also suggests that while public historians work with specific audiences on projects, they also have “a duty to serve particular communities” (“On the Vocation of Public History”). Public digital humanities, then, should be identified by the ways that it engages with communities outside of the academy as a means for doing digital humanities scholarship.

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