After the MLA 2011 (yes, we’re still on this topic), I had quite a few conversations with colleagues (really, good friends) about the politicization, or the non-politicization inherent to the latest who’s in, who’s out kerfuffle. They all kept asking where are the politics? where are the points of rupture. Tara MacPherson highlighted this in her 3-minute talk at “The Past and Future of Digital Humanities” roundtable, but we never quite got back to it.
At the Society for Textual Scholarship this month, Martha Nell Smith, Jacqueline Wernimont, and Marilee Lindeman and I are going back to the politics of editing and Digital Humanities with our roundtable on Editing Digital Feminism:
Maura Ives started a conversation at last year’s British Women Writers Conference that deserves continued discussions at 2011 STS, namely, the underrepresentation of women authors in the digital environment. The question arises as to whether feminism and its recovery movement in literature has been accomplished in the digital realm of scholarly editions and archives as well, or if it’s even possible. An STS Roundtable seems to be in order to address questions and encourage conversations such as how do we build from existing exemplars (Women’s Writers Project, The Poetess Archive, The Emily Dickinson Electronic Archive)? How do we leverage the groundbreaker projects to fuel digital recovery? How do we do this when the push right now is for meta/large scale work? And how do we encourage a feminist poetics of the content, infrastructure, tool-building, and use of digital archives?
Martha Nell Smith opens our Roundtable with a few difficult questions about knowledge production and Digital Humanities, asking us to return to basic feminist critical inquiry in our digital projects’ editorial practices. Marilee Lindemann demonstrates feminist theoretical praxis on one of our early, and most digitally archived, woman authors, Emily Dickinson, and proposes that Dickinson offers a precursor to our contemporary women bloggers. Jacqueline Wernimont discusses an editorial practice of feminism that can transcend feminist theory itself. Katherine D. Harris concludes our Roundtable by reminding us how much more work is required of the feminist recovery project now that the digital has become de rigueur. We envision this Roundtable to incite conversation rather than offer definitive resolutions to these issues.
Martha Nell Smith (University of Maryland)
Enclaves: Perils & Possibilities
For the last 15 years I have been deeply and broadly involved in what we now call digital humanities, what we used to call humanities computing, and what I, along with others, are now calling Humanities 2.0. We have made great strides in data gathering, in aggregation, but where are we as far as knowledge production goes? Perhaps the epigraph for my talk should be Gertrude Stein’s “Reflection on the Atomic Bomb”: “everyone gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. They listen so much they forget to be natural.” In other words, everyone gets so much information, has so much information at their disposal, that they don’t know what to make of it, what to think. This can be true even when that information is highly structured.
In the wake of the sixties, the humanities in general and their standings in particular had suffered, according to some, from being feminized by the messy considerations of gender, race, sexuality, class, and humanities computing seemed to offer a space free from all this messiness and a return to objective questions of representation. Are digital humanities and new media important for feminist cultural, social, and intellectual work? Concomitantly, can feminism enhance and improve the world and work of computer science, of humanities computing, of digital humanities? Questions basic to feminist critical inquiry are certainly worth asking of our digital work: How do items of knowledge, organizations, working groups come into being? Who made them? For what purposes? Whose work is visible, what is happening when only certain actors and associated achievements come into public view? If we are producers, not simply consumers, of what is being aggregated (usually on vast scales) what kinds of questions are we asking about the methods of aggregation? In my little corner of the humanities universe, innovations need to be in advancing editorial practices not simply in using new tools.
Old truisms many critics still assume of scholarly publishing and editorial work, the ones entangled in and by the social relations of the book, characterize many digital editions. So what new methods of editing and understanding texts might, with diligent application of human software, be created in a dynamic electronic environment? What sociological innovations (and interventions) are important for advancing our digital humanities work? What echo chambers are we living in and what about elisions of differences that have created those? How do, how might our asymmetries matter? What are the crucial questions of difference and responsibility to which we should attend?
University of Maryland
How Public, Like a B(l)og: Emily Dickinson and a Feminist Literary Pre-History of the Blogosphere
In this discussion, I will explore Emily Dickinson’s place in a pre-history of women bloggers by considering her scribal mode of self-publication (homemade books and hundreds of poems circulated to an audience of intimates) as a precursor to the high-tech version of self-publication made possible by Web 2.0. I argue that Dickinson, in performing her end run around the 19th century’s cultural gatekeepers and in her energetic play with the ironies of non-identity (“I’m Nobody! Who are you?”), is an important forerunner to a figure whom I have termed the Madwoman with a Laptop – a self-divided yet deeply subversive feminist critic who appropriates the tools of patriarchal culture in order to “talk back” to it, as bell hooks termed the audacious, irreverent, and unauthorized speech of women talking out of turn. That is what many of today’s women bloggers are doing, in thunder, and they owe much to Dickinson’s enabling example.
Encoding Women: Are Digital Archives Feminist?
My discussion will focus on the broad question of the relationship of feminist scholarship to digital humanities by way of digital archives. Several major digital humanities projects, including the Women Writers Project (WWP) and the Orlando Project, were occasioned by a feminist desire to make the written work of women available to scholars and students. While the archives have feminist origins, it is not immediately clear if the methods of developing, presenting, and deploying those archives are also feminist, either necessarily or contingently.
Understanding the relationship of digital archives to feminist theory has important implications for our sense of how digital tools transform reading and interpretation. It is also crucial for feminist scholars to understand the ways in which digital archives and digital analytic tools may enable archive production to move beyond the “additive approach” into a more fully realized alteration of our theories of text, textuality, and discipline. This question is particularly salient now, as digital archives become the mode de rigueur, even within a context in which there is a marked absence of explicit interrogations of feminist digital archival methodology.
This paper is a small piece of a larger project on blogs, blogging, and the blogosphere that explores what blogs are, what they do – culturally, politically, literarily – and what they can teach us about practices of reading, writing, and social networking in the twenty-first century. Perhaps the shortest way to describe the project is to say that it explores the work of criticism in the age of non-mechanical reproduction. What new modes of critical engagement are emerging in what many now describe as a read-write world? How do blogs and other new-media forms challenge, change, subtend, or supplant previous ways of doing criticism, both inside and outside the academy?
Katherine D. Harris
San Jose State University
Digital Editions: You Made Me Promises, Promises
Patrick Leary writes that all sorts of digital archives about Victorian literature are springing up, archives that are not sanctioned by the profession but offer an intriguing and sanguine view of the wealth of nineteenth-century materials. Leary concludes his essay by asserting that whatever does not end up in a digital archive, represented as cyber/hypertext will not, in the future, be studied, remembered, valorized and canonized. Though this statement reflects some hysteria about the loss of the print book, it is also revealing in its recognition that digital representations have become common and widespread, regardless of professional standards. Whatever is not on the Web will not be remembered, says Leary. Does this mean that the literary canon will shift to accommodate all of those wild archives and editions? Or, does it mean that those mega projects of canonical authors will survive while the disenfranchised and non-canonical literary materials will fall further into obscurity?
My focus will be on working with small scale digital projects, like the Forget Me Not Archive, that try to balance non-canonical women’s authorship with other methodologies, such as textual criticism and bibliography. In order to attract funding, even users, these types of digital projects have to represent the stars of the literary canon. This, in effect, crushes the purposes of the archive — to provide access to an under-represented set of authors.