Comment/Question for Brett after the NeDiMAH final network event

Patrik Svensson
2 min readMay 5, 2015

Thank you for a great talk, Brett! You do fantastic work.

I don’t fully share your enthusiasm about the ACLS Our Commonwealth Report (I take this opportunity to make a more general point). I see its usefulness and the good work that has gone into it. I see its appeal. I appreciate your comment about one thing missing is addressing studies of digital culture. I think we need to take that very seriously, not just studies of digital culture, but more generally — intellectual engagement. This also includes critical engagement with the very ideas proposed and the discourse of something like cyberinfrastructure.

I see a couple of tensions and problems:

The report is essentially about data, not research challenges. It is about the “complete digitization of human culture” (which has consequences if you take the report as a template for the digital humanities). So making the argument that infrastructure needs to be built on humanistic sensibilities, I think one needs to start out from the intellectual side of things, or rather the intellectual-material side of things.

It is technology-focused. Not surprising, but worth pointing out — especially given the above point.

It is heavily influenced by STEM (or rather a humanistic take on STEM). NSF and science — in the summary one important point is that we are seeing “a revolution similar to the transformation of science and engineering addressed report is inevitable for the humanities and social sciences..”

The discourse is one of “approximate future” — about new, revolutionary, transformation etc. This is fine for this kind of report (which has a clear goal), but is not unproblematic. I think there is a risk that this kind of discourse (without much critical discussion of the “frame”) extends to other contexts and venues, including calls for proposals, mission statements etc.

I do not really have a question I guess and it is too late now anyhow. But if I had asked a question it would have been: Do you think the transformative potential predicted in the report has been realized or is being realized or have to be realized? Are we seeing in new ways? What is the intellectual impact?

Again, I really liked the talk and you are one of the three funding agency people in the world I like best (and you have not even given me/us any funding yet, but hopefully will in the future:).



Patrik Svensson

Visiting Professor UCLA, Professor Umeå University. Digital humanities, events, infrastructure, building, screens, space, sts