Whether or not we are building something – it matters, doesn’t it? Building a business, for example, is much more involved than maintaining it. You have to determine why it is needed, what is needed, who is needed, and what will differentiate it from the rest. Once it’s up and running, the tasks become more specific: how much of a raise should we give our top salesman? Should we continue to advertise on that billboard on I-15? Did somebody already order new ink cartridges?
When it comes to digital humanities, the building, the making, the creating of new content, ideas, applications, whatever it may be, is imperative. Building sets us apart; it leaves our mark on the world. Stephen Ramsay cites Alan Liu as an example: “those of us with long memories…can date Alan’s entry into the field…to a very precise moment: namely, the day he started building Voice of the Shuttle.”1 Curiosity impelled me to visit this site, and in the true spirit of “screwing around,” I discovered that it looks like this:
(screenshot of vos.ucsb.edu2)
Upon further examination I found that Voice of the Shuttle is a database of academic journals and articles from different universities and other sources – which would be very useful, if it was kept up-to-date. I clicked on some of the site’s links and found that many of them no longer existed, and others had last been updated in 1994.
So, what use is Voice of the Shuttle if it has not been maintained properly? Sure, it was created, but isn’t there always more creation to be done, even on an existing idea? Imagine how useful it could be to students and academics alike if its design was improved and if its database was updated. A Yale student, for example, could explore articles not just from the Yale library written by Yale professors, but easily stumble across a journal on Anthropology from Austria.
I agree with Ramsay – if we are to be considering ourselves Digital Humanists, we must continually be creating; but isn’t there creation in the process of maintaining? Isn’t taking something old and transforming it advantageous and purposeful? Perhaps that’s what Digital Humanities is, or should be: the pursuit of efficacious, fruitful developments.
I. Stephen Ramsay. “On Building.” From Defining Digital Humanities. 2013.
2. Homepage of vos.ucsb.edu. Created by Alan Liu in conjunction with developers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, English Department.