Are the digital humanities exclusive?

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Editors’ Note: This is the final of four essays in a series on labor history, digital humanities, and public history. Authors who wrote essays for this series developed their work as part of a fall 2021 graduate labor history colloquium taught by Dr. Andrew Urban at Rutgers-New Brunswick.

The purpose of this post is to reflect on inclusion and exclusion in the digital humanities. Although it is true that the digital humanities sometimes allow a larger audience to be reached—through the use of resources such as blogs, web pages, digitization, podcasts, etc.—not everyone can access them. The lack of basic technological resources and education sometimes prevents and excludes both scholars and broader audiences from engaging and contributing to the digital humanities.

According to a UNICEF report, at least a third of the world’s schoolchildren were unable to access remote learning during the Covid-19 lockdown. As a result, remote instruction ended up restricting the right to education and excluded many children globally. In other words, the move to online education, instead of reaching more students, restricted access. Do the digital humanities pose similar issues? In what ways does moving humanities scholarship online threaten access?

The digital humanities present two fundamental advantages. First, from the researcher’s side, DH allows access like never before to primary and secondary sources in digital formats. In fact, it is already possible to write history without going to the archives because more national and local archives are digitizing their records. Second, digital humanities projects can reach wider audiences. Viewed this way, it seems that everyone—researchers and audiences alike—benefits from this methodology.

But are the digital humanities really that great?

Some critics point out that in reality, digital humanities methods are not as novel as they say, that they have achieved little, and even that they are neoliberal tools that have taken over universities. For my part, my criticism is about their pretense to inclusiveness—see Lincoln Mullen, Geoffrey Rockwell, and Sara Morais. It has even been claimed that in digital humanities there is no gender imbalance—which was later refuted by a study. Is it true that the digital humanities are more inclusive?


A white man on the left holds up an object and looks at it skeptically, while the white man on the right looks on. The following is in capital letters: "When someone says that there is not gender imbalance in digital humanities." "I don't know, Rick, it looks fake."

Meme created by the author. Chumlee, from Pawn Stars, made the phrase “I don’t know Rick it looks fake” viral. It came from Chumlee doubting the authenticity of an object that a customer brought into the store. Therefore, this meme is used in all those situations in which you may have doubts about something or someone.


In order to participate in the world of digital humanities, whether in production as a researcher or in consumption as an audience member, certain resources are needed that can be called fundamental or elementary. These resources are electricity, internet access, and a computer, to name a few. What happens then if the researchers or the public do not have access to these? They are excluded. Excluded from being able to create, participate and interact in this inclusive world. Although many of us take electricity and internet for granted, the outlook is different for 2.9 billion people in the world who have never had access to the internet. In other words, 1 in 3 people around the world does not have internet.


Meme created by the author. Taylor Armstrong, from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, points to a cat while crying desperately. For its part, the cat seems serene and calm while enjoying a salad. This meme is used to make claims to which the cat always has a second explanation.


Let’s assume that the problem of access to electricity, the internet, and computers is solved. Can we all benefit from the digital humanities? The answer is no. One of the assumptions on which the digital humanities relies is the knowledge of certain theoretical and practical tools. In other words, although we live in a world in which we are taught that people are born with a technological instinct, the truth is that to be part of the world of digital humanities you have to be trained. Recently, Rutgers-New Brunswick launched a course in digital humanities. Other universities offer digital humanities summer camps that are not included in the tuition and require additional expenses for the students and scholars. Accessing professional training in digital humanities is not cheap. What options do they have? To be self-taught and watch YouTube videos to learn how to use certain tools—for examples, see AJ Boyd’s post in this series about free online resources for digital humanities beginners.

But is this evil unique to the digital humanities? Of course not. The exclusion of marginalized communities is common in our societies. However, the problem I perceive in the digital humanities is those who are trained and have access to certain resources. My intention here is not to demonize or discourage the use of digital humanities methods and tools. On the contrary, what I am looking for is to offer a less romantic look at the digital humanities. In other words, that those who produce them, as well as those who consume them, are aware that they do so from absolute privilege.

~Laura Carolina De Moya-Guerra is a history Ph.D. student at Rutgers University. She received an MA in history and BA in political science from the Universidad del Norte. Her research and topics of interest cover migrations and diasporas in Colombia. Her first project studied the Arab migration to Barranquilla in the first half of the twentieth century. Her current research explores the Chinese diaspora in Colombia.


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