Seeing more clearly

Fuchs, S. (2021) Seeing more clearly. Nineteenth-Century Music Review, 18 (1) pp. 109-120. ISSN 1479-4098 (print), 2044-8414 (online)


The spate of sharply critical think-pieces published over the past few years might seem to suggest that the digital humanities are in crisis, but the discipline continues to thrive: public and private funding bodies remain robustly supportive of digital humanities initiatives, laying the groundwork for research that is orientated towards the capacity for communication beyond traditional readerships. The digital humanities glow with such promise that some of us – among whom I must include myself – have quietly set aside our misgivings, instead finding ways of incorporating digital technologies and methodologies into our work. But mute complicity is not the only alternative to vocal censure, as is made clear by the many accounts of experiments and other personal experiences posted on blogs and, increasingly, published in peer-reviewed journals. Grounded in self-reflective practices, this sort of autoethnography offers a productive means of coming to terms with our complex and sometimes contradictory motivations for engaging with the digital humanities. In this essay, I reflect on a digital network visualization and analysis project I have pursued over the past five years, the final iteration of which – entitled ‘Visualizing the French Voice’ – attempted to use algorithms to make sense of the relationships between professors and pupils active at the Paris Conservatoire around the turn of the nineteenth century. I try to understand my motives at each turn, which are clearly bound up with that seductive promise of a broader readership, but also, albeit much less clearly, of ‘impact’.

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