Am I a Digital Humanist? Confessions of a Neoliberal Tool

Matthew Kirschenbaum’s eloquent response to the Los Angeles Review of Books essay, “Neoliberal Tools (and Archives): A Political History of Digital Humanities,” by Daniel Allington, Sarah Brouillette, and David Golumbia.

Or else I could just tell you a story.

On a rainy morning a couple of years back a colleague and I slipped into the Houghton Library at Harvard. I had been there before to do research for Track Changes, but this time I was going behind the wall. We were in a small basement room, packed with curators and archivists (they’re not the same thing you know), and other Houghton staff to introduce them to BitCurator. I sat and watched as the small red LED lamp on an external 3.5-inch floppy drive flickered, the decades-old bits from what Jason Scott once called “poor black squares” passing through the sensors in its read/write head, interpolated by firmware, sifted through a WriteBlocker (to ensure no cross-contamination between the two systems), and reconstituted in the form of a disk image, a perfect virtual surrogate.

(Wolfgang Ernst writes of a similar flickering lamp, the magnetic recording light that pulsed as Milman Parry recorded the folk songs of the Serbian guslari singers: Archaeography, or the archive writing itself was how Ernst glossed the moment. The lamp flickered on and off. Something, nothing, memory, oblivion.)

We found no smoking gun, no “LostNovel.doc.” But the canon of collective memory swelled just a little bit more. It was a good morning’s work, done with a good tool.

Read the entire article here.

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