Feminist Digital Humanities: Theoretical, Social, and Material Engagements around Making and Breaking Computational Media

Here’s our Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) course

Elizabeth Losh, University of California, San Diego

Jacque Wernimont, Scripps College

Although there is a deep history of feminist engagement with technology, projects like FemTechNet argue that such history is often hidden and feminist thinkers are frequently siloed. In order to address this, the seminar will offer a set of background readings to help make visible the history of feminist engagement with technology, as well as facilitate small-scale exploratory collaboration during the seminar.

Our reading selections bring a variety of feminist technology critiques in Media Studies, Human-Computer Interaction, Science and Technology Studies, and related fields into conversation with work in Digital Humanities. Each session is organized by a keyword – a term that is central to feminist theoretical and practical engagements with technology – and will begin with a discussion of that term in light of our readings. The remainder of each session will be spent learning about and tinkering with Processing, a programming tool that will allow participants to engage in their own critical making processes.

Pushing against instrumentalist assumptions regarding the value and efficacy of certain digital tools, we will be asking participants to think hard about the affordances and constraints of digital technologies. While we will be engaging with a wide range of tools/systems in our readings and discussions, we anticipate that the more hands-on engagement with Processing will help participants think about operations of interface, input, output, and mediation. In addition to the expanded theoretical framework, participants can expect to come away with a new set of pedagogical models using Processing that they can adapt and use for teaching at their own institutions.


A couple of notes:

There are a handful of items that are listed here that did not make it into the coursepack – we will be making digital/paper copies available as needed.


The syllabus is organized around a series of keywords. Our daily schedule will involve 1-2 hours of discussion of the readings in light of our keyword of the day, discussions of the making/breaking sessions of the previous day, a short intro to a technology or tool and then some tinkering. The “reference texts” are not included in the reader – we will bring copies of these for participants to refer to as needed.


We’ve tried to keep the reading load manageable and encourage everyone to read these pieces well in advance of our discussions.



Outline of work


Day one: Code, Feminist Critiques of Code Culture


Wendy Chun, “Enduring Ephemeral, or the Future Is a Memory”



- selections from Programmed Visions “Invisibly Visible, Visibly, Invisible” and “On Sourcery and Source Code”


Annette Vee, “Text, Speech, Machine…” in Computational Culture



– “Coding Values in Enculturation”http://enculturation.gmu.edu/node/5268


Tara McPherson, “U.S. Operating Systems at Mid-Century” in Race After the Internet


Critical Code Studies – Basic Language Rules in Processing


Reference Texts:

Getting Started with Processing

Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists


Day Two: Play, Feminist Game Studies


Mary Flanagan Critical Play: Radical Game Design (Introduction, Ch. 2. “Playing House” (17-62) and and Ch. 7 “Critical Computer Games” (222-249).


Janine Fron, Tracy Fullerton, Jacquelyn Ford Morie, and Celia Pearce,  “The Hegemony of Play



Reference Text: The Nature of Code: Simulating Natural Systems with Processing


Day Three: Discipline/Access, Feminist Critiques of Technoculture


Anne Balsamo, “Feminism for the Incurably Informed,” Ch. 6 in Technologies of the Gendered Body


N. Katherine Hayles, “Prologue: Computing Kin,” in My Mother Was a Computer  “Prologue” and “Toward Embodied Virtuality,” in How We Became Posthuman


Lisa Nakamura on labor of women of color in tech manufacturing (to be provided)


Reference Text: Arduino Cookbook


Day Four: Program, Feminism and Theories of the Media Apparatus


Lisa Parks on drone vision: “Zeroing In: Overhead Imagery, Infrastructure Ruins, and Datalands in Afghanistan and Iraq” Ch. 14 in The Visual Culture reader, 3rd Ed., ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff, Routledge 2012


Lucy Suchman, “Preface,” “Introduction,” “Interactive Artifacts,” “Plans,” and “Situated Actions” Plans and Situated Actions: The Problem of Human-Machine Communication


–“Human/Machine Reconsidered,” published by the Department of Sociology, Lancaster University at http://www.comp.lancs.ac.uk/sociology/soc040ls.html


Genevieve Bell and Paul Dourish “Contextualizing Ubiquitous Computing,” in Divining a Digital Future


Nina Lykke, Randi Markussen, and Finn Olesen, “There are Always More Things Going On Than You Thought!”: Methodologies as Thinking Technologies: Interview with Donna Haraway” Bits of Life: Feminism at the Intersections of Media, Bioscience, and Technology.


Reference Text: Making Things See: 3D vision with Kinect, Processing, Arduino, and MakerBot


Day five: Archive, Feminist DH Projects


Julia Flanders & Jacqueline Wernimont, “Feminism in the Age of Digital Archives”


Watch: Amy Earhart on obsolescence in feminist DH projects,

“Recovering the Recovered Text” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ui9PIjDreo

Bethany Nowviskie “What Girls Dig”

Reference Text: Visualizing Data: Exploring and Explaining Data with the Processing Environment


Gendered Risk: Feminist Programming

I recently heard Audrey Bilger of Claremont McKenna’s Center for Writing and Public Discourse talk about the ways that social media can help bring certain feminist issues to the fore – in her example, the exclusions of women of color from mainstream feminist movements by way of the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag. While a lot went wrong in the mainstream coverage of that story, including the elision of Mikki Kendall’s role in initiating the conversation, it is true that a social media event helped to continue an important conversation

At the same time, the recent furor over Twitter’s user blocking policy change and then quick reversal reminds us that social media spaces are also sites of potential threat and abuses, where stalkers and trolls often are able to work with relative impunity. Women are systematically harassed not only in media venues, but in online gaming and knowledge building communities as well. There is a reason that less than 10% of Wikipedia editors are women. Things don’t look much better from the tech infrastructure side either – as HASTAC director Cathy Davidson notes, the number of women entering the field of computer science has declined since 1993.

Enter into this space Arielle Schlesinger’s “Feminism and Programming” blog on HASTAC. Schlesinger’s questions are important – how do we abstract in non-normative ways? What would it mean to encode our knowledge and to shape our interfaces in ways that would recognize differences through non-binary paradigms? Is it possible to imagine a feminist programming language? What is at stake in Schlesinger’s research are life opportunities – the ability to inhabit digital and analog spaces without having to sacrifice some fundamental part of your life or your being. Sound hyperbolic? It’s not. Our tools mediate every part of our lives and our ways of being. The logic of our (computing) systems can inhibit thinking through questions of race, class, and gender, as Tara McPherson suggests, and these compartmentalized habits of thought inform our everyday lives.

The question that Schlesinger’s research asks then, is how can our technologies – here programming languages – be less violent, do less violence? It is a practical and ethical question of great importance. I’m delighted that Schlesinger is raising it in her work and in a public space like HASTAC. I’m also heartened by the wonderful responses – many by computer scientists/programmers – in that forum. There is an opportunity for some powerful engagement and thinking to occur.

At the same time, however, Schlesinger has now become a target – while HASTAC conversations have been productive, those on Reddit and 4chan have not been. Schlesinger has become a target on Twitter as well. As is so typical these days, a parody of the project, under the name “Feminist Software Foundation” attempts to undermine a genuine conversation. Consequently, Schlesinger’s efforts to bring her research into a public discussion teach us again about the gendered risks entailed in public intellectualism and open inquiry. For some – it isn’t entirely safe to even ask a question

Want to follow the conversation? #femtech. Working bibliography on this topic.

Feminist Programming – collecting resources

The FemTechNet group recently discussed a question posed by Pitzer College student Ari Schlesinger on the topic of feminist programming – it’s a topic related to my work on feminist markup and digital architectures, so I read the discussion with interest. What follows are some of the ideas that arose in the discussion  – gathered here as a way of starting a kind of bibliography. I have a previous post on Feminism and Technology that is also a bibliography. I’m also hopeful that this post will operate as a space of further discussion on the topic. Thanks for the great thinking go to the many members of FemTechNet network who contributed to the discussion – I’ve edited to make this more of a working bibliography, rather than a transcript of the conversation.

Ari’s question paraphrased: if object oriented programming reifies normative subject object theory, what would a feminist programming language look like? Are there possibilities within imperative, functional, or logical programming languages that would enable feminist programming?

Ari was already thinking about Karen Barad’s work in Posthumanist Performativity and about feminist logics.

Barad, Karen. “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol. 28, No. 3. (1 March 2003), pp. 801-831

also: Barad, Karen. Posthumanist performativity : Toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter. In Deborah Orr (ed.), Belief, Bodies, and Being: Feminist Reflections on Embodiment. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (2006).

Work and ideas that came up in the ensuing discussion:

In conversation with Barad:

–Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska, Life After New Media, MIT Press, 2012.

–Anne Balsamo, Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work, Duke UP, 2011.

Tara McPherson’s work on Scalar, discussed in a forthcoming article in Difference.  (A talk version is here:
http://mith.umd.edu/podcasts/tara-mcpherson-scholarship-beyond-database/ ).

Zach Blas and his Queer Technologies / transCoder project

–with Micha Cardenas http://transreal.org/imaginary-computational-systems-queer-technologies-and-transreal-aesthetics/

Micha Cardenas and others in http://transreal.org/media-n-journal-2013-caa-conference-edition/ and http://www.e-fagia.org/digievent/2011/tx/michaElle.html

Maria Fernandez, Faith Wilding, and Michelle M. Wright, Domain Errors, (Autonomedia, 2003)

Caludia Reiche and Verena Kuni, eds. Cyberfeminism: Next Steps (Autonomedia, 2004)

Kim Christen’s work on Mukurtu as feminist/anti-imperialist approach to database design

Thinking about differences between in analog and digital computers in Wendy Chun’s work

“Fuzzy logic:” looking at measures of information as the continuum between 0 and 1 rather than the binary,

–connected to French Feminism  Kristeva, Cixous, Irigiray, Wittig.

–see work of  Margaret Homans, introduction and opening chapter in Bearing the Word (Chicago UP, 1989).

Information Theory from a feminist perspective (new area to explore)

Liz Losh and I will be teaching a Feminist DH course at DHSI this summer, utilizing Processing, which is worth checking out as arising from a different paradigm.

Melissa Terras on the Text Encoding Initiative (markup protocols) (need the url)

I’m sure that there is more that is worth bringing into the discussion – please post a comment if you have thoughts!

Spring 2014 Teaching Opportunity

Scripps College, a women’s liberal arts college with a strong interdisciplinary tradition, invites applications for one or two visiting lecturers to co-teach with a faculty member who will be on leave for part of the spring 2014 semester. The courses to be taught are the Junior Seminar in Literary Theory, and Women and the Writing of Science, which has an early modern focus. Course descriptions can be found here: http://jwernimont.wordpress.com/current-courses/.

Ph. D. preferred, ABD required. College teaching experience required. Send application letter, CV, and two letters of reference by November 8, 2013 to:

Search Chair, Professor Jacqueline Wernimont

Box 1048

Scripps College

1030 Columbia Ave.

Claremont, CA 91711


Scripps College is one of seven members of The Claremont Colleges Consortium located 35 miles east of Los Angeles.  In a continuing effort to build a diverse academic community and to provide equal educational and employment opportunities, Scripps College actively encourages applications from women and members of historically under-represented groups.

Not (Re)Covering Feminist Methods in Digital Humanities

NB: this is a new title for my short position paper that was part of the Excavating Feminisms panel at DH2013. I’m a participant in Early Modern Digital Agendas at the Folger Library in DC and unable to be also in Nebraska. I was lucky to have Miriam Posner read on my behalf. I should note that I kept this intentionally short and polemical because we designed our panel to spur a larger discussion.

My initial proposal for this position paper asserted that “feminist theory seems to be woefully absent from digital humanities interventions, despite the number of literary archival project that began from a feminist impulse of one sort or another.” In the intervening year since I wrote that proposal, my thoughts on this have shifted a great deal.

In a piece in the forthcoming issue of DHQ, I discuss the difficulties of describing any particular DH project as feminist. The challenges arise not from a lack of feminist engagement in digital humanities work, quite the opposite is true, but rather in the difficulty tracing political, ideological, and theoretical commitments in work that involves so many layers of production.

Put rather simply – the systems and networks from which DH projects arise are wickedly complex. Perhaps a bit more contentiously – the complexity of those networks has enabled narratives of digital humanities that elide the feminist work that is foundational to the field.

A feminist scholar might consider the workflows and organizational structures of DH projects, networks of authority and expertise engaged and produced by the project, or the interface or data structures.

Or a scholar might think in terms of content, canon revision, and historical recovery. This last area is perhaps the most traditional approach to understanding DH work as feminist – gender-based digital projects afford users the thrill and affirmation of having “women’s countless contributions to Western culture and society made visible.”[1] There is little doubt that such projects make texts available for reading, research, criticism, and teaching in ways that the print industry is increasingly unable to do.

But to focus on recovery of content is to miss the absolutely elemental feminist contributions to technical and human infrastructure with digital humanities.

Today’s session is a roundtable and we’ve agreed to put forth a position in our short papers. Here is mine: the familiarity of recovery-style projects has focused attention in unproductive ways, both in terms of our understanding of individual projects and in the ways we talk about what DH is and what it is missing.

Recovery – in both the colloquial and legal senses suggests a return of something lost or perhaps of a person restored. But feminist work within digital humanities and its related disciplines has not gone missing, it is not lost, nor has it been languishing in some metaphorical sick-bed. Quite the opposite is true – feminist making, thinking, tinkering, and critiquing have been vibrantly part of our development of interfaces, databases, markup standards, usability assessments, archive building, and technology theorizing.

If we think that feminist intervention has been lost or perhaps absent, it is only by way of origin tales and disciplinary histories that actively dis-member the field. Does this mean that we shouldn’t push for more – more feminist critique, more feminist making, more feminist engagements? No – I want to see a great deal more.

But I think we do ourselves a great disservice if we articulate the feminist position within DH as one of lack – that is an imaginative recreation. One that fails to engage in the difficult task of understanding how and to what ends we locate feminist work within digital projects. One that rewrites the history of our fields as “man and his tools” – in effect, creating the very effacement that feminist scholarship seeks to redress. Arguing that we need to recover the work of feminists and women within the many interdisciplinary zones that constitute digital humanities re-covers /covers up the long and lively history of engagement, creation, and critique that is already there.

[1] Susan Fraiman. “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens—With Help from a New Digital Resource for Literary Scholars,” Modern Philology, August 2008, 142-48

Access and the LA Makerspace

This is one of series of guest-posts by Beatriz Maldonado, who is working on a 3D printing + literature research project this summer.

LA Makerspace Imageis a non-profit community space located in the Los Angeles Mart Building. According to their website, their mission “is to provide a place where youth can make and learn alongside adults and where members can work on their own projects while learning new, unique maker skills through our workshops, on-going interest-based programs, mentorship, and peer learning environment.” I became very excited the day my professor told me about LA Makerspace and the workshops that it hosts about 3D printing, computer programming, and other amazing technological opportunities. It all sounded so inspiring and revolutionary that I immediately looked up their website for more details.

As I was searching through the LA Makerspace’s website, I found the Calendar of Events, and my stomach instantly dropped when I saw the cost of a day pass workshop: $20. I thought, “well this is OK, because I would be learning about some high tech stuff…” But it didn’t take long for that first feeling of disappointment to return; I thought “but with fifteen dollars I could buy lunch for my family, or buy groceries, or fill up my mom’s car for once.” What’s more, the fact that my family has not gone to the Getty Museum because of their intimidating $15 dollar parking pass requirement meant that I couldn’t, in good conscience, attend any of the LA Makerspace workshops. There is just something about double digits that petrify my family and myself. However, I managed to find a free event on the same day my professor first mentioned the organization.

Planning to attend an LA Makerspace Workshop

Before I left Scripps to head to the workshop, I planned the public transportation routes I would take. The workshop was held on a Wednesday – the day when my mom takes my brother to his soccer practice, after picking him up from school and making dinner for the family first, of course. I did not want to complain about the time the event (from 6-8pm), because I was already grateful that the event was free. However, I knew that this time (in which all these other events were happening) would complicate things for my mom at the moment of picking me up. Worse still, before leaving I noticed that my phone was dying, which was problematic because my phone is the only way to contact my mom. When my mom goes out of the house and I am out of the house, and my phone is not working … well let’s just say chaos is the most likely outcome. With my phone not working and her busy schedule already set, I was a bit anxious about how I was going to reach her when the event was over.

Feeling out of Place

When I finally reached the location, I was more than surprised to find it in the LA Mart. Not that I had ever been inside the Mart, but it was interesting to find this building located a block away from the local community college, Los Angeles Trade Tech, and right across from the Blue Line subway. This is, in some ways, my neighborhood. Really, the location seemed relatively accessible. I was very happy for that fact…until I entered the main lobby.

Everything looked creative when I got there…I loved the space of handmade toys and devices, the various books on the table that linked to what Prof. Jacque and I had been working on (such as 3D Printing). I looked around for a couple of minutes…and then I felt distinctly out of place. I did not really have a particular motive or goal to accomplish; I was there to experience the space and its resources. Friendly faces and smiles welcomed me, but none motivated me to strike up a conversation. When I headed to the back of the office, I saw a mother and her son talking to one of the members of the makerspace. I tried to tune into their conversation for a bit, but I really could not follow what they were saying. I wanted to chime in and ask a question.

Suddenly, I began to feel a wave of many emotions. I felt as though I did not belong there. I felt alone and small. I felt jealous because I saw a mother and her child there interacting with one of the workers. Whenever people ask my parents what I am doing over the summer, their response remains as “my daughter is working at her university” because they do not fully understand what research means. As a result, I’m not accustomed to discussing my work – even though I am proud of the research my professor and I are working on. That mother and son were sharing their exploration of technology – my parents and I don’t have the same kinds of moments over my research.

I gathered my courage and started talking with someone about the 3D printers they had there. After a while, she let me know that the free workshop I was there to attend was outside. I headed down to the parking lot for the workshop, and I have to admit that my sense of not belonging did not get better from there.

Everyone was white. That seems a bit direct and perhaps inappropriate – but that was the first thought that came to my mind. I did not see a person of color, other than, well, myself. I did appreciate how polite everyone was. They encouraged me to make my own creative crafts there and to use a material called VELCRO because the craft could stick to the LA Makerspace Mobile Van they had. ImageI was embarrassed because I did not know what Velcro even was. The only arts and crafts I had ever come across consisted of colored construction paper with squiggly scissors and glue. After cruising around the materials table twice, not even taking 10 minutes, I knew I wanted and needed to go home. Seeing that my phone was dead, I had to figure out my way back. It wasn’t hard, but my mom had been anxious not knowing where I was.

“It was fun,” I replied to my mom when she asked how it went. And I had not lied, I just felt…uncomfortable. I started thinking about how accessible LA Makerspace is on the one hand, but the access is invisible for those in the neighboring communities. The LA Mart is in one of the most diverse areas of Los Angeles. I remember going by the LA Mart building with my family, but never really knowing what was inside. I had never known about it until my professor mentioned it. Nor am I likely to be back inside anytime soon given the costs for workshops. It is in my neighborhood, but not part of it.

I know that many of my friends from the same neighborhood search for free events, like the one I attended. I understand that as a consumer/user/visitor, I have to be ready to make the journey to take advantage of free events – it’s great that LA Makerspace has some events that my friends and I can attend. At the same time, I am trying to figure out how the community and spaces like this can work together and to understand the importance of spaces like this one having free events available. I find myself asking: Why must we attend and learn about ‘making’? How could community members contribute to the space and its work?

My experience has taught me that accessibility is a complicated idea. There were limitations as much as there were chances to learn and interact with others. Free events must exist to create the space available for everyone no matter what. But this isn’t just about cost – it is necessary to recognize other factors in place such as date/time and transportation in order to make resources really accessible to a wide range of people. My time at the Makerspace gave me a new awareness of things I had never thought about before (such as making a craft and sticking it onto a moving vehicle). I may have left too early to discover how I could give back or involve myself more, yet I knew I would not have done the contribution humbly. I didn’t feel at home. The exposure to this type of environment seemed so invaluable, but I feel that some of that value wasn’t accessible to me.

Wikipedia in the Classroom: Resource List

You’re teaching with Wikipedia; you’re thinking about teaching with Wikipedia – either way, here’s a list of useful resources. Is there something that you’ve found particularly helpful that I should add here? Let me know and I’ll get it up ASAP.

Wikipedia’s “Welcome to Wikipedia,”  School and University Projects page, “How to Use Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool,” “Education Case Studies,” and “Education Program Handouts.”

Information on Wikipedia’s “Neutral Point of View” and verifiability and citation standards.

My own post on skipping the review process (which is aimed at other audiences).

Adrianne Wadewitz’s Intro to Wikipedia video (1 hour, wonderful, shot at Pitzer College)

Adrianne Wadewitz, Anne Ellen Geller, Jon Beasley-Murray essay “Wiki-hacking: Opening up the academy with Wikipedia”

Liz Losh’s interview of Adrianne Wadewitz on effective teaching with Wikipedia and Losh’s example “warm up” assignment.

Indiana University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning’s “Teaching with Wikipedia”

If you’re planning to do a “edit-a-thon” rather than or as part of a class, the following resources are available:

Wikipedia’s “How to run an edit-a-thon”

Wikipedia Interventions for Feminist Dialogues on Technology

 Academics nationally and internationally are beginning to integrate work on Wikipedia into their courses; it is a great way to get students to think about public writing, the creation of knowledge, citation, and to hone a few digital authoring skills. Many of the faculty teaching  “Feminist Dialogues on Technology” – the FemTechNet Distributed Online Collaborative Course (DOCC) that is running this year – are going to include Wikipedia assignments. Adrianne Wadewitz and I are leading this area of FemTechNet work and we’ve created this list as a way partially representing the ways one can participate in Wikipedia culture and knowledge production – while there is a lot there, it’s not exhaustive. As we continue working, I’ll be putting up additional resources, but it is worth checking out Adrianne’s extensive work in this area – including this: “How to Use Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool” by Liz Losh (interviewing Adrianne).

There are some basic categories of work:

  • Adding information
  • Format/design of information
  • Participating in discussion
  • Policy

Which we can break out into work items:

Create new articles about

Work on existing articles by

  • adding sections,
  • adding information,
  • adding citations,
  • citing sources on feminist topics,
  • citing women’s work on any topic, or
  • citing feminist sources on non-overtly feminist topics (e.g. “history of the novel”).

Clean up existing articles by 

Below are more advanced work items – ones that can be undertaken once an editor has built up some authority and experience.

Adding Images (requires an understanding of copyright issues)

  • find new images to add to Wikimedia Commons – this is a challenging task, especially for historical women
  • find images on Commons to add to Wikipedia articles

Participating in conversations (after established oneself as a memeber)

  • about the structure of the site,
  • deletion discussions,
  • possible violations of the civil code and banning,
  • policy (see the notice boards on the policy items),
  • offering advice about sources etc,
  • or the various Wikiprojects.

Help create and sustain the community

  • welcome and work with new members (TeaHouse),
  • identify and address vandalism,
  • work to build consensus by participating in talk conversations,
  • vote for various high-level positions, or
  • serve on one of the various administrative committees.

A Paradox

The EMDA folks spent yesterday afternoon enthralled by Mark Davies’ corpora and his interface for them. Rather than casually noodling around, as I like to say, many of us were in a mad dash to engage with one corpus in particular. Dashing because while Davies had built the thing, most of us had a very short window to access one particular corpus. I’m being deliberately vague here because I value the access that Davies gave us and because my point isn’t about the particularities of any one resource. Instead, I’m concerned with differential access to legacy data and how we think about this problem.

The data that Davies was working from belongs to a major organization, one that many early modernists depend upon. But, as we learned in earlier in the week, our access to that data is not equal. Rather, there are multiple levels of subscription for this resource and with that comes differential access to the underlying data. If one is at an institution that has the highest level subscription – then using Davies’ bewitching tools in the future is not a problem. If, however, one’s institution has one of those other levels of subscription….well, access was limited to a window measured in days. Hence the dashing.

What was paradoxic about my own dashing yesterday is that I’m not generally interested in corpus analysis and I am pretty suspicious of the quality of this particular data resource. What’s more, while this isn’t ‘big data’ in the sense of the sciences, it is bigger, and my current research agenda is focused on relatively small scales. There are a number of reasons for this, which deserve a different post, but none of this kept me from feeling desperate about the short time I had with the data and Davies’ interface yesterday. Nor did it stop me from being openly frustrated about hierarchies of access.

We all know that there are different resources and expectations (although this latter bit is shifting in disturbing ways) at R1s. As a colleague helpfully pointed out via twitter, it’s not just small liberal arts colleges (SLAC) where these differences become apparent – comprehensive universities and community colleges have similarly differential access. While there are a handful of SLACs, CUs, and CCs, that have access, it’s far less likely to see smaller or less affluent institutions subscribe to a $60,000 humanities resource (don’t get me started on the comparison with science data subscriptions).

A handful of people spent some time yesterday talking about the ways that we might address this kind of issue. We might leverage local consortial arrangements to make the case for subscription, we might engage with national consortia (like the Alliance to Advance Liberal Arts Colleges), we might turn to our professional organizations (MLA, RSA, etc) for help with subscriptions and data access – or we might undertake more “guerrilla” approaches. Each, I suspect, has its affordances and constraints. But I’m aware that I spent a bunch of time thinking about getting access to something that I’m not even sure I want.

Jonathan Sawday asked us earlier in the week if our current technological situation might have been otherwise. This morning I think that this might be a more fruitful vein of inquiry than the “how can I hack access?”. It’s easy to become entrenched in the have/have nots conversation  – while the structures of higher education hierarchy and closed data deserve calling out, they might also be a distraction. Why bother fighting for a very dirty data set when we could create it anew and in better form? We were shocked to hear how little it would actually cost to create a new set of high quality images and transcriptions of early modern texts, particularly given how much we value that kind of resource. Given that we’re talking about a relatively small set of texts, such work might not actually take that long.

Now, having hand encoded texts myself as a graduate student and now as a researcher, I know that the devil is in the details and that one needs money to make the work flow happen on a scale of months rather than years. But I’d rather put my energy into that set of intellectual and practical questions. Focusing on making a better, open data set wouldn’t constitute an avoidance of the real issues of access inequity but, rather, a refusal to engage in a battle created by corporate control of humanities resources. I woke up with Audre Lorde in my head (at a spaghetti dinner, but I digress) and I think its worth considering alternative approaches when tools are old and broken. And we don’t have to start from scratch, there are a number of existing projects early modern text projects (Women Writers Online is just one) that have already begun the work, in some sense. That’s where I’ll be hanging out.



wikipedia’s Augustine

Because I work on literature and mathematics, I tend to look at a number of different forms, modes, and genres. What this loses in particularity, it makes up for by illuminating shared traditions. Emerging from the discussions at EMDA thisweek, and of the ESTC data in particular, are a number of questions and ideas about early modern exercises as part of the print tradition.

I’m not quite sure right now how to talk about exercises – are they a form? They aren’t quite a genre (?), but they do entail expectations and function as techne in ways that I might think of genre doing. Perhaps the most famous of the exercises in the early modern are those of the Augustine tradition, beginning with St. Augustine’s Confessions, which include a set of spiritual exercises.

Pierre Hadot argues that spiritual exercises like those of the Augustine tradition focus the believer in a state of attention – they are designed to create a specific kind of temporality, that of the eternal present. Hadot is interested in tracing a long lineage for spiritual exercises – extending from antiquity to Ignatius of Loyola, Descartes, Pascal, Wittgenstein, and perhaps even Foucault. While I like Hadot’s long view approach, I miss the koan-like quality of the Augustine exercises themselves when I try to think Wittgenstein or Foucault in there.

It occurred to me yesterday, however, that there might be a tighter formal link between the rhetorical and mathematic exercises of the early moder period and that such a shared formal schema might suggest certain common habits and cultural values around rhetoric and mathematics.

Progymnasmata – classical preliminary exercises for the “intro” rhetoric student were designed to focus the student on a particular area of classical oration. Did they share the emphasis on the present that Hadot argues for in the Augustinian exercises? I’d have to think more about it. While they were designed to be cumulative in a way that I’m not sure is there for the spiritual exercises, there remained the possibility of returning to the exercises in non-sequential ways for the purposes of inventio or invention.

early modern paper mathematical wheel (Yale)

early modern paper mathematical wheel (Yale)

Then there are the mathematical exercises. They are at least as old as classical rhetoric and devotional writing, with the earliest known mathematical exercise dting from ca. 3350 BC. Like poetry, mathematical exercises were considered “recreation” – both in the sense of re-creation and of play. A night spent working through mathematical problems was on par with a card game for Samuel Pepys and his wife. 

What does all of this have to do with anything digital? Well, I’m looking for a better sense of how many people were writing about exercise – whether spiritual, rhetorical, mathematical or otherwise. Right now, I have a hard time understanding the scope of the field, as it were. To give you a sense of what I mean – here’s a snapshot of what “mathematical exercise” (variant sp but not forms) yields in just the Folger Shakespeare Library’s online catalogue

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800+ entries, even if there are numerous false hits, is a enormous number of texts and this is just for one archive (partially catalogued) and for one kind of exercise. My problem is a pretty classic one of size – I can’t see the forest. Using the ESTC data and a visualization designed to illuminate the different kinds of exercises and their dates of publication would at least offer one view of the forest – still a partial view, but a view nonetheless.


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