When my wife attended an orientation session for her first post-college job, the human resources representative supplied helpful tips for developing “manageatorial” career skills. This felicitous neologism — it wonderfully conjures the image of a janitorial executive — has provided a reliable punch line for two decades; Daniel Allington’s recent jeremiad against digital humanities offers yet another opportunity to trot it out.
“The world needs ditch diggers too.” –Judge Smails, Caddyshack (1980)
At last week’s Digital Humanities Luxembourg (DHLU) symposium, a common refrain could be heard in nearly every presentation: “I’m only a historian.” Uttered apologetically at the beginning of a number of presentations, after two days it became the object of parody and ultimately comprised part of organizer Frédéric Clavert’s excellent concluding remarks. But despite the snickering each time it was heard, there was little investigation of what was behind this phrase. I think it actually reveals something important about the state of DH, perhaps especially in Europe but hardly exclusively so.
The following piece is loosely based on a talk I gave at the 2010 meeting of the American Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies in Albuquerque, NM.
Although the research and reference management software Zotero has garnered plenty of attention for its pithy taglines and millions of delighted users, less well-known is the mission statement that guides every last detail of the project’s development:
To collect knowledge disseminated around the globe; to set forth its general system to those with whom we live, and transmit it to those who will come after us, so that the work of preceding centuries will not become useless to the centuries to come; and so that our offspring, becoming better instructed, will at the same time become more virtuous and happy, and that we should not die without having rendered a service to the human race.