In a rich man’s world: Global DH?

The following map is from Melissa Terras’s infographic, Quantifying the Digital Humanities.

Physical Digital Humanities Centres

The map shows the distribution of physical centres in the Digital Humanities (as this is defined by members of ADHO communities) across the globe. As Domenico Fiormonte has argued, it can also serve as a proxy for other types of activity in the field, including, broadly speaking, the residency of members of ADHO affiliated Digital Humanities societies (see Fiormonte, fig. 1).But as Fiormonte also points out, the “blank” areas on Terras’s map can serve as an inverse proxy for other data. Linguistic diversity, for example, or Gross National Income as mapped by UNEP.

Gross National Income

This (literal) disconnect is stunning. Although the Digital Humanities as we define it is, relative to the humanities more broadly, a highly international and collaborative endeavour, it remains the case that our internationalisation and collaborative activity is primarily conducted on an East-West basis among a relatively small number of generally contiguous, high income economies: Japan, North America, Western and Central Europe, Brazil, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

We can do better. The digital revolution that has made our field possible is also having a massive effect on mid- and low-income economic regions. Low and medium income economies outpace high income economies in growth in mobile phone subscriptions, broadband subscriptions, and, especially, mobile broadband subscriptions  (this and other charts are from the International Telecommunication Union’s 2011 report):

Subscription growth for mobile telephone (left), fixed broadband (middle), and mobile broadband (right) by level of development

Perhaps more significantly for our purposes, while overall internet penetration remains relatively low in such economies, the gap narrows considerably among citizens with tertiary education:

Internet use by educational level

In other words, while the distribution of physical Digital Humanities centres on Terras’s map closely reflects both the distribution of high income vs. medium and low income economies and the distribution of internet penetration among the general population, it would not reflect maps showing either the penetration of internet usage among those with a tertiary education or the rate of change in various forms of ICT connectivity. Maps showing these figures would have far fewer and much smaller “blank” spots. They would almost certainly present a truer picture of the use of digital technology by humanists across the globe.



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