When the Digital Humanities Become a Little Too “Victorian”

I just finished reading a Digital Humanist who actually proposes a return to the University as a culturally unifying institution replacing Cardinal Newman and Matthew Arnold’s nationalistic centrality of Victorian literature (literature read primarily by the middle classes), with the study of digital code as our new culturally unifying discourse. This “scholar” then proposes that we are entering a third “wave” of DH, disguising a Victorian (not Victorianist) discourse of progress under a thin veil of social Darwinism with imagery of human’s leaving the water and walking on land, as if humanity (not just the humanities) were somehow better off because we use computer hardware instead of paper books more often to share information and disseminate knowledge. I’ve read some great DH research but this author is not such an example. The disunity introduced by the Decadents at the end of the nineteenth century to middle-class values as universal ideals was a good thing. That disunity allowed people silenced by the privileging of the Anglo-Saxon, male, Protestant heterosexual to introduce new ways of understanding and adapting to the challenges and struggles of modernity. The disunity introduced by postmodernism that challenged the privileging of Modernism’s constructed unity of defined by art and literature written by Snglo-Saxon, male, protestant heterosexuals was a good thing too. Disunity, difference, and competing perspectives on culture is not chaos and Universities and the scholars that they employ have no business suggesting otherwise. Such calls for Victorian-style cultural unity suggests a xenophobic reaction to change that is little more than xenophobic ideology disguised as scholarly discourse. We who appreciate both the Digital Humanities and Victorian literature and culture need to do better and dissuade such dangerous appropriations of scholarship. As Victorian Studies scholars we must recognize the dangerous appropriation of Victorian social ideologies that today amount to little more than opportunities for a new elite to systematize a rejection of difference and change of the sort that produced the eugenics, colonialism, paterfamilias, and the medicalisation of sexual diversity as disease in the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-centuries.