ILE Reflective Essay #4

Gettysburg College: A Diversity Story is a public history project highlighting the diversification and efforts of inclusion within the student body, faculty, administration, and governance. The project itself is transformative because I am “uncovering” a part of the college history that some campus members know about. I recently had a conversation with someone where they told me that my project was going to cause issues that no one would be interested in learning about this perspective. Naturally, I was perplexed – why would someone say this. I really thought about this conversation because it was one I knew I would hear, but I was not sure when it would come or how it would be phrased. The authors in the article elaborate on the dominating community within DH and unfortunately everything else. I completely understand that Gettysburg College has some members that are against diversity, but this project is not to convince people that diversity at the college is great or to diminish the experience of others. My project is for those that plan to come to Gettysburg College, for those that feel like they didn’t have a place here. This conversation is so important – in a sense, we are still at the beginning of diversifying the institution. Diversity may look good when we look at statistics, but we are not diverse. Our friend groups and classes remain segregated -people do not understand the efforts of those who strive to diversify the college… some understand, but most do not, at all.  It can be transformative by giving others a voice to efforts that we are not aware about. It is transformative by making others aware of these efforts – to this day, community members remain in the shadows.

Digital Humanities as a program is fairly new at the institution, but we committee is listening to the needs of the cohort and changes are being made when we voice the transformation we, the cohort, think we need. The article mentions the difficulties minorities face when becoming digital humanists – I have a different perspective on this conversation. I agree that minorities have a difficult time fighting for their position in the world of DH, but I do not think that being a minority increases the level of difficulty when learning about the tools. Before starting the program, the committee emphasized that we did not need prior experience with digital tools to be successful in this program. Does digital humanities need to be transformed – yes, of course, but doesn’t every field need to be transformed? So many fields are dominated by White, Christian men that are well off socio-economically – the narrative is changing, but minorities will continue to fight for their voice, regardless of the field. I came in with a narrow perspective on digital humanities and it has now expanded. I acknowledge that digital humanities is more than a research question – it is creating a research project that is attractive, which is something students don’t get when writing a research paper. My level of creativity has increased exponentially because I am in control of my entire project. Having a supportive cohort and committee make the experience better, I can see how DH can be difficult without the support. Fortunately, I have the support and tools I need, which puts me in a different position.

#transformDH and Creating Open Communities

This past week the cohort read the article Reflections on a Movement: #transformDH, Growing Up . The article made me think about how my own project can be transformative and our program’s place in #transformDH.

My project this year is not incredibly innovative or transformative. It uses Oral Histories to shed light on changing experiences at the college in the early twentieth century. Therefore, questions central to Transformative DH like race, gender, sexuality, and disability are not all present in the tapes. Women’s experiences as coeds are discussed, but there are only a total of 6 women out of 20 narrators.

This project can, however, focus in on these differences. It can look into how we have changed since the decades these tapes are concerned with, and ask where we still need to go. I plan to dedicate a good amount of the project to women on campus, as Gettysburg College was not officially a coed school in the 1920s and early 1930s. Their experiences are unique and provide insight into the changing role of women on campus. While this particular project is not incredibly transformative, it is not restrictive either. I want to use it in a transformative way as best I can.

Our program itself is transformative in a way. The practices of DH that I have learned over the past year have stressed diversity of thought and the breakdown or restrictive scholarship. Our DH is about openness, we want to engage with the community.

This program is also unique for its fellows. The cohorts have been diverse groups of young women undergraduates who have been given chances to produce great scholarship. While young women are not out of place in a library, we do not exemplify the stereotype of digital experts. Yet this program has encouraged us to become great at what we do and be confident in our work. This program should strive to bring more diverse voices in the future and encourage them to excel in DH.

We should also be open in how we define DH. I have been working with various definitions of DH for the past year. I lean towards a very open definition where almost anything can be defined as DH so long as a good argument is made. Creating a strict definition of DH is reductive and rules out possibilities of future innovation by alienating those who might add something great to this community. That openness is in and of itself transformative. It allows for more voices in discussions of Digital Scholarship, voices of people who are not established but have perspectives that can transform the community. DH must be adaptable and open to new sources if it is to continue its mission.

There is a question raised in the article that particularly struck me in the context of DH on campuses. The authors ask, “Are our institutions embracing us, or are they consuming us in the name of diversity?” To avoid becoming a part of the ivory tower of academia, our DH program should push the boundaries and extend invitations to the community. While DH has places to improve, that should be a call to action to #transformDH.

Reflection Week 4 #TransformDH

I have often struggled with what my identity means in an academic context. Within anthropology, I often find myself writing about being an Indian-American woman in my essays, and speaking about my viewpoint in class. But most of the time, I felt like it was a safety net in case I didn’t have anything else to add. At least my experience speaks to what we are talking about, right?

But now reading about #TransformDH, I fear that my project is on the opposite side of the spectrum. I am a woman of color. However, if it wasn’t for my name no one who views my project would know that. That didn’t bother me. I am not sure if it does now.

While I think that it is important that many voices join to be a part of the world’s narrative, I don’t think that it is important that their identity is put on a pedestal above their actual work in the name of diversity. My project is not about diversity, race, or gender, so I don’t think my identity needs to be this pivotal aspect of my work.

I think #TransformDH is important when the work is indicative of that ideology, but not when the creator just happens to be something other than a straight white man.

I find it troublesome to know that whatever I do, my identity will always be preceded by my race and gender, but I have learned to accept it is as a positive. Here’s how:

My work is transformative. But not for the reasons one would think if they had read “Reflections on a Movement.” My work is not transformative because I am a woman of color. However, because I am a woman of color, I am more sensitive to the stories that are pushed out of the spotlight. I chose to talk about performance and storytelling in Gettysburg because there is so much more to this town than people realize.

When I go home to Philadelphia, my friends call Gettysburg ‘Hicksville.’ Back home, Gettysburg has a reputation for being backward and agriculture. But there is so much more to Gettysburg than that image that is so ingrained in these urban areas. There is an industrialized mindset when it comes to tourism in Gettysburg. Creators of entertainment businesses are innovative and always looking to expand.

There is, perhaps, a socioeconomic divide between the world of performance and Gettysburg. Maybe even a political one. But if there wasn’t my job would be too easy.

It would be easy to look at the history of Broadway and call that scholarship. It would be easy to look at the golden age of Hollywood.

Analyzing my scholarship as transformative based on my identity borders on tokenism. We all, regardless of gender, race, class or creed, can do better, be better, to #TransformDH together.

Week Four Reflective Essay

Although #transformDH was initially started to call attention to a panel about transformative DH, it subsequently became a call to action for practitioners of DH to transform the discipline. I think this dual meaning of “transform” – one that acts as a verb and one that is short for the adjective “transformative” – raises questions relevant to all DH projects.

The first meaning – the adjective “transformative” – describes the way DH projects should affect both those who interact with it and the project itself. In terms of being transformative of the project, I have already seen my goals for this website shift in new and exciting ways. While the act of researching an idea will often necessarily change the end result, in DH the methods are also transformative because the tools that are available to me can allow for new connections and changes to my original conception of design. As transformative for an audience, DH projects should open new doors and raise new questions in such a way that the audience is not merely taking in knowledge, but actively discovering and complicating it. In my project, I want my audience to move freely through a web of related authors so they can make their own connections, rather than merely reading how I think one author is like another. My project is and ought to be only the beginning of an exploration into the way authors of multiple identities are working with similar themes in unique ways. As a non-DH project, I could argue my perspective about the similarities and differences of two authors and complicate the field in a small way, but DH allows for me to make a bigger impact by nature of the fact that more people can find more connections that could ever have been possible in a traditional project. (As a caveat, I want to point out that this is not to say there is no value in traditional projects; sometimes a project idea is not suited to DH and to force certain methods onto a project of a different scope is not necessarily the right answer.)

The second meaning – the verb “transform” – is somewhat broader in scope. To “transformDH” means to look from my individual project to its place in a massive discipline. The sheer scope of DH projects is vast because, as an ever-changing, relatively new discipline, part of the work of DH is determining what constitutes DH. When one begins to consider how certain activities that seem distinctly un-academic can be seen in terms of DH, one can get overwhelmed by how huge the discipline already is. Existential dread of the endlessness of data aside, trying to transform any discipline can be overwhelming. Rather than conceive of my project as one that must change DH – a daunting task even without considering this is an eight week program – I have been thinking about how the project as it already is can do the work of transforming. I think that my project is already just the seed of similar kinds of projects that open up the expectations of a certain topic (eg American Gothic) for inquiry rather than merely reifying existing definitions of it; important Gothic is white, male, heterosexual, middle class, and able because we continue to describe it thus. While my project does not propose a new definition of Gothic, it inherently suggests it by including the works of underrepresented authors as those critical to defining the discipline. While I know my project is small in terms of space (a nebulous concept, I know), I think it is doing the work of transforming the discipline of DH, as well as the discipline of English.

Questioning Digital Humanities

The Digital Humanities is a field that I have been introduced to and subsequently immersed in in very recent months. When I was first offered this fellowship, I was excited because it was a new aspect to my discipline, one that I wouldn’t have to be embarrassed to admit I was pursuing. After reading the article by Daniel Allington, Sarah Brouillette, and David Golumbia, I realized where these feelings were coming from, and what exactly was so problematic within them. While there are aspects to their argument that I do not agree with, I think that it is very important to critique our experiences and our endeavors in order to ensure that we are practicing in the best ways that we can.
The concept of neoliberal education was one that I was unfamiliar with until reading the article “The Neoliberal Arts: How College Sold its Soul to the Market” by William Deresiewicz. But when I read the article, I understood it perfectly, because it is something that I have felt pushing against me for the entirety of my college career. As a philosophy major, I have often been asked “What are you going to do with that?” I have struggled with attempting to justify my search for knowledge because my path does not translate perfectly into a career. And I have known many peers who go through the bare minimum motions in order to receive the letter grade they want because they are in classes that they deem unimportant for their goals.

I felt calm and finally proud in telling people about my fellowship this summer. I didn’t worry about people’s reactions because the word ‘Digital’ signified it had inherent worth in our society. But I didn’t realize that I was complicit in devaluing my own Humanities work thus far.

But the flip side is this: The Digital Humanities are an amazing field in many ways regardless of whether or not they make humanities students more marketable. Simply because aspects of Digital Humanities question the integrity of traditional humanities does not mean that Digital Humanities is inherently problematic as a field. Of course there are great benefits to opening humanistic inquiry and ideas to the public. College is an institution that costs a great deal of money as so many know, and thus only a privileged few have access to its knowledge. The principles of openness and public facing are important ones that have challenged the closed off walls of universities, and many have responded by placing greater emphasis on the Digital Humanities.

In the end, we must stop pitting traditional humanities against Digital Humanities. They are in many ways entirely different fields. Whereas the Digital Humanities place great emphasis on teaching others, the traditional humanities place emphasis on developing the self. These are both important and worthwhile endeavors. Both areas can affect society greatly. The Digital Humanities will lend its ideas straight to the public, while the traditional humanities trickle down through the elite and eventually affect entire cultures. The postmodern movement was born in the office’s of professor’s in universities, yet it affected an entire nation for generations to come.

I will have to continue to think critically about these questions because I think they are of great importance. Through my own work in my classes and now here I have seen great value in both fields of humanities work. As Digital Humanists, I think it is important to understand we have the upper hand of progress. We need to think carefully about whether it is right or beneficial to use that upper hand to break down traditional humanities and usher in a new era.