#transformers…more than meets the eye!

Sorry, couldn’t help myself. But I think there’s something appropriate about the Transformers reference when it comes to #transformDH, a nascent movement that challenges the boundaries of digital humanities work and opens a space (indeed, many interstitial and tactical spaces) for transformative critique, as Alexis Lothian and Amanda Phillips termed it in their recent essay “Can Digital Humanities Mean Transformative Critique?”  For me, it is useful to think about the #transformDH crowd as Transformers in the pop cultural sense (and I’ve started referring to them as such on twitter) because they are constantly reworking, recombining, reconfiguring, and recontextualizing the technologies and concerns with which digital humanities are typically preoccupied. #transformers call attention to blind spots in digital humanities, and they spring into action to show that technologies always exceed the uses and audiences to which their creators imagine they can be put. #transformers are not just performing (or deforming) critique, but they’re also engaged in creative praxis that synthesizes and that offers something new.

Furthermore, the Transformers tagline “more than meets the eye” productively engages the contested issues of representation that many of our readings for today focused in on. For example, when Tara McPherson reports being asked “Why are the digital humanities so white?”, as her essay in Debates in the Digital Humanities is so provocatively titled, we need to ask ourselves what we are doing when we observe whiteness in one space or another. How does whiteness, and the power and privileges it accrues, organize and shape disciplinary spaces and imaginaries in ways that may be invisible to some but glaringly obvious to others? How is whiteness represented (or not), and how does it come to dominate our fields of vision without naming itself? What work does whiteness do, as a racial logic or a racial formation that whiteness studies understands to operate without or even beyond the actions of individual “white people”?

There is definitely “more than meets the eye” here, especially when whiteness goes unmarked. Thus we might putatively say “the digital humanities are so white” and in doing so mark and name whiteness, yet we would also be constructing a narrative that actively erases or ignores the vital presence, contributions, and ongoing interventions of scholars and thinkers of color, individuals who might also be queer, might also be women, might also be trans, might also be poor and working class, might also be alter- and disabled, might also be working in contexts that do not center the United States, might also not be doing their primary work within the multiply privileged site of the academy, might also…. In our discussion today, therefore, I want us to strategically and temporarily (re)center whiteness in order to be able to track where it goes and how it moves, yet I also want us to recognize and remember that the margins are very real, that they do not cease to exist because “we” [who is that, anyway?] cease to think about them, and that they are a precarious space where conversations are happening, work is being done, and lives are being lived. What do we want to do when we move what has and continues to be marginalized to the center? What is tactical about the space of the margin?

I have some questions to guide us and open up discussion.

Q: Where and how do we see #transformDH, in its various instantiations and iterations, engaging with, contesting, and (at risk of seeming redundant) transforming the topics that our course has taken as central to digital humanities, i.e., “big data” and the modeling and textual analysis of million+ books, archives and archiving, #studioDH or “building”, making, and playing?

Q: In addition to the racial, gender, sexual, class, and ability politics (among many others) that our readings for today urge us to attend to, many of these authors are also urging us to critically examine the shapes that our versions of interdisciplinary work take. How might digital humanities work already be aligned with existing interdisciplinary projects in women’s and gender studies, American studies, and queer studies? What are some concrete ways digital humanities work could productively engage the critical frameworks of critical race theory, critical whiteness studies, and disability studies? And by concrete, I mean how do you see your work in conversation with these modes of thought?

Q: Dovetailing off this question, I think it’s especially timely that as our semester draws to a close we have a conversation about our desire for digital humanities. I wrote about Robyn Wiegman’s new book Object Lessons in my first post and expanded on some of these thoughts on an under-construction collaborative venue that I’m a part of, Squeaky Wheel, which I very much consider to be a project of transformative critique. Wiegman asks us to interrogate our critical wishes–what do we desire to do with critique? What happens when critique does not fulfill all of our needs (professional, personal, political), when it fails, as it will, to do justice to and with our objects of study? We might ask the same thing of building, making, doing, coding, and MOOCing that we ask of critique. I want to ask, who is digital humanities doing justice to? Who is digital humanities doing just with? Why do we want digital humanities to be “a thing” and why do we get upset when digital humanities turns out to be many things? If digital humanities is supposed to be a public humanities project, who is “the public” and why do we assume we know what it is they want/need to know?

Some beginning thoughts.

A beginning roundup of #transformDH conversations, posts, and projects in this storify.



In order to fool around with interactive nonfiction, I did Public Writing Audit #2 in Twine! Here it is.


I wanted to do something fancy where it would add up the total number of words in the order that you click on each post, but that wasn’t happening just yet.

Note: this doesn’t include Tweets, which have dropped off sharply on my end as the semester’s progressed due to not paying my phone bill…..




I….I cannot stop laughing. Maybe it’s because I’m a fucking queer. Maybe it’s because I’m a sci-fi nerd. Maybe it’s because you tell me to write a Twine story and my first thought is, “Ooh…queer space opera.”

“Hunt for the Gay Planet” made me laugh hard. Like, not even making sounds anymore, but love-handles-jiggling, rib-aching, noiseless, laughter. Every time I stop to think about it or go back to get another screen cap, I start laughing, which is why it’s taken me so long to write this.

Ok ok ok ok ok, but seriously, the story’s not great. It might even be cheesily anti-climactic (which is not to say there’s not plenty of sexy bits).


Or rather, I should rephrase: the story’s great, but the links not so much. For example, if you’re a queer, like me, your first thought is that the gay planet is the “strange-looking purple world.” Obvi. But I thought this was so obvious that it couldn’t be my first choice, so I saved it for my last choice. Satisfaction! The Gay Planet is the strange purple one. [On the other hand, maybe it makes more sense that the planet spinning on its side in the void is the queer one....Hmmmmm.....]

On replaying, I was seriously pissed that clicking that choice first resulted in the same path through the story as my original one. This is silly. If you choose a path, you accept the consequences. [That's why Borges called them forking paths.] Would the story be as funny if the author didn’t make you experience all of their amazing jokes first? Of course not! But would you have the satisfaction of making the “right” choices on the first go round? Yes. Would it be like real life? …Well, no. But yes, because when we make choices we don’t get to go back! That’s the fun thing about games–you should want to play them over and over, just like a good book, to find all the secret things and release that dopamine into your system incrementally.

So, if I don’t get the “right” answer the first time, I think I should have to experience just how poorly my choices could turn out, but “Hunt for the Gay Planet” doesn’t let you do this. Instead, it doesn’t really matter whether I choose a Binary Sunrise on the rocks or a Socket Bomb. The story suggests that the Socket Bomb makes you significantly drunker, so why don’t your choices change to reflect the narrow set of poor decisions available to drunk people? Yes, it would take you a hell of a lot longer to get to Lesbionica that way. But so would getting drunk.


I love the message this story sends. There’s something really poetic, hilarious, and fucking accurate about figuring heteronormativity first as an ancient hieroglyph depicting a man and a woman holding hands, then as a “psychic maelstrom” asking you if you have a boyfriend. And there’s something tragically true about searching for Lesbionica only to find a bar full of gay men who don’t want to be your friend, even though everyone there is an alien anyway. And there’s something really, really, painfully poignant about getting to the end and seeing those white words on a black screen after saving the world from the tyrannical lesbian who’s sold her soul for weapons. All we need is some sexploitative imagery of space-dykes drawn by some artist Dungeons and Dragons hired twenty years ago.

But the truth is, not everyone makes it to the queer planet to inherit the stars. That’s why the “It Gets Better” campaign sucks. I think the potential of game-stories like this one is in showing us the alternate endings–what happens when you screw it up, or when someone screws it up for you? Our futures are ultimately not in our control. And that’s not funny. But it’s real. And it’s part of why we play games and read stories.

Bethany Nowviskie famously asked, “What do girls dig?”


The answer: other girls.

PS, spoilers ha!


(In)visible Woman

Screaming Woman

This is a stencil of what I assume to be a screaming woman, spray-painted in hot pink. It’s located on the stairs that lead from campus to Lot 1, in between Tawes and the Art/Sociology Building (Google map here; you can even add your own graffiti sightings). I must have walked past it a million times without noticing it was there, because usually I am preoccupied with trying to see what art students are making in this door to the left of those stairs, which is open most of the time. [Lately it looks like someone in there is making a giant tree-person similar to the Ents in Lord of the Rings.]

Art Building

To the right of the stairs is this little nook. Turns out that brick wall, which is almost as tall as me, overlooks a secret garage door into Tawes.


Here’s a shot approaching the cement staircase.


And here it is from the stairs themselves.

Screaming Woman

I have to say, even when you know this stencil is there and are looking for it, it’s still hard to find. I became dejected when I thought a small patch of cement farther down the stairs was covering up the image. I walked the path down to Lot 1 to make sure I wasn’t remembering the location wrong, looking up and down the poles of streetlights and along the edges of the concrete; people started looking at me as though I was missing something. It wasn’t until I had given up the search and was walking up the stairs toward Tawes that I saw it again. Then I realized that the stencil wasn’t anything like I remembered–I assumed the shape I was looking for was a figure of a woman, not her face, and I didn’t have a strong sense of its color.

This exercise was a reminder about the embodied memory of space and place. It’s so fickle yet it sometimes leaves such strong impressions. I walk this path almost every day, and I always look forward to seeing what’s going on in the workshop with the massive door–there are always lights, sounds, eye-catching shapes that sometimes dwarf the humans that are working on them. The best view is at night, when the door is open and the building is lit from within by fluorescents. I try to watch what’s going on without being noticed by the artists, which is difficult because the brick wall gets in the way unless you are standing at the top of the staircase [and then people behind you trying to use the stairs wonder why you're just standing there....]. But even after my joy at discovering this stenciled woman for the first time, my memory of her receded and she stopped catching my attention until I remembered her for this exercise.

Why would someone put a stencil there, and why this stencil? It’s a hard image to interpret. I think it’s a woman but this could be the illusion of long hair created by the hard line at the edge of the stencil. Her mouth is open but her expression seems neutral–her eyes are in shadow, not angry or afraid. Perhaps she just calls out for us to notice her while we’re absorbed in our phones or paying too careful attention to our feet on the stairs. Perhaps she calls our attention to the details of this most everyday of spaces: one pathway between campus life and the journey home. It’s a space we’re not supposed to inhabit for long, and it’s a place some people may never go because of their inability to access it. In some ways it’s for us as pedestrians but in other ways its utility is closed to us, considering that on most sides it is hemmed in by delivery entrances, parking lots, driveways, and storage for what keeps the buildings around it running.

Oh, and there’s this.

Emergency Camera

As part of an exercise for Dr. Farman’s course on Space, Place, and Identity, the class mapped the security cameras on campus. Some of them are freestanding, but some of them are attached to these emergency kiosks. It doesn’t quite look like this kiosk at the top of the stairs has a camera, but it occurred to me that whoever put that stencil there might have been caught in the process, under surveillance by invisible, and potentially not even human, eyes.


Spice & Labour


I had a blast encoding JB/107/110/02, a sheet of paper divided into four columns of fairly readable handwriting that described a series of recipes. While finding a document that had not yet been transcribed was a fairly long and frustrating process, the actual encoding was quite fun once I established a rhythm. The tutorials and tool bars don’t mire the user in the details of the markup language, but enable the transcriber to figure it out as they go. The ability to see and edit changes quickly allowed for somewhat low-stakes trial and error learning.

This exercise reminded me a lot of my high school programming class. It was lovely to be able to “deform” the text of the document and experiment with the logic of the language. There is also something perversely satisfying to me about writing detailed comments explaining my choices. It’s like writing notes in the margin of a library book–someone else is going to see them.

By the end of the exercise I was able to recognize semantic chunks of markup and get a feel for its rules. However the document itself provided some interesting challenges because of how the page is arranged. Here are a few of my favorite examples.


There were many places, like this one, in which a small horizontal line divided the ingredients from the “Labour” of the recipe. There were also a ton of numbers, fractions, and what I took to be the small letter ‘d’ to one side of the words. Sometimes these numbers were accompanied by units of measurement, sometimes not. While this 1/2 over 2 1/2 first appeared to me to be a complex fraction, I realized that it was a break in the page that there was no accurate way to represent. First I had to figure out how to represent fractions [put the numerator in superscript, then / and the denominator]. Then I had to mess around until I realized that no matter what I couldn’t quite format it to look like the page itself. Some fun things happened.

First this, my attempt to underline superscript. [It's wrong, there's too many </hi>'s, but I got it to work eventually. Just using superscript and / looks much prettier than trying to underline it.]





Then this blue box showed up around my fraction! Don’t know what it meant, but I got it to go away.

Because the page was divided into narrow columns of script, I managed to reproduce the text but could not represent the vertical lines that separate it out. That kind of page division is accomplished by a page break, according to the transcription guidelines, so I felt compelled to specify in my comments whether it was a horizontal or vertical page break. For documents like this it would be useful to be able to insert some kind of simplified graphic representation of say, a vertical line, in order to get a sense of the space of the page itself.

I enjoyed encoding the recipes because I got to encounter a particularly everyday document. The list-like nature of it means that punctuation and abbreviation are not always standardized, yet we could ostensibly still follow the recipe today. It felt downright practical, allowing me to get a snapshot of how people were planning and preparing meals. Furthermore, seeing different versions of the text in multiples windows allows for a poetic kind of reading, as certain words could be juxtaposed or read as single phrases, i.e. “spice & labour.”**

**When I put this phrase into the title for this post, WordPress automatically changed it to “Spice &amp; Labour.” Fun.

Public Writing Audit #1

I decided to use the first Public Writing Audit as a chance to do some Storifying. I’ve seen people use Storify, but I don’t think I ever quite understood how it actually worked. Going through all my tweets from this semester, which required a fair bit of searching through twitter with Storify’s functions, made me realize that this can be a tedious and time-consuming process. But I also think it holds great potential.

My Storify is organized around DH Events, What I’m Reading, PDA 2013, #TransformDH, ENGL 668K exercises and tweets, and Miscellaneous. It’s several pages long, so be prepared. It’s here:


Going through these tweets, I realized a few things.

1) I could create a Storify of all my tweets related to Star Trek and chronicle the exact dates and times I was watching certain episodes!! This would be fun but it would also reveal (to a number of eminent academic twitterists, including my adviser) just how much time I spend watching Star Trek….a lot. But, it would also be a fun way to write that mini-essay on Star Trek that’s just been itching to come out–I could annotate all my Star Trek tweets, which are usually quotes or “#wisdom” from my favorite characters, delightfully out of context. But you’re not here to read about Star Trek, so moving on….

2) A chronology of tweets reveals something different than a Storify of tweets organized around certain topics. I thought that first I would just put all the DH-related tweets in chronologically, but my immediate inclination while doing this was to group tweets together. Topics started to emerge. “#TransformDH” and “What I’m Reading” are the biggest categories. “Miscellaneous” tends to contain my (and others’) twitter snark.  And there are usually clumps of tweets showing up right before and during our class time for ENGL 668K. BUT, these topics can also be plugged into a timeline. Rearranging them and putting them chronologically in order WITHIN the topics felt like putting together a narrative puzzle–”Oh right, that was the night I stayed up till 3am…twittering. Oh right, that Saturday six amazing conferences were going on at the same time…while I was home writing.” It made me think about my own story (and chronology) differently, which is exciting for a n4velg4zer errrrrrr ahem, autobiographer.

3) I thought my “public writing” on Twitter would be ME, writing, publicly. However, I’m a big retweeter. In fact, as I once observed on Twitter, retweeting is my jam. It often frustrates me to tweet from my computer as opposed to my phone, because my phone app allows me to easily quote other people’s tweets when retweeting, while I haven’t quite figured out how to do this on the computer. [Suggestions for useful PC twitter apps are welcome.] Often I retweet folks sharing snippets of events that I couldn’t attend, or pithy twitter poetics that are probably very decontextualized. So, I had to make a Storify decision as to whether I wanted this story to be just about/by me–impossible in the public writing context of Twitter.

4) I’m twitterpaited. The description on my Twitter profile, which I created more than a year and a half ago, suggests that I try not to be. And I really did try hard not to like Twitter. But then I found myself falling into Twitter holes all over the place, discovering all kinds of things. In fact, it has changed the way I do research. For example, I have a list entitled “Zine Love” that enables me to see all my zine-lovers’ tweets about things, zine-related and not. I also have an “Academia” list that enables me to see all tweets from the theory badasses I follow. But the problem with this is that I can’t be on Twitter all the time–it’s impossible. So as twitterpaited as I am, I will never be able to see ALL THE TWEETS. I have to be resigned to dipping into the stream when I have the time. [Which doesn't mean I resist the urge to endlessly scroll until I've caught up on all the action that happened since the last time I took a dip.]

I wanted to add up the total number of characters I tweeted, or figure out how many words it actually was since the Twitter gauntlet was thrown down early on in the course (What is a “significant” number of tweets? Is it the quality of the tweets or the quantity? What subject matter counts as public writing for this course?), but the Storify exhausted me. It will have to do on its own.

In terms of my blog posts for this class and for my own collaborative project, SqueakyWheelCollective.wordpress.com, the word count totals at least 4,573 (not including our exercises or words written after this sentence).

Dang. Now if I could only write that many words for that draft due in two weeks….

Stay tuned for the text of my Personal Digital Archiving Talk, “Public Displays of Affection: Digital Zine Archives and the Labor of Love.” [heh, c wut i did there? PDA, snicker snicker.]


War of the Wordles

Unfortunately, I lost my first Wordle of War of the Worlds, which had a beautiful custom palette and Martian-like font, and now I’m really mad that I couldn’t find a search function on the Wordle site’s public gallery. Boo. So here’s a second one.


And, the much uglier WordItOut!


Interestingly, many configurations of the Wordle sketch out a bare-bones premise for the book with the most prominent words: “Martians Came”. Both “Mars” and “Earth” are very small, and don’t even appear in the WordItOut! There are few proper nouns, no character names, but places like “London” and “Woking” show up. “Black” and “red” are also prominent, as are sensory words like “heard”, “see”, “saw.” “Seemed” is much bigger than “know,” giving a feel for the uncertainty that haunts much of the action of the book. The WordItOut! on the other hand, picked up much more common “filler” words like “said,” “about,” “through,” “over.” It was also much less fun to play with. Much of the appeal of the Wordle for me was arranging the layout so as to maximize the “sense” I could make out of it visually: how much of the basic “plot” or action words could I manage to juxtapose and highlight with color, straight or curved lines, font “appropriate” to the subject matter? As Ramsay suggests, this is perhaps the greatest potential of text-analysis tools–the ability to operate at a new scale and to manipulate the text on different levels than “close reading” allows.

Not surprisingly, very few of my Wordle words were allowed in the Up-Goer Five Text Editor. While experimenting with Up-Goer Five, I was trying to figure out the best approach–do I hand-pick words from the list of ten hundred, or do I build my definition by attempting to write it first, and then “translate” it? I wove back and forth between these approaches, picking some words and then trying out other phrases that were inspired by them. Ultimately I was disappointed, and I must say my definition of DH was more flippant than informative: “Many conversations about building, making, thinking. doing; money, jobs. Using computers to study humans and read/write ‘algorithmically.’” Without punctuation it’s as long as a tweet.

When I input the Wordle text into the CLAWS Part-of-Speech tagger, it interestingly read many of the verbs as gerunds, tagging them as adjectives. I would really like to know what others think the best application of a tool like this would be. I immediately thought it could be used as a translation aid from one corpus to another, but this doesn’t seem to be a feature.

TAPoR was honestly the tool that got me most excited and seemed most applicable to my research on women’s alternative/independent publishing. It was easy to “mess around” in–I’ve never done any text analysis before but at the most basic level I knew what a stop-word list was, and could figure out how to get the tool to “spit out” what I wanted to see. The descriptions that appear when you hover over a tool were immensely helpful and I found myself wishing every DH project or toolbox had this feature. Interested by the appearance of place names like London and Woking, I graphed these on the concordance tool to see the protagonist’s (and the Martians) geographical movements through the novel. I also graphed “Martians” and “People,” the occurrence of which mirrored each other for most of the novel before “People” drops off sharply toward the end, when the protagonist is moving through deserted houses and communities. This exercise really tested my knowledge of the “plot points” in the book–I found myself remembering details that seemed insignificant, all by looking at a graph of the words. I’m just itching to digitize some zines, scrape their text, and compare all the instances of “queer,” “feminist,” and “anti-racist” I can find.

I also couldn’t help but smile at the title of these tools: “Voyant: See through Your Texts.” The entendre is irresistible–use “your texts” (whatever they may be) as a pane or a lens through which to view a specific topic, and/or make your texts transparent, lucid; make bare their meanings. Of course, the implication of Ramsay’s argument is that none of these tools, or the texts to which we apply them, are “transparent.” We might be able to “see” our text differently, from new angles an at previously hidden layers, but it is dangerous to assume that nothing resists the self-evidence of scholarly vision. My partner, who was watching me do these experiments and also helping me with the necessary plugins to run them, kept lingering on these sites to figure out what kinds of algorithms they use and what kinds of patterns they’re finding. I’m not sure most users think about the tools on those levels [DH-ers and hackers are, as usual, another story], and it would be easy to tout their potential while forgetting that our interpretations, the most valued currency in some humanities disciplines, are just begging to be made.


War of the EBooks

I tried to be a scifi nerd and use Neuromancer for this exercise, but I had to settle for War of the Worlds. Doesn’t make for the best catchy blog post title but, what are you gonna do.

Project Gutenberg offers H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds in HTML, EPUB, Kindle, Plucker, QiOO Mobile, Plain Text UTF-8, and several kinds of zip files. It can also be read online as an EBook, although it is immensely frustrating to read that way as it is formatted into chunky paragraphs requiring links to the previous or following pages. According to Project Gutenberg it is EBook #36, released in 1992 and updated in 2008. The site allows the user to create bookmarks on the “pages”. Unlike the other sites, it notes that the user “can help us produce ebooks by proof-reading just one page a day” (http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=1697601&pageno=2).

HATHITrust offers downloadable PDFs of single pages without a log-in and a full downloadable PDF for members, as well as an online view of the Bernhard Tauchnitz Leipzig edition. HATHITrust offers two dates: “1898 [i.e. 1929?]“. The online version is originally from the University of Virginia, digitized by Google Books. It allows you to search the book or jump to different sections, to render it in plain text, to share a link to the book or to a single page, to view the book in “Flip” or “Scroll” mode or with thumbnails of the pages, and create new collections of books with a member log-in. The site notes that the book is public domain in the United States, although, “Google requests that the images and OCR not be re-hosted, redistributed, or used commercially” (http://www.hathitrust.org/access_use#pd-us-google).

Google Books offers EPUB and PDF downloads with both “Flowing Text” and “Scanned Pages.” It can be read in plain text and the user can “Advance Search” the book for specific phrases. Google offered the widest variety of editions, from a limited view of a 2012 edition to a full view of a 1898 illustrated edition published by Harper & Brothers in New York. The latter came from the Pennsylvania State University Library, and has the entirety of the table of contents in hyperlinks, which was the first instance of this I noticed in browsing several editions and which makes navigation quite easy. Unfortunately the book does not offer any information about the illustrator, but it contains a frontispiece of HG Wells and a number of beautifully drawn and rendered bluish black and white images that scanned crisply.

The frontispiece from The War of the Worlds. Unfortunately I could not find an information about the illustrator.

The frontispiece from The War of the Worlds. Unfortunately I could not find any information about the illustrator.

At the end of this copy is a library binders’ mark from August 3, 1967, in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania. Also contained at the end of the book was the mostly blank “Date Due” card, containing crossed out dates from 1993. Lastly, and most fun for me, there are no less than 5 scanned images of the book’s maroon back cover and bar code, two of which have the archivist’s bright pink latex glove in the corner and two of which were captured when the book was in the process of being opened and flipped over, with a black and white checkered pattern on the edge from what I am assuming is the inside cover of the book.

The back cover of HG Well's The War of the Worlds, as seen in Google Books.

The back cover of HG Well’s The War of the Worlds, as seen in Google Books.

A pink Martian's...errrr, archivist's thumb on the back cover of War of the Worlds.

A pink Martian’s…errrr, archivist’s thumb on the back cover of War of the Worlds.

Google allows the user to search the book and write a review, and offers perhaps the most flexible interface with multiple page views of the book, the ability to “cut” or highlight sections of pages, and a zoom tool. The site restrictions and terms of service state that this “copy and paste” function needs to be “used within the prescribed limits and only for personal non-commercial purposes” (http://books.google.com/intl/en/googlebooks/tos.html). Google watermarks also may not be removed from the digital content.

I found Google Books to be the most versatile interface for viewing and downloading this book. While the Kindle edition I downloaded from Project Gutenberg was readable and there didn’t seem to be huge issues with it in terms of formatting, I found myself annoyed by the fact that new chapters don’t start on new pages. On all of these sites, it was hard to find information about access to these books for people with disabilities.

Digital Object Lessons

My name is Melissa, and there are a couple of reasons why I feel relatively comfortable not defining digital humanities (plural), or at least, not making myself anxious about its various definitions. The first reason is personal and anecdotal, so I’ll start with that by way of an introduction.

When I think back on my own experiences with technology [as a feminist autobiographer a "memory audit" like this one is a necessary first step for me in thinking about gendered histories of technology and power], I realize that I’m not afraid of it because tools and machines were part of my milieu from an early age. Now that I’m thinking about it, I see that this has everything to do with being from a working-class family. There are infamous pictures of me as a toddler in a leopard leotard on the seat of my uncle’s yellow bulldozer. My grandfather was a tool and die maker–he worked on machines that made other machines, but before that he worked in a paper factory. I can distinctly remember my excitement watching paper being made, excitement that was magnified when he brought home boxes of it to feed through the typewriter he found at a garage sale for me. So my love of literature is intimately bound up with material production itself; it has as much to do with the feel, smell, and sound of paper and the thoroughly nostalgic and satisfying experience of (loudly) making words appear on the page with a machine as it does with the words themselves. [Speaking of words, I also argued as a child with my grandfather about why the "square" used to measure angles was triangular.]

My mom dated and eventually married a mechanic who is also a carpenter, plumber, and, though he probably wouldn’t admit it, a lay engineer and inventor. I grew up in garages and hardware stores, watching him “hack” things–whether it was a new foundation for a very old house or an engine fix that, while unorthodox, was “close enough for government work,” in his words. He is a maker to his core, so I probably got to play with more weird tools and ancient, highly specific machines than most tomboys. Meanwhile I was happily word processing with Mavis Beacon on Windows 95, dabbling in early virtual worlds on a dial-up connection, and beating Nintendo games. All of this, I think, prepared me to not care very much when I was one of about five women in my Advanced Placement computer programming class in high school. In turn, and to come back to the purpose of this post, that programming class is what helped me not be daunted by some of my colleagues’ thinly veiled fear and disdain for digital humanities.

So, I know I am, and will continue to be, a cyborg whether or not others consider me to be a digital humanist. Which brings me to the second reason I’m not getting anxious about definitions of digital humanities. I recently read Robyn Wiegman’s brilliant book Object Lessons, which argues, in short, that the critical desires that motivate our scholarship (in the case of Women’s Studies and other minoritarian “identity knowledges,” the desire to do justice) can tell us much about disciplinary norms and imperatives. Wiegman pays attention to the often bitter and snarky conflicts that take place in academic journals and conference presentations in moments of field formation and consolidation. I cannot help but take an object lesson from debates surrounding the origins and the futures of digital humanities work. The obvious anxiety that surrounds “who’s in and who’s out,” “the cool kids’ table,” and “the big tent” are not new–they are part and parcel of capitalist academic institutions that value shiny newness and sexy neologisms ["intertwinglings" is my new fave], entrepreneurship and innovation narrowly and profitably defined, and competition that leads to “progress” for only a select few.

It’s not surprising that, as David Golumbia points out in “‘Digital Humanities’: Two Definitions,” multiple and contradictory assertions of what digital humanities are “about” and what they do are circulating simultaneously. In fact, while they appear to be contradictory, the “big tent” definition and the “tools and archives” or “making and building” definition might actually be achieving the same purpose, which is allowing universities and eventually the state to profit off whatever they think digital humanities are. I’m not trying to make this sound like a conspiracy theory with no accountable actors–there are powerful individuals making big decisions with huge amounts of money here. You and me could argue till the cows come home about what digital humanities mean, but in the end our language is going to have to match the assumptions of the funding agency we want to support our project, as the “Short Guide” offered by the authors of Digital_Humanities makes (somewhat implicitly) clear.

In short [or maybe at length], what are our investments in making, building, geeking out, hacking, coding, designing, reading (socially or otherwise), theorizing, critiquing, navelgazing? I come down hard on the side of Bianco when it comes to critical-creative praxis–I did so when I thought I was just a writer and I do so now, in the process of shifting my identity to that of maker. I don’t think writing, reading, and thinking critically and creatively can be excluded from the category of “doing,” as a recent twitter spat I had with another attendee of the Digital Humanities Winter Institute can attest. But rather than arguing about who’s cool or sexy, we need to seriously interrogate the kinds of cultural and academic capital attached to the practitioners who get to inhabit those labels, as well as the cost to those who don’t.