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


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