Yesterday afternoon I took some time to read Jeremy Huggett’s most recent article, “Resilient Scholarship in the Digital Age” in the latest issues of the Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology. Huggett is one of my favorite scholars and this article demonstrates why. Not only is it complex and sophisticated, but it also zeros in on a crucial place where digital scholarship can make a difference. The article considers how digital scholarship can foster resilience, but not in the sense that has made the term popular among university administrators. Instead, Huggett has argued for a resilience that protects and cultivates a sense of community and individual strength and security even as digital tools have increasingly come to define the relationship between the individual and their institutions.
Huggett contrasts the use of digital tools in the neoliberal university to control, assess, and surveil faculty, researchers, staff, and students with the work of digital scholarship particularly in archaeology which has increasingly set itself in opposition to digital practices in society and in the 21st century university. Lorna Richardson’s take on punk archaeology, the archaeology of care, and most importantly Katherine Cook’s recent call for more radical and inclusive digital archaeologies seek both to amplify individual agency, identity, and affective practices while at the same time recognizing the often problematic relationship between digital tools and our goals. That so much digital scholarship emerges from university settings and it is frequently coopted by administrators who wish to harvest metrics, to demonstrate “cutting edge research,” and to pay lip service to their latest vision of cross-disciplinary academic practices. At the same time, Huggett reminds us that our work in digital practices and with digital tools can be subversive and care for individuals and communities that the rapid grind of the neoliberal university wishes to reduce to interchangeable parts.
A few months ago, I got into a debate on The Facebooks about whether digital humanities had fulfilled its potential. (To be clear, I don’t consider myself a digital humanist, but some of my work is “digital humanist adjacent.”) I argued that the digital humanities were too beholden to the neoliberal technocratic culture that gave rise to them. Others argued that this is exactly what made the digital humanities so potent and gave them the potential to be so subversive. As a scholar, I’ve tended to regard this promise with some skepticism and critiqued rhetoric in digital scholarship that smacked of technological solutionism or the like. Huggett’s piece (and my discussions with colleagues on social media and in person) has given me pause and pushed me to trace the implications of my own work in digital archaeology into more productive spaces. I need to digest this article more fully in the coming weeks.