Saturday, January 31, 2015

#Disrupting Digital Humanities at the GWU


"Let's reconceptualize the humanities as a space not of authority but of care." 



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GW Digital Humanities Symposium: DISRUPTING DH
Date: Friday, January 30, 2015 9am – 4pm

This symposium explores critical approaches to the digital humanities (DH). What happens when academics, activists, and publishers join forces to rethink how we research, teach, and generate knowledge? How can digital humanists mobilize online media and social networks to radically transform the spaces of the ARCHIVE, the CLASSROOM, and the IVORY TOWER?

Sponsored by the GW Digital Humanities Institute, in collaboration with the Department of English, Creative Writing, Department of History, Dean’s Scholars in Shakespeare Program, Disability Support Services, GW Libraries, GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute, and the DH Graduate Working Group 

Event website: gwdhi.org/gwdh15

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#Disrupting #DH


When Co-director and co-founder of the George Washington University Digital Humanities Institute (GW DHI) Jonathan Hsy sat down with me in early Fall 2014 to build the website for the DHI and to plan the Disrupting DH symposium, we returned to the question: what is the purpose of the DHI? Before we build something, what do we want that thing to do? In the end, we agreed that the mission of the DHI at GWU would be to use its "institutional" nature to be a spotlight for more disruptive projects going on in the digital humanities. We would use our place in the university structure to create spaces, forums, and nodes where the wild world of digital activism, arts, and humanities can speak to one another and to a wider audience.

This became our launching point from which the #DisDH symposium grew. Six speakers were sought out from a variety of professional, educational, social and biopolitical backgrounds to showcase the vital energies that give critical power and resistance to the institutions of the digital humanities: Angela Bennett Segler (creator of Material Piers), Eileen Joy (Director, punctum books), Dorothy Kim (medievalist, feminist, digital humanist), Roopika Risam (Co-founder, Postcolonial Digital Humanities), Jesse Stommel (Director, Hybrid Pedagogy), and Suey Park (Co-founder, Killjoy Prophets). 

With such a power-house of speakers, writers, scholars, educators, publishers, activists, tweeters, and bloggers, we worked hard in the following months to create the foundations and channels for the intellectual energy to flow once it all came together. Not least, this included bringing in Shyama Rajendran to serve as my successor once I left my assistantship to the DHI and returned to teaching in Spring 2015. Once the work got going, more and more groups joined the network to help #DisDH: the GWU Department of English, Creative Writing, Department of History, Dean’s Scholars in Shakespeare Program, Disability Support Services, GW Libraries, GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute, and the DH Graduate Working Group.


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#Archive

The day of the event, Hsy introduced the symposium's mission to the community of digital humanists in the room and tapped in through social media, as well as thanking the speakers, sponsors, workers, and the ASL interpreters who showed up to support the event. Then Diane H. Cline and Jeffrey J. Cohen took the stage to introduce the first panel of speakers, Angela Bennett Segler and Dorothy Kim, discussing revolutions and institutions of DH archives.

Bennett Segler and Kim set the tone for the rest of the day by grounding the disruption of dh in social justice, the invisible labor and exploitation of women, people of color, and other under-paid, under-publicized radical librarians who have been leaders in the movement to digital archives but have since been erased as institutions, directors and users who recode these projects as typically white male spaces. This is perhaps not surprising, notes Bennett Segler, "today's revolution is tomorrows institution" but this domesticating of women of color's digital labor can be resisted. Kim added that by refusing to see archives as a politically "neutral space" of universal access we can redirect social and financial capital back towards the exploited and forgotten progenitors who continue to revolutionize the field and disrupt the digital humanities.


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#Classroom

After a short coffee break, catered by Whole Foods, the symposium returned, to discuss the disruptive possibilities for digital Pedagogy and how to make the classroom and digital spaces "safe but not comfortable." Holly Dugan and Kavita Daiya came to the podium to introduce the next pair of speakers, Jesse Stommel and Roopika Risam, discussing the many audiences and orientations that come together, create and conflict in the digital classroom.

Stommel and Risam expanded the scope of discussion of social justice from a presumed institutional context to consider the wider audiences that are connecting to the humanities through digital education spaces. Stommel represented what he believed the disruptive potential of Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCs) through the opening lines of William Shakespeare's Hamlet tattooed on his arms: "Who's there?" and "Stand and Unfold Yourself." No one authority can police or direct the tens of thousands of participants in MOOCs and Stommel contends that this adds to its radical potential for a non-enclosed and non-authoritarian approach to pedagogy where ideas are shared not only with those at the center of university life but with all those standing in the digital margins, listening, watching, and waiting for their chance to stand up and contribute. Risam continued to press on the ethos of liberation from and by digital classrooms, by addressing the colonial models on which education has long functioned. By expanding and empowering the marginalized, digital educators can help de-colonize the classroom.

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#IvoryTower


In the afternoon, following a lunch break where speakers, organizers, and attendants were able to informally get to know each other, the symposium returned to tackle the institutions that support and set limits on disrupting potentials of the digital humanities. Dolsy Smith and Jennifer Chang took turns introducing the final set of speakers, Eileen Joy and Suey Park, discussing care, cloud feudalism, and danger in and outside the Ivory Tower.

Joy and Park ramped up the issue of social justice to consider the radical threats and potentials to intellectual life for those connected with digital forums for public scholarship. Tackling university (academic) and cloud (digital) feudalism, where institutions set prohibitive limits on who gets to speak and who gets to listen to intellectual discussions, Joy defended "the importance of illegitimacy." English studies, among other fields in the academy, Joy argues, has its roots in the non-institutional settings of living rooms and salons where creative communities burgeoned not because of a culture of authority but of care. Park carried forward Joy's call to create support systems for "bastard thought" through the current activism and poetic politics of twitter and other non-institutional forums. Park warned that while such digital spaces have allowed for alternative communities to form for women and people of color, they too become battle-zones where colonization and marginalization continues. If the Ivory Tower is a supposedly safe space for intellectual community, accessible to a chosen few, than the battles in digital spaces outside its walls witness the need for ethical coalitions to form to defend and protect the lives and creativity of vulnerable communities.

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#DHRoundtable


Bringing the symposium to a close, Jonathan Hsy returned to the stage with the DH Graduate Working Group Co-Founder Lori Brister to lead a roundtable of all the speakers in order to tease out themes from the day that would continue #DisDH into the future. Comments were developed and explored from moderators, speakers, audience members and twitter.

The group began the roundtable by discussing the role that students play in shaping in academia, noting how the digital humanities can serve as a gateway drug to an intellectual community. This challenges university administrators to not view education as a business (although it may adopt certain business practices) and instead as a resource for developing new fields of knowledge. Likewise, it falls to those with power to create spaces and cultures of safety for vulnerable communities (such as graduate students) who cannot afford the luxury of being able to survive failure or abandonment. All of this, affirmed the speakers, requires recognition and support for all the labor that is put in by the marginalized, institutions committed to change, educators, radical librarians, publishers, activists, artists and digital humanists who work to create a more livable, more safe, less comfortable, more just, more caring world.

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