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.

Feminisms and Technology, a bibliography in progress

I’ve been working on a now forthcoming article on feminisms and digital archives (for Spring DHQ) for a couple of years now. While the article initially was going to ask if XML and XSLT (markup and transformation languages used in many digital archives) could be thought of as feminist, I ended up writing a piece that talks about how difficult that question is to even ask. There are incredibly complex social scenes in which these tools are deployed, and most work today in technology studies acknowledges the “technosocial” scene as important to theorizing a tool. But even before dealing with the scenes of tool usage, I found that I had an incredibly difficult time finding many good resources on feminisms and digital technology of the sort used in digital archives. In even the best of situations, I was using work that addressed very different kinds of technology and that presents certain challenges.

The FemTechNet list has recently been chewing over the issue of feminist technologies and tools and others have noted the relative paucity of the literature. So, in the collaborative and distributed spirit of FemTechNet, I’d like to ask for your help adding to my bibliography. This particular piece has a specific focus, but I’m interested in developing a much larger bibliography so please comment with any citations that you think are relevant to the study of feminist technology/information design/digital tools. I’ll repost an updated bibl for those who are interested.

Thanks!

[Balzas 2000] Balzas, S. “The Orlando Project.” 2000. http://www.tei-c.org/Activities/Projects/or01.xml

[Bianco 2012] Bianco, J.S. “This Digital Humanities Which is Not One,” Debates in the Digital Humanities, Matthew K. Gold, ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012: 97

[Booth 2008] Booth, A. “Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present (review).” Biography, 31.4 (2008): 725-734.

[Brown, et al Unknown] Brown, S., Clements, P., and Grundy, I. “Documentation.” Unknown. http://orlando.cambridge.org/public/svDocumentation

[Brown, et al 2005] Brown, S., Clements, P., Elio, R. and Grundy, I. “Between markup and delivery: Tomorrow’s electronic text today” in R. Seimens (Ed.), Mind Technologies, 15-32. University of Calgary Press, 2005.

[Brown, et al 2010] Brown, S., Clements, P., and Grundy, I. “The Orlando Project.” 2010. http://www.arts.ualberta.ca/orlando/

[Brown, et al 2007] Brown, S., Clements, P., Grundy, I., and Balazs, S. “An Introduction to The Orlando Project” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, 26.1 (2007): pp. 127-134.

[Craig, et al 2011] Craig, C. J., Turcotte, J. F., and Coombe, R. “What is Feminist About Open Access?: A Relational Approach to Copyright in the Academy” Feminists@law, 1.1 (2011): pp. 1-35. http://journals.kent.ac.uk/index.php/feministsatlaw/article/view/7/25

[Davidson 2008] Davidson, C. “Humanities 2.0: Promise, Perils, Prediction” PMLA 123.3 (2008): pp. 707-717.

[Earhart 2012] “Recovering the Recovered Text: Diversity, Canon Building, and Digital Studies.” This talk was given at DH2012 in Hamburg, and in a modified format at the University of Kansas. The video of the latter can be found here

[Flanders 2007] Flanders, J. “Electronic Textual Editing: The Women Writers Project: A Digital Anthology.” In J. Unsworth, K. Brian O’Keeffe, and L. Burnard, Electronic Text Editing

http://www.tei-c.org/About/Archive_new/ETE/Preview/flanders.xml

[Flanders and Wernimont 2010] — and Wernimont, J. “Feminism in the Age of Digital Archives: The Women Writers Project” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 29.2 (2010): 425-435.

[Fraiman 2008] Fraiman, S. “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens—With Help from a New Digital Resource for Literary Scholars,” Modern Philology, 106.1 (2008): pp. 142-48.

[Freshwater 2003] Freshwater, H. “The Allure of the Archive” Poetics Today, 24.4 (2003): pp. 729-758.

[Haraway 1991] Haraway, D. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth-Century,” Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: the reinvention of nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. Available at http://www.egs.edu/faculty/donna-haraway/articles/donna-haraway-a-cyborg-manifesto/

[Juhasz 2010] Juhasz, A. “The Views of the Feminist Archive”

http://flowtv.org/2010/05/the-views-of-the-feminist-archive-alexandra-juhasz-pitzer-college/

[McPherson 2012] McPherson, T. “Why are the Digital Humanities So White? Or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation,” Debates in the Digital Humanities, Matthew K. Gold, ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012: 142.

[Rooney 2006] Rooney, E. “Introduction” The Cambridge Companion to Feminist Literary Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006: 1-10.

[Rowe-Finkbeiner 2004] Rowe-Finkbeiner, K. The F-Word: Feminism in Jeopardy (Seal Press 2004).

[Rosser 2005] Rosser, S. “Through the Lenses of Feminist Theory: Focus on Women and Information Technology.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 26.1 (2005): pp. 1-23.

[Skloot 2011] Skloot, R. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Broadway Publishing (2011).

[Smith 2007] Smith, M. N. “The Human Touch, Software of the Highest Order: Revisiting Editing as Interpretation” Textual Cultures, 2.1 (2007): pp. 1-15.

[Steedman 2002] Steedman, C. Dust: The Archive and Cultural History New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press (2002).

[Travitsky and Prescott 2009] Travitsky, B. S. and A. L. Prescott. “Studying and Editing Early Modern Englishwomen: Then and Now” in (Ed) A. Hollinshead Hurley and C. Goodblatt, Women Editing/Editing Women: Early Modern Women Writers and the New Textualism, Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2009): pp. 1-17.

[Wajcman 1991] Wajcman, Feminism Confronts Technology. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press (1991).

 

[Wajcman 2010] Wajcman, J.  “Feminist Theories of Technology,” Cambridge Journal of Economics, 34 (2010): pp. 3143–152.

[WWP History] http://www.wwp.brown.edu/about/history/.

A short follow up to THATCamp Feminisms

The work of THATCamp Feminisms deserves much more writing than I have in me right now – I’d like to talk about the challenges we faced, from strange website issues, to hacked project pages, to missing people whose funding fell through as well as the amazing outcomes and insights – the power of the local and of the national, new apps to be built and communities to grow, and rich thoughts about the history of DH, its politics, and where we can go in the future.

But the baby has just gone to sleep and we will be up in the early morning to watch Matt/Papa run the LA Marathon. So a short aggregator post will have to do for now.


There have been several follow up posts

Now I’ll Blog it: Re: #tcfw (Alex Juhasz)

http://aljean.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/now-ill-blog-it-re-thfw/

THATCamp Feminisms Day 1 (Alicen Lewis)

http://geekitout.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/thatcamp-feminisms-day-1/

#tcfw: Precarity, Solidarity, and Pressure (Anne Cong-Huyen)

http://anitaconchita.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/tcfw-precarity-solidarity-pressure/

TCFW: Feminism – the right to say ‘no’ in all contexts

http://jwernimont.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/feminism-saying-no/

THATCamp Feminisms West Thoughts (Chandra Jenkins)

http://englishnerd.net/2013/03/19/thatcamp-feminisms-west-thoughts/

Notes from THATCamp Feminisms West (Mia Ridge)

http://openobjects.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/notes-from-thatcamp-feminisms-west-tcfw.html

Building a DH Feminist Network (Amanda Phillips)

http://uchumanitiesforum.org/2013/03/19/building-a-dh-feminist-network/#comments

Here are the Storify collections:

#tooFEW Storify

http://storify.com/crunkfeminists/toofew-twitterfeed-feminists-engage-wikipedia-3-1?utm_source=t.co&utm_campaign=&utm_medium=sfy.co-twitter&awesm=sfy.co_jGOB&utm_content=storify-pingback

THATCamp Feminisms South Storify

http://storify.com/moyazb/tcfso-tweets-tweets-from-thatcamp-feminisms-south?utm_source=t.co&utm_content=storify-pingback&awesm=sfy.co_jGQb&utm_medium=sfy.co-twitter&utm_campaign=

The Collected TCFW

http://storify.com/jwernimo/the-collected-tcfw

There were a number of google docs created during the two days of THATCamp Feminisms West, all of which are in the notes stages. Feel free to edit into more refined prose or to expand on ideas so that these docs become helpful to others. Here are the ones of which I know:

Google Docs

DH 400 https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-FMagbblT3JqFjBHxc0mosClan0aZeXabdnjKz-3hUQ/edit

Feminist Collaboration

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1VfmrwGwXmQgqSuqxsbR1z9E6dHSancLv7owHkjg3inw/edit

Creating a Regional Hub (aka the DH Food Truck becomes Mindr)

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1CBjRI_xUlGwNAv8D9BgXXGg6d-EMycTlI-AgjO8E1N0/edit

Transform DH https://docs.google.com/document/d/15caTX2281lvG4J0EN9YwgN0pcsbpXeiUVj1m59N5J0Y/edit

My slideshare from Intro to DH:

Mentioned Sites

http://www.usefulfruit.com/pearnote/

http://doceri.com/

http://writeordie.com

http://writtenkitten.net/

https://noisebridge.net/

http://fab.cba.mit.edu/

http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc

“Free as in sexist?” Free culture and the gender gap (Joseph Reagle)

http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4291/3381

 

~~ I suspect I’ve missed some things and that more will emerge as we all have some time to chew on the weekend’s topics. Please leave me a comment or send a tweet and I’ll keep adding.

Thanks to everyone for a rewarding set of convos – I’m aware of the work it took on each of our parts to make this happen and I’m grateful to all involved!

Creating a voice and a place with digital tools

The following post written by Beatriz Maldonado draws on her experiences in the “Creating Archives” course at Scripps College.

Unfamiliar Territory
When I began this course, I was pretty unfamiliar with online resources for archives, museums, or academic sites. In some ways I felt that I wasn’t “allowed” to go into that sphere, that I was not academically prepared to find, challenge, or really even use a broad variety of web resources. I certainly wasn’t aware that these (Omeka and Scalar) programs existed and were available to me. I don’t know that I can state it strongly enough – it wasn’t just an issue of not finding the resources; it was that I didn’t even know that the possibility for such things existed. I had to learn what it meant to find the sources, how they and their histories matter, and how I might participate in the making of such sources myself.

My feelings of anxiety were not just limited to official websites, they were there for social media too. We participated in the Day of Digital Archives using twitter and I was so nervous: I know they say that there aren’t stupid questions, but I worried that I was just going to ask stupid questions.

Gateway Technology
Our course included a set of readings on the history of archives and libraries and Prof. Wernimont asked us to post each week to our online course management system, Sakai, with responses to those readings. This was a really important technique for me – it was a way of transforming my internal voice into an external one – even though our class forum was a private online space, it was like a gateway to participating in the digital community.

Before the class, I was unlikely to think of posting online. It wasn’t that I didn’t have something worthwhile or interesting to say – I felt that I did – but I felt that I hadn’t yet received enough training for my voice to really count in an Internet community. I thought that my readers would specifically denounce me as false, attacking me for lack of credibility. By the end of the course, it had become clear to me that in fact, I have been preparing for this and I have the authority to make an argument that people will want to read.

A numbers crisis
Prof. Wernimont kept pointing us to the ways that archives are crafted by choices, that people decide what is important to keep and that those decisions affect the histories we can write. As I was working through the Denison collections, I came across minutes from meetings where people talked about increasing diversity, but these documents talked in terms of percentages, of numbers of people. Administrators were focused on increasing the number of students of color on the campus and that was it.

The more I read, the more I found myself seeing other people only as numbers as well. I felt myself wondering if this was how I was going to be written about in the future – as a number. I wanted to know why other histories weren’t here – histories of Café con Leche or the women before me who also had felt as though they didn’t quite fit in. There was almost no history of Latina women here at the college. I was very angry; I wanted to ditch the project, it’s hard to be passionate about a project when you feel no connection and I didn’t see a way for me to feel connected. I wondered how I was ever going to feel connected to my college – at home here – when I couldn’t find a way to connect to its history.

Connection
But I did not lose hope; I had a strong desire to make a statement. After all, I wanted my project to mean and say something powerful. I kept digging, searching for the record of something meaningful for me. When I came across the Alexander Protests in the Student Unrest Archives, I was set. I kept thinking to myself, “in the year that I was born, students were fighting to preserve and maintain a college major that I am currently following now” (American Studies). At that moment I felt the responsibility to carefully voice the protests in the best way possible. With that responsibility I began to feel more comfortable in accepting that challenge I had feared for so long.

With passion, a student has the ability to create a great deal of change. Not just change in the world, but change for one’s self. As I created the Scalar book, I was writing a history of cultural diversity at the Claremont Colleges and a place for myself as a Latina. The book, authored in Scalar and titled Honk for Diversity, uses archival material to recount the week of the Alexander Protests where countless students and faculty of the Claremont Colleges united to fight for more cultural diversity within the Colleges (you can also check out the other student archives at the Creating Archives site)

Going Public
I never mentioned it to my professor, but I was afraid to give her permission to “make my Scalar book public.” I was afraid that by making it possible to see my book, I was also giving people permission to criticize it. Of course, I understand that criticism serves as a way to improve, but also functions as a way to create doubt – in the argument, in my ability to express an idea.

But I knew that it all had to begin from somewhere. If I kept feeding my fear of not exposing certain information because of outside rejection, what I discovered in the archive would remain unknown. Instead of challenging ideals, I would simply be conforming to them. I think, above all, this experience helped to strengthen my confidence.

Not only did I learn new information, but I was also able to present it in such a way that it became accessible to the rest of the world. I also learned that feeling at home in college is not about choosing an already existing path – I previously had wondered why I couldn’t just “click” on a path here at Scripps – instead, in order to feel at home at Scripps, I had to create a path for myself, my own option to “click.” I too had to become part of the cycle of opening the gateways to knowledge and make a place for myself.

Now I know that I hold the power, I hold the agency, I hold the voice.

Coda: Prof Wernimont’s Thoughts
I’m not going to add a whole lot here, as I think Bea’s story deserves to stand on its own. I do want to say, however, that her story and her experience still gives me goosebumps because of what it says about the power of both primary research and digital technology to intervene in the effects of race, class, and gender. At a time where many faculty think of students like Bea as “digital natives,” I am struck by her story’s demonstration of how challenging the public spaces of the Internet can be and how powerful it is to find one’s voice. Bea’s experience working with the archival material and digital authoring/publishing tools was challenging, sometimes painful, and, finally, empowering. I hope that her willingness to share her experiences will help illuminate one way in which our sometimes abstract discussions about race, class, gender, and sexuality vis-à-vis the digital humanities have real impact in the lives of our students.

Data riot?

I wrote earlier this month about various invocations of a DIY ethos in Digital Humanities work, and in that post I suggested that if we’re going to use punk metaphors then I want a DIY practice modeled on riot-grrrrl practices. I argued that this entails the creation of a “sophisticated DIY infrastructure that favors women – spaces, practices, active interventions that make it possible for women to enter into  (DH) and promote themselves.” It would also necessitate a genuine feminist technosocial context within DH communities of practice.

In the intervening weeks I’ve found myself struggling to resolve the paradox created by a DIY framework – at the same time that it promises certain individual freedoms and celebrates the power of gumption and metaphorical elbow grease, it also places a large labor burden on the intrepid DIYer.  Repeated conversations at various conferences about the “state of the field” and “the market” have emphasized that the dual path is still the route for tenure-track scholars (you still need that scholarly monograph, DIYer). Thus I find myself sighing at every exhortation that others should “do it themselves,” even as I work to find a space within the DIY metaphor for a more feminist methodology.

All of which has led me to think about data sharing. I mean data sharing on a really big scale – like a repository for humanities data. Now I’m new to “big data” in some ways, although, like most, I’m familiar with the distant readers and historical shift scholars that are out there. I’m used to long hours with single texts, hand-encoding, and thinking about interpretive markup. I’m particularly excited by the idea of “authorial” or “poetic” markup that Julia Flanders and I talked (my talking was virtual as voice-in-paper) about at the annual DH meeting in Palo Alto. My practice has been based around small data. Nevertheless, in thinking about scaffolding not just in the DH-inflected classroom, but also for scholars who are new to the field and excited, especially those at liberal arts colleges, I see real opportunities for shared, big data.

I also think I see ways in which a site for shared humanities data might be an important part of creating a “DIY infrastructure” that enables more feminist scholarship. Take a step back to my earlier riot-grrrl invocations and think about zines – the technology is fairly accessible through basic commercial outlets. Pen, paper, glue, a photo-copier (the history of how that last tool became physically and economically accessible is worth thinking about). Zines, as affordable, accessible, and fast productions enabled a range of interventions at very local and then more distributed levels. The speed and production ease of zines meant that they were effective tools for identity and community construction.

Shift frames to the model of scholarly text encoding that I’m used to: it’s slow, dependent on grant funding if one is to build up a reasonable sized textbase or a particularly lovely digital edition, and it requires some degree of expertise. As someone who teaches text encoding, I don’t think the expertise barrier is onerous.  Nevertheless, I am acutely aware that this is not a zine-like nimble practice.  Nor do the issues of funding and speed recede once you know how to encode.

What I’m working on understanding are the possibilities for open, big datasets to enable a more zine-like approach to DIY digital humanities. Beyond my research interests, I’m also intrigued by the possibilities of leveraging open data in liberal arts contexts, where the infrastructure to develop new data might be harder to come by. Because these are new thoughts for me, thoughts hatched in the early morning hours when a recently restless baby was still asleep, I don’t yet have conclusions, only questions:

  • When thinking about texts, what constitutes a “dataset”? A textbase of 2,000? 200? 2?
  • Does the management of distributed data with something like the grid-enabling software discussed by Mark Hedges risk losing the specificity of diverse data? Do we really want to “hide the idiosyncratic heterogeneity”?
  • Are there ways to move back forth between the idiosyncratic and the generalizable?
  • Are the problems of the archive – deterministic identification, silent exclusions, etc, the problems of data repositories as well?
  • Can a feminist project use such data without succumbing to a “master’s tools” kind of problem?
  • can a humanities data repository offer materials for mashup/remix in a way that lowers the barriers to participation?
  • What kinds of education about the presence of this infrastructure would we need? “Bring me my scissors!”
  • Could a data repository allow for a range of feminist interventions? After all, riot-grrrl has been critiqued as too white, too middle class, and too western.
  • Can big data resources be leveraged for small work? What if I want just one text from your textbase – can I do that too?

Learning from colleagues: Shakespeare, fearlessness, and innovation in teaching

Courtyard exercises, as led by Amy Hayes

Scripps College hosted the “21st Century Shakespeare” faculty workshop this past weekend, which brought a group of  Shakespeareans working at liberal arts colleges together to share tools, strategies, and ideas for teaching the Bard’s works in our current cultural context (see our Workshop page for the talks).

We were joined by two outstanding digital Shakespeareans, Michael Best, of Internet Shakespeare Editions, and Peter Donaldson, of the Shakespeare Electronic Archive. As I listened over the course of the weekend, I was struck by two things: the many exhortations to fearlessness and a palpable enthusiasm for innovation in teaching.

Run toward what you fear 

Whether is was approaching Elizabethan music and dance, mounting a modern performance on a shoestring budget, engaging with global adaptations of Shakespeare, or understanding the range of digital textual resources, we heard some form of a call to fearlessness repeatedly this weekend. Scholars are a, well, scholarly bunch. We’ve been trained to devote a depth of time and thought to our objects of study, to master long histories of readership, reception, and cultural production. Generally this is a good thing – we are dedicated to the labor of our craft and to due diligence. But it can lead to something like academic trepidation – a fear that I cannot possibly begin to talk about that madigral or recipe without many hours of careful study. I might, after all, get it WRONG. Instead of fearing the unknown, or under-known, what I heard my colleagues saying this weekend was that we should feel authorized to let go, to play with the possibilities that historical artifacts afford us.

For Amy Hayes this manifests in her work to bring a “living Shakespeare” (rather than the right Shakespeare) into the lives of high school students through the DePauw “Will Power: Shakespeare in the Schools” program. A similar note was struck by Denise Walen’s suggestion that teaching students to read Shakespearean texts as scripts (rather than authoritative, sacred texts) enables a more embodied engagement of Elizabethan drama. She had us up and on the green, reciting a short excerpt while changing direction every time we “ran into” the punctuation. I can say that I came away with a new appreciation for both the pacing of Shakespearean language and the power of embodied experience. Such fears assume that there is a way to get any cultural history of the early modern period right, a positivistic stance that most of us these days eschew in our scholarship. Nevertheless, it haunts our teaching.

We were encouraged by Leslie Dunn to brave past the uncertainties of the dances and songs that are marked in so many of Shakespeare’s texts in order to find ways to bring the possible song, the possible dance into our teaching. We had seen such bravery in action.

Royal Shakespeare Company’s Production of the Winter’s Tale

As part of our grant we each had the opportunity to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 5 play run in New York last summer. Their production of The Winter’s Tale, with its bizarre, almost tribal, and surely ahistorical dances was an absolute delight.

At one point this weekend, Peter Donaldson suggested that a certain degree of irreverence is critical to the classroom and to education generally. He was particularly gleeful about Asian appropriations of Shakespeare and their willingness to mashup, re-use, and refigure Shakespearean texts.

The take away: jump in, preferably feet first. Rather than shutting ourselves up in the cloisters of long studied contexts, we should feel free to bring a range of lived and living contexts to bear on our readings and performances of Shakespearean texts.

Variants as a path to fearlessness in students

While we indulged in the “wild and wacky” and practiced being unafraid of the unknown, we also stayed true to the textual scholarly modes that are the bread and butter of our craft. Textual cruxes were on full display as pedagogical tools over the weekend. Timothy Billings walked us through a great set of exercises that drew on digital editions to teach students about the editing process, the slipperiness of the idea of The Text, and the playfulness of variation. Michael Best offered us a first glimpse of an animation under development for ISE that allows for an elegant switch between variants. In both cases, the foregrounding of variation, of the problems like those of the “bad quarto” and “authoritative editions,” gave us another opportunity to think about fearlessness in Shakespeare pedagogy. Over and over again people spoke of breaking down the produced authority of the major editions (or even the historical editions – it is certainly possible to fetishize the Folio or Q2), and of giving students both reasons and the confidence to question editorial choices. We were looking for ways to encourage students to see Shakespeare as an artist at work rather than his work as an ossified set of texts.

The faculty group had come together in order to share ideas, resources, and to teach one another about new tools and techniques. But it also became clear that making the issues familiar to textual scholarship “alive” for students is as much about professorial enthusiasm as possible digital tools or new contexts and practice. Yes, digital editions made it easier to make editions “talk” to one another in a single page – allowing for rapid comparison and, consequently, the ability to see Shakespeare’s works as a process of revisions. Animation and visualization are tools that we can and should deploy. Yes, embodied practice brought new insights. But it was also clear that the passion of the teacher, the willingness to put in the time to make the argument clear and to lay the groundwork for understanding, is absolutely essential. It was evident that this is a passion with a long, slow burn.

As the most junior faculty member in the room, I was struck by the time and thoughtfulness evident in each person’s description of his/her teaching. In my second year on the tenure-track I can say that I have intimate knowledge of the labor involved in new preps – I’ve yet to repeat a course here at Scripps. I do not have personal knowledge of the long evolution of a class taught many times – of the years of thinking and refining that go into great teaching. Such dedication and engagement was on full display this weekend, however. I found myself humbled and inspired by the thoughtfulness, the pedagogical generosity, and fearlessness of my colleagues.

We closed our first day with an affirmation exercise that Amy Hayes does with her performance students. I had three students who participated in the workshop this weekend and they took part in the exercise as well. A synthetic paraphrase of two of their affirmations might read like this: we reaffirm the commitment of good teachers to exploring new technologies and techniques to become great teachers. Amen.

Feminism and Digital Humanities

I’m currently working on an article that considers certain digital archives and their technological structures from a feminist perspective. Of particular interest to me is the possibility of feminist technologies – can XML or the TEI (!) or some other markup specification *be* feminist? I’m not sure.

As I’ve been working on this essay, I’ve noted a relative absence of questions about the politics of particular tools within the DH literature. This continues to surprise me given that scholars have been asking such questions within STS fields for a long time now. Alan Liu drew attention to a broader absence of cultural criticism in his 2011 MLA talk and Jaime Skye Bianco’s piece in DH Debates, “This Digital Humanities Which Is Not One,” begins to fill the lacuna in feminist critique. But there hasn’t been much that I’ve been able to find beyond our canonical philosophical texts like those of Donna Haraway that addresses DH tools and their feminist politics or lack thereof (please pass along citations that I’m missing!). This isn’t to say that feminist concerns have not been front and center for those working to build digital archives like Orlando or Women Writers Online (which is free in honor of Women’s History Month starting tomorrow). But these have largely engaged with feminist motivations – important to be sure, but not the same as identifying technologies as feminist.

In her chapter in Feminist Technologies, Deborah Johnson enumerates four working definitions of feminist technology:

  • technology that is good for women (which is to say that it improves the lives of women, no small thing to suss out)
  • technology that participates in or constitutes a gender equitable system
  • technology that favors women (thus attempting to redress a longstanding imbalance where technology is concerned)
  • technology that constitute more equitable social relations than were previously possible

As Johnson’s definitions make clear, technologies are not simply artifacts which open themselves up to study – instead, we have to think of technology in terms of sociotechnical relationships, in terms of “systems” and “social relations.” So an analysis of feminist technology is always also going to be an analysis of technological practice and culture. As Miriam Posner points out in her post today on code culture in DH, the practice of, access to, and culture of coding broadly writ  is not gender neutral. This is only one subset of the large and varied DH toolbox, but Posner is right to draw our attention to the ways in which these tools in particular are becoming part of how we claim authority within DH. As tools become part of accreditation or access, gendered differentials begin to have larger scale impacts, shaping a field, important centers, and grant funding streams in ways that are downright exclusionary. Suddenly the “big tent” becomes (or remains) a far less interesting place than it might be.

So can XML be feminist? I’m still working on that. Can C++ or Python be feminist? – someone else should tackle that (and many other someones should go at the rest of the toolbox). What is clear to me at this point is that questions about tools are critical because they are questions about both the technical and social culture of our field – about how we make, how we know, and how we assert and deploy authority. I’d like to think that there is a place within DH (an everywhere kind of place would be great) for tools that empower women…but would I say that we are currently in a situation where the tools we’re using or wishing to use help to create “equitable social relations” or “more equitable relations”? I’m not yet sure.

Thinking with tools

Today’s list of tools to think with: Stephen Baker’s “with-animal” performance; imaginative philosophy; quantum physics and wormholes for literature; and Google Earth custom maps. Steep is one way to describe my favorite learning curves.

For those who may be more concerned with the “monster” storm – a reinforced shovel, a hairdryer for the frozen locks, and a tea kettle may seem more appropriate.

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