Ted Underwood has a great post exploring the challenges of “fitting” DH into literature departments. He observes
Humanities curricula may evolve, but I don’t think the majority of English or History departments are going to embrace rapid structural change — for instance, change of the kind that would be required to support graduate programs in distant reading. These disciplines have already spent a hundred years rejecting rapprochement with social science; why would they change course now? English professors may enjoy reading Moretti, but it’s going to be a long time before they add a course on statistical methods to the major.
And then a little later, “The reluctance of literary studies to become a social science needn’t prevent social scientists from talking about literature.” The connection between digital humanities and social science is interesting here. I think Ted’s point is that the statistical methods at work in DH are more common in the social sciences, which are generally more quantitative than the humanities (what isn’t?). Ultimately though, he makes a convincing claim that it’s ok if DH doesn’t fit into the paradigms of literary study; the two don’t need to fit together.
I have a slightly different take on this. The paradigms of literary study are shifting. DH isn’t causing this. Instead, I’d say that this paradigm shift and DH are products of a more general digital turn. Ted probably sees more closely than I do the frustrations that occur in English departments when they try to fit DH into their curriculum. In my view, while I think DH has a role to play in English departments, those departments misread the situation if they believe that what they need to do is respond to DH. What they need to do is respond to the broader digital turn happening around them, which might mean exploring the computational/statistical methods of literary studies DH, but mostly means building a digital literacy curriculum in place of the print literacy curriculum that currently exists. What literary studies should do in this regard I have no idea, but I wouldn’t equate English departments with literary studies.
And this is what Ted’s post got me thinking. When he noted the connection between DH and social sciences my first thought was “hmmm… that sounds a lot like rhetoric.” As you know, rhetoric has a humanities side, but it also has a social science side in communications departments. And there is some back and forth. English departments often contain multiple disciplines, why not add DH to the list? We can have print literary scholars, creative writers, journalists, print and digital rhetoricians, media theorists, professional/technical communicators, and digital humanists (and more). To do it though one would need a comprehensive mission that was NOT something about studying literature. In doing so, making DH fit would not be about accommodating it to literary studies or visa versa; it would be about building a larger, more relevant departmental vision.