I thought that for the final blog of this term I might write on something that I came across when searching for a postgraduate course. My only real requirements for a new field of study (and I did specifically want to learn something wholly new to me), was that the subject could incorporate both practical skills (big fan of employment) and elements of humanism and social justice. That sounds like a mean feat, right? I come from an interdisciplinary humanities background, it was the ‘humanities’ that led me to DH. With a pretty rudimentary search early last summer I had thought I had decided what the digital humanities were, without knowing that this was the central joke upon which all great DH debates are built. I personally saw DH as an opportunity to marry technical skills with personal passions, for me that was always feminism and social justice. I can’t deny that I was pleased to locate feminist ideology and politics within the digital archives, however small it may seem in comparison to academia that aims to improve the standing of the field and the research that furthers industry (not that these concepts remain incongruent or exclusive). The idea of a post-theory, post-empathy form of digital humanities was abhorrent to me, and alarmingly seemed possible from what little I had read within the field. The concentration of the field on the intersection between industry and academia seemed to concentrate on a particularly privileged minority to whom access to digital scholarship would be realised with the ease it is so often the case within all fields of academia.
It appears that cultural studies and the digital humanities have only just begun to intercept; with the global recession taking centre-stage, the discourse of the digital humanities has been required to be increasingly self-reflexive, focusing on a combination of employment and inclusiveness, the centres of ethical debates within any post-crisis field of academia. How might DH work towards being a transformative field of study, one that does not exclude minorities or focus merely on the privileged, white, middle-class members who are the overwhelming majority within the academy. In response to these, and more queer-centric critiques of DH, the #transformDH group was born (http://transformdh.org/). #transformDH are a collaborative group (often cited, indeed self-cited, as a ‘guerilla’ group, linking them to radical queer political and academic movements). The group aims to transform Digital Humanities into a space that is inclusive of race, gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality and class through introducing digital critical narratives across their strong social media presence and highlighting digital projects that are both created by members of these minority groups or centred around these groups’ digital actions. #transformDH was established in late 2011, and has received both massive commendation, and biting criticism amongst DH academics and scholars.
Roger Whitson’s post “Does DH really need to be transformed? My Reflections on #mla12.” Whitson’s critique seems to lie predominantly in the oppositional rhetoric of #transformDH, by which I mean that Whitson seems to interpret the movement as being opposed to what he calls, “the collaborative good will”, of the digital humanities. Below is an excerpt from that post;
Do we really need guerrilla movements? Are war metaphors, or concepts of overturning and redefining, truly the right kind of metaphors to use when talking about change in the digital humanities? It seems to me that the word “guerilla” reappropriates the collaborative good will of the digital humanities, making it safe for traditional academic consumption and inserting it into the scheme Stanley Fish and William Pannapacker highlight. Yeah, we see the cool kids at the theory table, but we want to be the cool kids, so we’re going to fight them until we can be the cool kids. But if my experience with the MLA is any indication, the digital humanities doesn’t need to be changed. I can already see it changing the atmosphere of the MLA, making it easier for people to connect with each other, enjoy their time together, and conceptualize new and exciting work. It’s not perfect – as the job crisis still lingers, humanities programs are still threatened with cuts, and too many adjunct teachers suffer from job insecurity, a lack of benefits, and too much work for too little pay. But, the MLA I saw this year gave me hope that more people were interested in working together to deal with these issues in a productive way – rather than worry what table they were sitting at.
I do have a particular aversion for the above sentiment. I think it is a misinterpretation of both the #transformDH movement’s motives and the field of Digital Humanities itself. To me, digital humanities does exclude, to a certain extent, discourses that are subversive. The voices of the marginalised are just that within DH, marginalised. Despite the ‘good will’ that is quite evident within the vast collaboration and open-sourcing within the field, the openness and willingness for constructive, discursive critique is incredibly important. Natalia Cecire explains that she does not believe that DH believes itself to be beyond critique, indeed her response to Whitson’s post points out articles that are highly self-reflexive and critical. It is important that this critique is always welcomed, and that it influences the types of collaborative projects and research that is undertaken. Cecire explains her position thusly, “Germano reflects that “[s]omeone once remarked to me that scholarly publishing in gay studies was a conflict between the nerdy and the naughty.” This conflict seems to me to have re-emerged in #transformDH’s invocation of oppositional rhetorics, in a way that I believe to be productive. Sometimes we need collaboration, and sometimes we need solidarity. And perhaps even such fine adjustments require some transformation in the way we understand our work”.
Imagining a future for DH which is not reflexive on whom it benefits, who it assumes to speak for etc. is not in any way defending the field. Instead it leaves Dh consistently open to disparaging critique. DH can easily become in itself an exclusionary grand narrative, like religious discourse, which serves particular world views and little else. Movements like #transformDH make the Digital Humanities cast an eye inwards, acknowledging it’s own socio-cultural position of privilege and highlight projects of a DH nature that may otherwise go unnoticed (just this week, they have shared on their Tumble articles and apps surrounding public and DH collaboration to combat police brutality and QR codes to donate to various funds for the people of Ferguson, see below)
I personally hope movements like #transformDH and others like it become central to DH developments, and that social justice and general ethics is always a concern for those who develop projects and receive funding within the field.
“Queer Technologies: Automating Perverse Possibilities.” Queer Technologies. 2012. <http://www.zachblas.info/projects/queer-technologies/.>
Bailey, Moya Z. “All the Digital Humanists Are White, All the Nerds Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave”.http://journalofdigitalhumanities.org/1-1/all-the-digital-humanists-are-white-all-the-nerds-are-men-but-some-of-us-are-brave-by-moya-z-bailey/
Natalia Cecire, “In Defense of #TransformDH“<http://nataliacecire.blogspot.ie/2012/01/in-defense-of-transforming-dh.html>
González, Isela, Margaret Rhee, Allyse Gray, and Kate Monico Klein. From the Center: Facilitating Feminist Digital Theory and Praxis in a Digital Environment (blog). 2012. <http://hastac.org/blogs/alexislothian/2011/12/02/hastac2011-center-facilitating-feminist-digital-theory-and-praxis-dig.>
McPherson, Tara. “Why is the Digital Humanities So White?, or, Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K. Gold, 138–160. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2012.
Redmond, Jennifer. “Thoughts on feminism, digital humanities and women’s history”.
Roger Whitson, “Does the Digital Humanities Really Need to be Transformed? My Reflections on #mla12“<http://www.rogerwhitson.net/?p=1358>