Things we share

Green print that reads "Make something good today."

This print, by Jen Renninger, hangs in my office. (Click the image to get one of your own!)

So, that post. I’ve never written anything that’s gotten much attention before, and the experience has been strangely, intensely stressful. Is it too divisive?, I wonder. Too hastily written? When I wrote the post, to be honest with you, I was livid about job-market news from friends, not to mention the latest VIDA stats. Should I have been more constructive? I was short with people in the comments, and I regret that. (Sorry, Ben.) Should I have said more about how much I love the community of DH? Because I do, because it’s been life-changing for me, because I love spending time with you. Am I now Gender Lady? I hope not, because I really don’t want to talk about this all the time.

I was glad to see the post gain traction — and I prodded it along — because I want the conversation to take place. But I’m extremely self-conscious about being near the center of it.

On Sunday, it felt like time to shut down the computer and dig out my sewing machine, which is something that consoles me. I first learned to sew from my mom, but I was too impatient to stick with it. It wasn’t until college that I picked it back up again. I really came of age too late to be a riot grrl. But this was in Portland, where, as we all know, the dream of the ’90s lives on, and stuff like sewing and crafting was part of DIY feminist culture. (Just as it was for Jacqueline Wermont!) We taught each other to sew and knit, and, yes, we put many a bird on it.

Photo of Miriam at her sewing machine

Back in college, sewing

I got older and sold my record collection, but I kept the sewing machine. Later on, miserable in grad school, I sought out stich-n-bitches, where I found community with other women. Instead of writing my dissertation, I read the message boards at craftster.org, where crafters — mostly women — posted tutorials and congratulated each other on what they’d accomplished. (Motto: “No tea cozies without irony.”) Back home, my mom helped me figure stuff out, too. (I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to follow a sewing pattern, but those things are like hieroglyphics.)

Maybe this is all too twee for you, too redolent of a particular cultural moment. But I love, and I’ll always love, the way that women talk to each other through the things we make together. I even love the stern, chiding voice of sewing patterns, unchanged for decades.

Embroidered portrait of Sandow

For a while I was really into embroidering turn-of-the-century entertainers. I give you Sandow!

So when you talk to me about a community of practice, I get that. When you talk about making as a way of knowing, I understand that, too. I hear you about building things together, about the pleasure of craftsmanship, about the quiet thrill of untangling tacit knowledge with other practitioners.

I don’t think we’re quite there yet. Or, rather, I don’t think all of us are there yet. We’re not at a place where we can share knowledge generously and with joy, and the trouble feels pressing to me. This thing, this gender and diversity thing, is a problem, even in this wonderful community that we’ve built. (Or that you’ve built, and to which I’m a callow latecomer.)

Embroidered portrait of Jim Corbett

“Gentleman” Jim Corbett!

Here’s what I think, though. Digital humanities, as a community, has been almost scarily good at jettisoning old saws. Old publishing models suck, we said. Let’s not do that. Academic conferences are boring. Let’s not do those, either. The staff-faculty divide? Screw it. Crusty, irrelevant journals? Out the window. And while we’re at it, fuck academic hierarchies.

Let’s make inequities of power something else we decide to abandon. Let’s say to each other, yes, this is a thing, but it doesn’t mean that we’re bad people, and this is our opportunity to show everyone else how it’s done. We are truly, frighteningly good at dismantling and reassembling the levers of incentive and disincentive that steer academic decision-making. Why not turn this knowledge to gender and race, too?

I am no organizational mastermind, but here are some things I think might help:

Woodgrain vinyl messenger bag

Woodgrain vinyl messenger bag!

  1. Let’s think about ways to build communities of underrepresented people. We have some great models here, in women’s development groups, in the Praxis Program, in MATRIX, in the Crunk Feminist Collective, and, yes, even though it might not be your bag, in groups like Craftster. Women and people of color are really, really good at building and maintaining supportive communities. Let’s make sure that they (we) have spaces to do that, and that they (we) know we value these communities, even when they say things we don’t totally want to hear.
  2. Let’s acknowledge that we all do racist and sexist stuff sometimes. I should know. I do it all the time. All. The. Time. I don’t mean to, and I’m not a bad person, but I do. Let’s just figure out together how we can stop doing this when it counts, when we’re depriving someone of an opportunity to learn or do something important.
  3. Let’s talk about when our niceness could be shutting down important conversations. As anyone who doesn’t know me very well will tell you, I am a Nice Person. I instinctively recoil at unpleasantness. But sometimes — not always, but sometimes — it might be necessary to have these really uncomfortable conversations.
  4. Let’s believe people when they tell us they feel uncomfortable. It’s so easy to correct someone when she tells you she feels slighted because of race or gender. I’ve done it many times. But I’m trying, really trying, to take a minute or two to think: She’s probably the expert on her own experience.
Thank you to all of you whose comments and posts on this topic have made me think. Here are the posts I know about: Jacqueline Wernemont, on riot grrls and DIY and feminism and digital humanities; Ted Underwood on big data; Katherine D. Harris on gender, big data, and the archive; Chris Bourg on gender and coding; Hugh Cayless on “circling the wagons“; Bethany Nowviskie on finding common ground; Alycia Sellie on gendering code; Michelle Moravec on gender and coding from a historical perspective; Roger Whitson on linked data and big data; Natalia Cecire’s Storified conversation about archives and data. And thank you to the ladies and gentlemen of #transformdh, who have been discussing this hideously difficult stuff for awhile. 

This content is published under the Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

This entry was posted in Digital Humanities and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Things we share

  1. Moya says:

    Oh I love this Miriam! I totally know that feeling of anxiety when a hard truth has the messenger in trouble because folks don’t want to be accountable to the world we co-create! I appreciate you and this!

    xoxoxoxo,

    Moya

  2. Alex Gil says:

    Thanks, Miriam. This is a great continuation of the conversation you seem to have re-sparked with your last post. I’ve been meaning to jump in productively, but it is difficult when nerve endings become exalted, and nothing gets nerve endings more exalted than discussions about gender and race. I am an immigrant, and have still much to learn about the politics of gender and race in the US. By now I have educated guesses about the emotional components that move along or stop the conversation, and those change according to the gender and race of the speaker! Some things are worth insisting on, I believe, even if at first they are show-stoppers. Most of these compulsory items on the agenda usually have to do with the terms of the conversation in the most general sense. For example, “Let’s acknowledge that we all do racist and sexist stuff sometimes.” Acknowledgement is key here.

    Most of the voices that would come on the side of “giving folks a break” come from positions of relative privilege (yes, having a decent job counts as privilege). I don’t think those in a position of relative privilege have anything to fear from candid conversations. I see everywhere in the culture a particular sensitivity attached to privilege that functions to insulate it from criticism. Yes, it is mostly ‘unconscious,’ but that’s precisely why we must talk about it in the light of day.

    From my limited POV, the rise of humanities computing (now DH) seems to have been driven by academic sub-groups that were working parallel to the rise of feminism, LGBT, ethnic (af-am, latino, po-co, etc) academic sub-groups. Some of the behaviors and reactions of the mainstream DH to the recent barbarian invasions, find their parallels in the larger culture. I encourage the ‘old guard’ and today’s mainstreamers not to be afraid that we are having these conversations.

    I find the post to have the sort of straight-forward, non-offensive language that we must work with as we move forward. I do want us to work together, to get equal funding, to get the jobs, to build communities of practice that are diverse. When I find time away from my dissertation I promise to contribute to the conversation more substantially. I hope that I can do it with the balance between honesty and cool that you have, Miriam.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing, Miriam. And for your honesty. It’s refreshing. :)

  4. Miriam, thanks for this lovely follow-up post.

    When you wrote your previous post, I thanked you for that too—because it was a much kinder post than I would have written. Ted Underwood wrote that your and Bethany’s posts are “absolutely the *most* civil and sympathetic possible versions of a critique that is going to become more pointed and more public.”

    He’s right; it could have been much worse. Those posts could have been written by me. It’s worth noting that I didn’t write my own version of these posts, despite having a superabundance of material, because I knew that it would not be “nice” when I did it. So I thank you, doubly, for rendering nicely what I had kept myself from articulating publicly at all, except in the odd tweet (which of course ramified disproportionately, as not-nice things tend to do). These things needed to be said, and nicely, and you did it where I could not.

    These are, perhaps, the confessions of an evil twin. You are a Nice Person; I am rather less so. You apologized for being “short” with Ben, but of course you were only repeating something I did—I sent that link to Feminism 101, the feminist version of lmgtfy.com, to my friend Alex Koppel when he asked what he ought to be doing to counter the problems in coding culture. (I stand by that tweet, by the way, and I think Alex took it as intended.) When Bethany called “women” out for “shut[ting] down perfectly civil and earnest conversation by accusing interlocutors of ‘mansplaining’ to them,” she was talking about me. Very often I find myself being Gender Lady. I don’t want to be any more than you do, but I’d rather be Gender Lady than let sexism fly. I’d rather say something than let my junior colleagues think that being “nice” is the only acceptable response. And I’d rather take the heat for not being nice than expect my junior colleagues and peers to do so.

    Briefly, let me say this. “Earnest” and “civil” are not the same thing. A conversation in which a woman is being patronized for no reason is not “civil,” regardless of whether it is “earnest.” I will continue to shut them down. Did it hurt someone’s feelings? Good. You should be afraid to patronize women for no reason. You should have that catch of fear that makes you think twice.

    I have only ever seen you use “niceness” for good, Miriam. But that’s because you’ve got something better than niceness backing it up: justice, kindness.

    I am increasingly persuaded that “niceness” is ideology. And for myself, I want none of it.

  5. Chris Bourg says:

    Miriam-
    You rock. More later when I have time.
    Chris

  6. Chris Bourg says:

    And I would add:
    #5. Stop changing the damn subject! When a woman brings up gender and how the structural and cultural barriers to something (anything) affect her and her sisters, and you say: “Yes, you are right. But I think the real problem is this other thing I find more interesting and less uncomfortable to talk about” it is condescending, dismissive, and infuriating. Stop it! Either engage the topic or not — but don’t hijack it for your own purposes and still expect to get credit for engaging with gender.

  7. Pingback: Discussions of gender and learning digital skills in the humanities | HDW Notebook

  8. “Let’s make inequities of power something else we decide to abandon. Let’s say to each other, yes, this is a thing, but it doesn’t mean that we’re bad people, and this is our opportunity to show everyone else how it’s done. We are truly, frighteningly good at dismantling and reassembling the levers of incentive and disincentive that steer academic decision-making. Why not turn this knowledge to gender and race, too?”

    Hell yes!

  9. Pingback: Gender: Stop changing the subject! | Feral Librarian

  10. I’m writing to respond, in part, to Natalia’s comments here and elsewhere, but mostly to offer further context that I hope will be of use to somebody.

    Natalia, as I said to you publicly, you were not the only person I have observed using the “mansplaining” technique in what strikes me as an unproductive way. In your case, though, since you seem to want to highlight it, I will say that on at least one recent occasion your use of the meme for public shaming on Twitter seemed to me not only to be un-helpful, but completely unwarranted. I’ll admit it did stick in my mind as an example of knee-jerk divisiveness and incivility (a word you are welcome to deconstruct as it seems useful to you), and the moment stayed with me as I wrote Don’t Circle the Wagons.

    As I said to you privately, I have no problem with terminating exchanges with people (of any gender) who seem irredeemably hostile, condescending, and ill-informed. But my tendency as an educator and a leader in the digital humanities has been to err on the side of opening up needed conversations rather than shutting them down — even when I have to grit my teeth and remind myself that it’s the caliber and spirit of my own response that may create the “teachable moment.” I make an especial point of doing this (the gesture, not the teeth-gritting) when I know that the stakes are high and the goals of the people involved actually align with mine. This is a point I find I frequently make with humanities scholars in administrative situations: that a response to feeling embattled at an institutional level cannot be to raise the drawbridge. I’m not sure what it is about our disciplines or psyches that make us respond to pressure by creating enemies rather than allies, or by assuming that our games are zero-sum.

    So you see that I’ve now migrated from the personal to the collective. The larger issue for me in these discussions — for which I, too, thank Miriam! — is my desire to see success in the good work that many people are now doing under the banner of #transformDH, which is, for me, the connecting thread between the experiences Miriam, Steve, and others have recounted and the response the digital humanities community might mount. It’s incredibly important — in my view, for the future of the humanities, not just for the future of DH — that we connect wide theoretical and social concerns to digital practice in a way that will be legible to more traditional scholars. But I am concerned about the danger, in this process, that the scholars calling out for it could discount the experiences of long-time members of the humanities computing community, and most especially of software developers, simply because those people have developed ways of working, an ethos (or two), concepts of community, and a kind of discourse (often, as I tried to point out, an almost-tacit one) that, taken together, do not map easily to conventional humanities structures and norms.

    When DHers (sometimes male, often white and from Anglo-speaking countries) say that our work is about “building things,” it is no surprise that people (often women and members of minority groups) who have had fewer advantages and positive experiences with STEM education understand that as “learn to code, or you can’t join the club.” Let’s set aside the first mis-reading: the fact that code is only a small piece of what it means to be a builder in the digital humanities, and how necessary it is for us to work collaboratively on teams with varied expertise. What these DHers are really trying to say is that our community has been participating in and iteratively testing a new hermeneutic. Just as it takes a very long time and a serious measure of work to become fluent and effective in particular brands of theory, bodies of criticism, or fields of discourse (the length of grad school, building on skills from college, and increasingly refined in postdoctoral experience), this, too, is gonna take a while. And even when you reach basic proficiency in one or more of the principal areas of DH practice, it will still take a long period of “building things” to understand fully the implications of what you’re up to. Fifteen years on, I’m still learning and figuring it out. To quote a friend, in private conversation:

    I think DH represents an incredibly radical recalibration of the traditional terms of humanistic inquiry, because overall, it eschews the normative critical position of post-war humanities (centered on “critique”), in favor of a set of positive and productive notions centered around building, making, producing, and whatever else we want to call it. Everything you say about that latter practice rings true for me. It’s a different way of doing things, and it relies heavily on tacit understandings born of lived experiences.

    Many of us gravitated toward DH and #alt-ac out of intellectual and pragmatic inclinations, to be a part of this sub-culture of academic work. Some came because of a personal mis-match to the more normative modes of humanities scholarship. I try hard to remind my colleagues (and myself) not to circle the wagons as I watch the small community of practice I’ve loved for so long expand to include scholars who, at first glance, seem likely to impose their own critical methods and reigning paradigms on us in a way that is thoughtless, for being so well-intentioned. And I speak up for what might accidentally be lost, most especially because I know that “DH code-culture” (whatever it may be — it is instantiated differently in every shop) includes people of such different and often subaltern intellectual traditions — and has evolved in such a way that it can seem silent, and therefore absent, to people who can’t (yet?) read its signs and speak its languages. And I’m not talking FORTRAN.

    This is why I respond so poorly to exclusionary or terminal moves in conversations of all kinds. We have a lot of gaps to span: gender, race, privilege, norms in traditional scholarship and digital practice. In the grand scheme of things, there are far too few people who care about the humanities to risk excluding any of them from our shared work, or to discount any of their hard-won “lived experiences.” It will be a shame if we don’t discuss gender issues as part of this matrix. It will also be a shame if we silence anybody, or assume that silence means absence.

  11. I just want to take a minute to thank you, Miriam, for opening this conversation in an honest way, and also to thank Bethany for voicing here and on her own blog some of the concerns I’ve been having over the last few days.

    We in the DH community have fought hard for our years of experience in a whole range of activities that are not part of traditional academic culture and training. Among the things that we have learned is how to offer constructive criticism that is framed to build up while it corrects rather than to tear down in complete negation, whether that is in response to aesthetic design choices, or to epistemological frameworks for collections, or to theoretical perspectives in summative research. Combine those lessons with a penchant for collaborative work, and the result is a community that leans toward helping, rather than offering cold silence. This, I think is a good thing, and I worry about a situation in which those offers of help from middle-class, Euro-American men are suspect out of hand. We cannot do this work unless we all do it together.

    I know that the world is deeply racist, misogynistic, and homophobic (though I’m not sure that the world of code is more so than anywhere else). I am a woman and I am a lesbian. I see it almost everyday. But I am also a maker, who directs a division of one of the largest digital humanities centers in the US. I plan and direct projects; I manage budgets; I tinker with code and design; I am not always nice. Nonetheless, I cannot do any of this by myself. I know that there are assholes out there, and I would like to exile them as much as everyone else who is committed to justice and equality. It is an important stand to take, and I’m glad we’re doing it more publicly, both in rhetoric and in the constructive work that responds to these issues in our scholarship.

    But, I am not ready to paint our allies with the broad brush of racism, sexism, and homophobia. We have an enormous number of allies in the DH community, and they are contributing to the work of making welcoming spaces for diversity of all kinds. Twitter is a really hard medium for conveying emotion, tone, and intention. Perhaps we could all cut each other a break, and not make assumptions about whether someone is being condescending or patronizing from 140 characters. We need to recognize our allies, so that we can all do the hard work of responding to the kinds of cultures of dismissal and denigration that Steve illustrated in his comment on Miriam’s initial post.

  12. Rebecca Harris says:

    First, I would like to thank you, Miriam, for your two posts and for the conversations they have inspired. The gender gap in digital humanities is an ongoing issue for those of us trying to break into the field, particularly since most of us have to “start from scratch” in terms of coding. Like many women, I was not steered towards computing or technology as fields of study, and so now I am playing catch-up in terms of code as well as digital tools. While I am happy to be doing this work and always open to new forms of knowledge, I think this position for myself and for many women is a good place from which to mount critical analyses of how “code culture” has functioned and continues to function as an exclusionary practice (even if unintentionally so).

    To me, the emphasis on coding relies heavily on the concept of the “agent”–learning to use, manipulate, and execute–in ways that seem to skirt the conversations about subjectivity and ideology and language as used by “agents” that have been circulating since post-Structuralism. Not to mention the contributions to these conversations instantiated by queer theorists, feminists, Marxists, and practitioners of critical race theory. We seem unable or unwilling as a field to engage how coding is first and foremost a language, and one that has the attendant problems of any discursive system. Some of those problems have to do with gender. This is among the most important reasons why women SHOULD learn to code, so that we can apply the feminist tools we use in our daily praxis to this language system.

    Second, I would like to respond to both Natalia’s and Bethany’s comments. Like Natalia, I think “niceness,” for women and other disenfranchised groups, operates as ideology and as a constraint to identifying problems in order not to “cause trouble” or draw attention to frictions within groups. But that does not mean that these problems and troubles do not exist. Furthermore, “causing trouble” is an important and productive feminist practice. There are ways to be civil (even pleasant) while “causing trouble.” This does not mean that we exclude anyone from our conversations, but we must make our concerns visible, and our voices (as women) can and should be disruptive to the norms of a male-dominated field.

    Bethany, your comment that you “try hard to remind my colleagues (and myself) not to circle the wagons as I watch the small community of practice I’ve loved for so long expand to include scholars who, at first glance, seem likely to impose their own critical methods and reigning paradigms on us in a way that is thoughtless, for being so well-intentioned,” is well-taken, and yet I think somewhat misplaced. Causing trouble does not have to mean circling the wagons or name-calling or expulsion (and I think this is the case for Miriam’s and Natalia’s posts, if I’m reading them correctly). “Critical methods” and “paradigms” are diffuse and relational, and any academic worth their salt resists the top-down “imposition” of values. However, what I think Miriam, Natalia, and other scholars like myself are interested in is bringing our “critical methods” into conversation with a field that *sometimes* substitutes tools, code languages, or hacking for methodological or theoretical scrutiny. For those of us with backgrounds in feminist, queer, and critical race theory, our reactions are not “knee-jerk,” as we have likely spent the better part of our academic lives thinking about these issues.

    Finally, as a female scholar and a feminist, I say that if our reactions trouble, so much the better, as I know my fellow feminist and queer DH-ers seek to cause trouble in the most productive ways.

  13. First, thanks very much, Sharon, for helping to articulate what has pained and worried me in this — the number of fretful and saddened back-channel comments I’ve heard from people with much experience and insight to share, who are fearful of engaging with this important conversation because of their race and gender.

    Thanks, too, to Rebecca, for engaging with my comment here. I should say a few things very clearly. I have never indicated that I think people — women, especially — should be “nice” or that they should avoid, as you say, “causing trouble.” I do agree with Sharon that we should recognize our allies (and by extension, know our enemies, who are by and large not part of the DH community).

    And my point about tacit understandings in what you call “code culture” (again, I question the existence of such a monolithic thing in the digital humanities) is just to remind scholars who have been trained primarily to read and analyze texts as you describe, that there may be other, less legible, hermeneutics of making already in play.

    DH constitutes a broader and more intellectually-diverse community of collaborators, and a greater multiplicity of products and ways of working than many scholars have encountered before. When you talk about what “any academic worth their salt” would do in a given situation, I feel compelled to remind your readers that our community of practice includes brilliant and experienced people who were not trained and acculturated in the traditional humanities mold, and who do not even necessarily identify themselves as academics.

    I am simply trying to find ways to prevent the easiest and most dangerous response to this important moment of cultural contact, which would be retreat by the people who arrived at DH first, and who no longer — or perhaps never did — really speak your language.

  14. I have been mulling over a comment for a long while and honestly I don’t have the energy to write intelligibly what I really want to say. That may happen another day. Miriam, I do want to recognize that you really put yourself out there by blogging in your personal space about some genuine concerns and you have been honest about your perspective and thus left yourself open to comments and critiques. Thanks, brave one.

    I want to highlight what Miriam did in this post: she stated a problem that none of us know how to solve yet and she proposed some ways to address with 4 possible action point. Hooray! I think this is the approach that all of us, men and women, who are currently working in DH as alt-acs, at least, are trying to promote. Put forth a plan, test it out, revise, test again. I can say that I will try to do all 4 things. The first is the hardest, and one that we work hard at almost every day. [This motivates me in my work with Omeka outreach. I believe as a tool that it makes digital spaces for those who might need some help uncovering softer or hidden voices, and for those who do not have and/or cannot afford IT support. It's small, but it's something.]

    Bethany & Sharon’s posts are a reflection of that practical approach, especially from their experiences as Project Directors and Managers. That is what we do in this community of practice, we try to solve problems. And we do so with a variety of approaches, but each attempt requires a team of people with a variety of skills (programming included but not exclusively), and a variety of work and life experiences. We build things (again, with a variety of skill sets required), try, revise, test, commit.

    If you haven’t had the chance yet to work outside of academia, or are new to the idea of digital humanities, you may not be aware of the long history of it and the ways that it has changed over time. And that’s ok. That might be one area where you are less aware.

    While it might seem big, the DH community is still small and we must recognize that, as both Bethany and Sharon point out, we have many allies who are making “welcoming spaces for diversity of all kinds.”

    Ultimately, I think approaching newness and oldness with self-confidence, humility ( by humility I do not mean silence or superficial niceties), and willingness to get one’s hands dirty is the key to success in any problem-solving pursuit.

  15. Trip Kirkpatrick says:

    Longtime listener, first-time caller here. And I’m writing this on a 4″ screen in the lobby of a Holiday Inn Express while local news shouts at me, so forgive me if i shorthand some things.
    Speaking as someone who’s a johnny-come-lately to DH but with a longer background in IT, including work as a code monkey, I believe a culture of coding can be identified and examined. It’s a large and complex culture, to be sure, but it’s there. I’ve worked with nice guys and with pigs, but I can count the number of women coders I’ve worked with on a single extremity. Ditto African/African-American coders, though the contrary is true for South Asians, East Europeans. Ditto (to the best of my recollection) men over 50. So again, it’s not a simple culture, but all cultures can be examined. I’ve worked with pigs, and I’ve worked with nice guys, but by and large, the nerd culture I’ve seen has in some ways replicated the jock culture that was its historical oppressor. To me, this is not a shock, but I do hope DH takes another small step toward changing, subverting it. One of the reasons I have gravitated toward DH is a promise of being able to work out a new synthesis of various parts of my identity and it would be a terrible shame if everyone could not do as this White Man wants to do.

    …wait — you sold your record collection?

  16. Miriam says:

    I know! But it was so heavy and we kept moving.

    (And thank you for this comment, which is so great. Thank you thank you.)

  17. Chris Bourg says:

    I have to say that I am always troubled when a call for honest discussion of the barriers faced by marginalized groups gets turned into a concern that members of the privileged group might retreat.

  18. Bethany, if I’m reading you correctly, then the people you mention who are “fearful of engaging…because of their race and gender” are adult white men who are employed and established in the field. Thus the entry of people like me into the field constitutes a “cultural encounter” in which the indigenous white men who were there “first” and who don’t “speak [my] language” might “retreat”—westward, I suppose? Are they endangered by the smallpox of my brusque tweets? Therefore people like me are being entreated to not circle the wagons?

    I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. The perverse notion that the most established and privileged people in the field are a precious indigenous culture whose tacit knowledge the colonizing discourse-wielders (who happen to be disproportionately female, brown, queer) cannot possibly appreciate is a prime example of nerdiness serving as a place for white men to feel embattled.

    Let’s be clear. The fact that you build things that other people have trouble understanding does not make you similar to Native Americans at the moment of colonization. At all.

    Look; I get it. When you work with a group of people and you produce something excellent, and that wonderfulness depends in part on patterns of interaction that can’t quite be explained, you want to celebrate it and value it properly on its own terms. Of course you do. You should.

    But first of all, I wish to observe that this phenomenon is not unique to digital humanities, much less to its coding aspects. One finds it in as banal an event as a high school production of The King and I. (For certain values of “excellent.”)

    And second, no matter how wonderful it is for you, it is still worth your time to listen to the Asian kid who is not so stoked about being asked to play a Thai slave who speaks in gibberish. Or, to bring it back to Miriam’s post, to the woman who is not so stoked to be treated as if she has less technical competency than her male peers.

    It makes absolutely no sense to turn it around and tell them that they just don’t understand your culture. Less still to suggest that yours is a minority culture in danger of being wiped out by their objections. To where exactly are the fearful souls you mention retreating? To their desks at their full-time jobs? Who is really being asked to retreat here?

    That is to say: it is in fact true that really listening might ruin The King and I for you, permanently, and that you’d probably experience that as a real loss. It’s even possible that by setting up certain resistances, people like me really are going to destroy what you’ve worked so hard to build, although I very much doubt it. But that still would not make old-guard DH an oppressed minority.

    Bethany writes: “We have a lot of gaps to span: gender, race, privilege, norms in traditional scholarship and digital practice.”

    As they say, one of these is not like the others.

  19. Chris Bourg says:

    Natalia-
    Yes, yes, yes!
    You have articulated the frustration I have felt in reading some of these comments beautifully and powerfully.

  20. Hi, Natalia. I’m just writing a line to say that I won’t engage further in this discussion, because I believe my contributions are provoking more heat than light. I was told a couple of times that my original blog post was too careful to prevent others the rhetorical room to level the sort of critique you have, here — which is why I offered, perhaps without enough evident irony, the dubious metaphor of “cultural contact” in the comments section here.

    You have certainly taken good advantage of it.

    Thank you for this exchange, and for the good work and energy and diversity of perspective that you and so many are bringing to the field under the banner of #transformDH. On a personal note, I am reminded that, as our community expands, I’ll be working with more and more new colleagues and friends, who may enter the conversation at any one moment and take more from a blog comment than from the context in which it comes — which is, for me, many years now at mid-career devoted to mentoring and to broadening, diversifying, and enriching the field, in service to the humanities and improvement of the labor conditions of all people working to support DH.

  21. Did it just get quiet in here?

    I’ve watched this discussion with interest; let me add my thanks to everyone else’s for Miriam’s thoughtful couple of posts which have made me think harder about the rhetoric surrounding certain aspects of DH and the larger “learn to code” discourse (which extends well beyond DH, as do the issues of gender and women in tech).

    I’m unsure that I have anything useful to contribute, but I thought I’d try to extricate a genuine question which does seem worthy of attention.

    How I envy the wit, confidence, and clarity of Natalia’s prose in her comments above. Responding to Bethany, she writes:

    Let’s be clear. The fact that you build things that other people have trouble understanding does not make you similar to Native Americans at the moment of colonization. At all.

    Indeed, I can agree quite easily that, as Natalia writes, “old-guard DH” is not “an oppressed minority.” But amplifying the admittedly less than ideal (or in Bethany’s words, the “dubious” and insufficiently ironized) metaphorics of covered wagons and cultural encounters on the plains (and stirring in The King and I for good measure) does, I think, have the effect of producing more heat than light–and, to judge from what I’ve seen, more tweets than blog comments. Of course, the argument would be that this is not simply rhetoric (is it ever?); these metaphors tell us something important about the place of gender in the discourse of DH. I see that. That is how the (slightly suspicious) hermeneutic we normally use works. This discussion is, at least in part, about whether DH introduces a new model.

    Rebecca mentions “conversations about subjectivity and ideology and language as used by ‘agents’ that have been circulating since post-Structuralism” and her sense that DH risks ignoring the theoretical contributions of “queer theorists, feminists, Marxists, and practitioners of critical race theory.” It may be worth recalling that poststructuralism was greeted initially with some skepticism. It was not immediately recognized as being friendly to the concerns of feminists or others. At the very moment, after the 1970s, when feminist criticism seem poised to remake the canon, along comes French theory’s insistence that the “subject” is no longer an important category.

    I hazard this digression, because if we take seriously the suggestion of the individual whom Bethany quotes, we might imagine DH occupying a similar (and similarly ambiguous) place. Right now DH may very well seem hostile to the concerns articulated here, by #transformDH, and in the entire “where is the theory/cultural criticism in DH” conversation. I ask, in earnest, can we (should we?) take seriously the idea that DH is “an incredibly radical recalibration of the traditional terms of humanistic inquiry, because overall, it eschews the normative critical position of post-war humanities (centered on ‘critique’), in favor of a set of positive and productive notions centered around building, making, producing, and whatever else we want to call it”?

    I don’t know if DH is that. But I’d like to know.

    As Miriam’s first post suggested, we should remain sensitive to the ways that whatever this new thing is, it may carry latent (and manifest) prejudices, including sexism; that its “culture” (or its anarchy as the case may be) might require re-“making.” But it is a leap from that observation, to the suggestion that any defense of DH’s separateness from other hermeneutical norms is simply a stalking horse for male “code culture.”

    (Oh, and does it strike anyone else that the centrality of poststructuralism, etc, to these conversations seems to suggest that literary studies may be… overrepresented here in the larger field of the “humanities”?)

  22. alexj says:

    Just got turned on to your blog. How thrilling! When I think (and write and d0) about doing as making as thinking I have often made videos as well as books, and more currently “ video-books” (which are really just big web-pages), so what I think has been lost in this “all Digital Humanities are communities of practice speak” (and particularly that this is a radicalizing moment for humanists) is not simply that people crafted before in that twee sense, but that academic writing is and always was doing, as it was craft, and that these added digital technologies have merely exposed that scholars were always making things, in ritualized ways, for particular users, with machines and for special(ized) uses (and now actually have to be accountable for this). I spoke with Victoria Szabo about this at length for a panel she co-ran recently, Evaluating Digital Work for Tenure and Promotion: A Workshop for Evaluators and Candidates at the 2012 MLA Convention. I love your four points at the end for the reason that it marks practice as political, and hope you’ll take a peek at some of the similar principles I’m working through at my Feminist Online Spaces site (a work in progress to be sure).

  23. alexj says:

    Just got turned on to your blog. How thrilling! When I think (and write and do) about doing as making as thinking I have often made videos as well as books, and more currently “ video-books” (which are really just big web-pages), so what I think has been lost in this “all Digital Humanities are communities of practice speak” (and particularly that this is a radicalizing moment for humanists) is not simply that people crafted before in that twee sense, but that academic writing is and always was doing, as it was craft, and that these added digital technologies have merely exposed that scholars were always making things, in ritualized ways, for particular users, with machines and for special(ized) uses (and now actually have to be accountable for this). I spoke with Victoria Szabo about this at length for a panel she co-ran recently, Evaluating Digital Work for Tenure and Promotion: A Workshop for Evaluators and Candidates at the 2012 MLA Convention. I love your four points at the end for the reason that it marks practice as political, and hope you’ll take a peek at some of the similar principles I’m working through at my Feminist Online Spaces site (a work in progress to be sure).

  24. Chris, I appreciate this comment very much. You raise an important point, in that it is very much worth taking the possibility of a genuinely alter digital humanities theoretical mode on its own terms. I for one would very much like to see the notion elaborated further. There is a broad disciplinary dimension to this conversation that I’m happy to see unearthed in this way.

    But of course that’s not the end of it, for somehow the “clarity” for which Chris (backhandedly) praises me seems to have obscured what I actually said.

    In particular, I do not think that “cultural encounter” is, as Bethany suggests, a mere passing metaphor of which I’ve gleefully and unfairly “taken good advantage,” to, I suppose, score points in some kind of arbitrary game. It is not even a structuring rhetoric (suspiciously) bespeaking hidden investments, as Chris somewhat more generously suggests. Being my own most generous reader, I would assert that I am after something much plainer, namely that Bethany has very substantively argued that DH is defined by practice-oriented coding culture(s), which constitute a “subaltern intellectual tradition” that by definition cannot speak. The substance of her arguments here and in “Don’t Circle the Wagons” [sic] is not that the cultures exist, but rather that they are “subaltern” and therefore threatened by words like mine—hence the injunction of the title.

    I am trying to insist, because I believe it matters, that there is an important distinction to be made here. Africana philosophy is a subaltern intellectual tradition. Coding is not.

    To clarify my “clarity,” I am not suggesting that there is no separate hermeneutical norm worth investigating (to say nothing of practicing); I never did say such a thing, and, Chris, I think upon rereading you will agree that that is a mischaracterization of what I’ve written. (As I’m sure is obvious, I have my doubts about the mystical character of the tacitness attributed to DH practice, but that is quite a separate issue.) I am saying that it is nonsensical to characterize that separate hermeneutical norm—granting for the moment that it is that—as somehow endangered by feminists who link Rebecca Solnit op-eds. Such a move claims that what is really oppressive is not e.g. sexism, but rather any insufficiently conciliatory objection to sexism.

    And so we are back to the ideology of niceness, for the particular people we are being asked to protect are a group of oddly frail established practitioners in the field, who are “our allies,” despite their occasional propensity to do objectionable things. They should be treated with unfailing gentleness, we are told, because they are good people. Bethany makes the same gesture in her final comment, by pointing to her unarguably impressive track record in mentorship and labor issues. She’s a good person; why must I “tak[e] … advantage” by quoting and parsing her argument?

    Is it really controversial that whether you’re a good person is beside the point? I have not made these arguments in order to suggest that Bethany, or anyone else, is a bad person. I have made them because I quite firmly disagree. And if arguing points of disagreement is out of bounds, then we are talking about a separate norm indeed.

  25. Pingback: Wendy Hsu | beingwendyhsu.info » Making songs to learn about songs: mobile music-making with iPad

  26. Susan Garfinkel says:

    Just one small point, in response to something Natalia wrote. She said:

    Bethany, if I’m reading you correctly, then the people you mention who are “fearful of engaging…because of their race and gender” are adult white men who are employed and established in the field.

    That’s an absurd assumption. If our topic is the exclusion of everyone except “adult white men who are employed and established in the field,” how can you suggest that all those excluded (or potentially excluded) people suddenly and completely feel empowered to enter a fully public conversation on the very topic of their exclusion?

    Your point may be rhetorically powerful but it’s as damaging to the realities of women, people of color, white men who are not employed and established in the field, etc., as is the original set of conditions we’re trying to work through in these conversations. Actually, it’s part and parcel with them.

  27. Pingback: Why I Love the Digital Humanities » Roger T. Whitson, Ph.D

  28. Jean says:

    Miriam: Thank you for yet another beautiful post. Your ability to speak from and beyond your own experiences is an inspiration. In the spirit of your post (and in response to certain aspects of the comment thread) I’ve written up my own entrance into DH. I just wish more people had my good fortune. http://packets.jeanbauer.com/2012/03/08/safe-spaces-and-kind-words/

  29. Pingback: Learn to code? | One piece at a time

  30. Pingback: Tim’s Tips: Encoded: Gender, Technology, and Libraries

  31. Pingback: Two Conferences: One Students’/Women’s Media Power « MEDIA PRAXIS

  32. Pingback: …and then the Herokulypse - Alex Gil | Alex Gil

  33. Pingback: Doing History in Public | Nursing Clio