By William Pannapacker
After generations of relatively quiet progress—going back to the era of punch cards—the digital humanities has exploded into academic consciousness as the Next Big Thing at a time when the humanities seem to be in big trouble.
Some recent Ph.D.’s who were engaged with “DH,” as insiders call it, before it was cool—say, seven years ago—are starting to feel jostled by the arrival of so many newcomers. As one young postdoc complained to me, “Lots of people are trying to hitch their wagon to the digital humanities star.” And maybe I am one of them.
One DH leader described me as a writer who traffics in “edge discourse,” which is not quite the same thing as being a “bottom feeder.” I gather it means that I am not an insider, nor am I a complete outsider, since I’ve been following this movement for about three years now (see my previous columns, “Summer Camp for Digital Humanists ,” “The MLA and the Digital Humanities ,” and “Digital Humanities Triumphant? “).
For a comprehensive introduction to the field, freely available online, I recommend A Companion to Digital Humanities , edited by Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth. Also, the Association for Computers and Humanities runs a helpful site called Digital Humanities Questions & Answers.
According to Matthew Kirschenbaum, associate director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, the field is growing so fast that the major challenge is managing the proliferation of projects and approaches. Many of those were on display at Stanford University in June at the international conference  of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations.
Titled “Big Tent Digital Humanities,” the alliance’s annual conference brought together members of the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing, the Association for Computers and the Humanities, and the Society for Digital Humanities, along with more than a few people who might be described as DH-curious.
A high percentage of DH’ers at the meeting were young graduate students and postdocs. A lot of others there had gone off the grid of traditional tenure-track academe without regrets: the “alt-ac community,” including librarians and technologists, along with a variety of new professional identities who find homes in research centers rather than traditional departments.
The conventional academic hierarchies are quite muddled in the digital humanities. A new graduate can be more famous in the field than a senior professor. It’s an informal culture of tie-dyed T-shirts and cargo shorts; interactive conversational presentations; and nonstop twittering involving audience members and DH’ers all over the world. There may have been more people monitoring  the conference in real time online than attending in person.
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