by EILEEN JOY
I recently had the great pleasure and honor of participating in the recent symposium, “Disrupting DH,” convened under the auspices of GWU’s Digital Humanities Institute, managed by Jonathan Hsy, M.W. Bychowski and Shyama Rajendran, and blogged about already, quite eloquently, by Jonathan Hsy, Angela Bennett Segler, M.W. Bychowski, and Alan Montroso (the symposium’s live-tweeting has also been Storify-ed HERE and it is importantly connected to the larger “Disrupting DH” project, which was inaugurated at the 2015 MLA Convention in Vancouver and will eventually be published in a variety of platforms, by punctum books).
The symposium was significant, in my mind, for bringing together 6 speakers (Angela Bennett Segler, Dorothy Kim, Jesse Stommel, Roopika Risam, myself, and Suey Park) who are not just DH theorists, but also DH makers and/or activists. I would never privilege DH making, by the way, as the ONLY way the humanities will somehow move forward (and thrive) — I believe instead in cultivating what I call a “biodiversity” of practices and modes of thought within and outside of the Academy: just as with various biospeheres, a diversity of communities of living organisms, and the (productive and mutually-sustaining) connections between those communities, promises an ecological well-being that certain measures of supposed “economic” austerity and competition for resources NEVER WILL provide. Nevertheless, it was refreshing and invigorating to be part of a symposium in which various notable practitioners of the so-called “Digital Humanities” were asked to collectively re-think what “disruption” means, or might mean [historically, theoretically, practically], at a point in time when DH is often spoken of as a sort of monolith in ways that distress early adopters such as Kim and Stommel, who have written in their prospectus for the “Disrupting DH” project —
Many scholars originally were drawn to the Digital Humanities because we felt like outcasts, because we had been marginalized within the academic community. We gathered together because our work collectively disrupted the hegemony and insularity of the “traditional” humanities. Our work was collaborative, took risks, flattened hierarchies, shared resources, and created new and risky paradigms for humanities work. As attentions have turned increasingly toward the Digital Humanities, many of us have found ourselves more and more disillusioned. Much of that risk-taking, collaborative, community-supported, and open-to-all-communities practice has started to be elided for a Digital Humanities creation-and-inclusion narrative that has made a turn towards traditional scholarship with a digital hand, an interest in only government or institutionally-funded database projects and tools, and a turn away from critical analysis of its own embedded practices in relation to issues around multilingualism, race, gender, disability, and global praxis.
So, again, I was honored to be part of this group of scholars and, decidedly, activists, who committed themselves, if even for one Friday at the end of a chilly and windy January, to re-thinking and challenging what we [whoever “we” might be] think we mean when we say, “Digital Humanities.” Read more