Getting Started in Activist Digital Humanities

Recently I received an email from an undergraduate student who expressed frustration with what is commonly being represented as the digital humanities. The student had found my name through doing some research on the intersections of activism and the digital humanities, and asked if I could provide some references that could get her oriented to such work. I thought that this might be a useful blog post for others wishing to get started in this field, and so here’s my first attempt at a very brief and incomplete bibliography of all the terrific stuff that’s out there.

1. “Can Digital Humanities Mean Transformative Critique?” by Alexis Lothian (@alothian) and Amanda Philipps (@nazacathemad). A really great essay and introduction to project/work that are both activist and digital humanities oriented.

2. #TransformDH –the super awesome sister companion to DHPoco. #TransformDH defines itself as “an academic guerrilla movement seeking to (re)define capital-letter Digital Humanities as a force for transformative scholarship by collecting, sharing, and highlighting projects that push at its boundaries and work for social justice, accessibility, and inclusion.” They are also holding their first conference ever on October 2 and 3 at the University of Maryland! #TransformDH, you had me from the beginning.

3. Anne Cong-Huyen’s (@anitaconchita) recent essay “Asian/American and the Digital|Technological Thus Far”, which provides a great overview of Asian/American digital humanities projects. Also included in the hyperlink is a fantastic essay by Konrad Ng, “What Race Does Online: ‘Gangnam Style’ and Asian/American Identity in the Digital Age.”

4. The work of the terrific Jessica Marie Johnson, which includes a Queering Slavery working group, the LatiNegrxs Projects, and Afro Diaspora PhD, a blog which highlights “scholarship and scholars in the field of Atlantic African diaspora history.”

5. The work of FEMBOT Collective, a online feminist collective which produces the terrific journal Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media and Technology, and its sister organization FemTechNet, which runs a Distributed-Online-Collaborative-Course every year as a radical counterpart to the MOOC.

6. Hybrid Pedagogy, which radicalizes teaching and learning a la bell hooks and Paolo Freire, and its companion school Digital Pedagogy Lab

7. The Crunk Feminist Collective, inspiring group of women who have created “a space of support and camaraderie for hip hop generation feminists of color, queer and straight, in the academy and without, by building a rhetorical community, in which we can discuss our ideas, express our crunk feminist selves, fellowship with one another, debate and challenge one another, and support each other, as we struggle together to articulate our feminist goals, ideas, visions, and dreams in ways that are both personally and professionally beneficial.”

8. Mukurtu–built by Kim Christen Withey of Washington State University–a “free, mobile and open source platform built with indigenous communities to manage and share cultural heritage”

9. Mapping Police Violence,”a research collaborative collecting comprehensive data on police killings nationwide to quantify the impact of police violence in communities.”

10. “Threadbared”, a blog by Minh-ha T. Pham and Mimi Thi Nguyen that discusses “the politics, aesthetics, histories, theories, cultures and subcultures that go by the names “fashion” and “beauty.”

11. a free and open community that anyone interested in activism and DH should join!

12. Tara McPherson’s (@tmcphers) fantastic essay, “Why Are the Digital Humanities So White? Or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation”

13. A slideshare I did a while ago on “Race and the Digital Humanities” for a webinar I gave for NITLE in 2012.

14. Studies in Radicalism Online, a “scholarly organization devoted to forging links between the material archive of resources for the study of radicalism and the digital research environment.” (Hat Tip to Matthew Davis for this)

15. Martha Nell Smith (@marthanellsmith)’s historic essay, “The Human Touch Software of the Highest Order: Revisiting Editing as Interpretation”. In this essay, Smith writes: “When I first started attending humanities computing conferences in the mid-1990s, I was struck by how many of the presentations remarked, either explicitly or implicitly, that concerns that had taken over so much academic work in literature—of gender, race, class, sexuality—were irrelevant to humanities computing. For those not held back by the sentimental and simplistic question of whether books would be displaced by electronic media, the field of humanities computing brought the models and rigors of science to the intellectual work of literary and artistic criticism and theory, and in that fulfilled some new critical dreams of bringing objectivity, rational thought, and aesthetic purity to departments of English. Scientific matters of mathematics and computation, objective and hard, do not seem to be subject to the concerns of gender, race, or sexuality. 2 + 2, so the reasoning goes, always equals 4, whether you are black, a woman, a queer, a straight, or whatever. HTML, SGML, XML—the codes that make words and images, texts, processable—and TEI conformancy are supposedly gender-, race-, class-neutral.The codes always work, and the principles always apply, whatever one’s personal identity or social group (or so many seemed to believe). It was as if these matters of objective and hard science provided an oasis for folks who do not want to clutter sharp, disciplined, methodical philosophy with considerations of the gender-, race- and class-determined facts of life. After all, in the wake of the sixties, the humanities in general and their standings in particular had suffered, according to some, from being feminized by these things. Humanities computing seemed to offer a space free from all this messiness and a return to objective questions of representation.” (4)

There is so much other great work out there–hopefully this is a start of many guides to come!

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