Posted on Sat 22 April 2017

Read Time: 4 minutes

Engagement in the Digital Humanities

Proposals for HASTAC 2017, were due on April 17th. I wrote one, and submitted it.

I wasn’t happy with it. Wouldn’t it be nice if every time we wrote a proposal we felt confident? Well, that is not the case here.

I find that I write proposals in one of two ways. In the first way, I write about the research I am doing. In the second, I write about something I want an excuse to investigate more closely. Obviously, the second approach has its problems. Proposals are much more nebulous and far less clear on outcomes and ideas. Yet, I find that it can also really help me to open up my approach and focus on areas that I wasn’t directly engaged with before. I like having that opportunity.

I feel that my proposal for HASTAC was a bit more of the second than the first. Regardless of what happens, I want to use this space to hash out my ideas a bit more with the warning that this is still very much a thought exercise in progress.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how digital rhetoricians talk about and use digital technology. How do we engage and create? What does it mean to use specific hardware and software? A lot of great research has gone into those questions. My question is how do we share that? In some sense, the interdisciplinary nature of DH is less interdisciplinary and more new disciplinary. In other words, we share our findings with other researchers in the digital humanities, but it never seems to filter that far beyond our borders.

I presented two workshops at our DH-Lab here at UW-Milwaukee. Now, we’re small, but there are a lot of people who have at least a cursory interest in what it going on in the lab. My workshops were aimed at writing and version control. Really, they were an attempt to ask participants to consider how MS Word and its clones shape our writing practice (for better and for worse), and what we can do to increase our awareness of potential options rather than staying with the standard (locked-in) MS-Office suite or its clones. I wanted to get them to think about the affordances and challenges that such an approach might entail for themselves and their students.

Attendance was poor. I was okay with that in the sense that I could share and meet the needs of the few that did come, but what was more distressing what the lack of response from those places that could have been the most impacted. Now, I should be fair. April 20th is a stupid time to host a workshop. I am sure that was part of the problem. Of course, I have attended many workshops on digital tools in the lab and none seem to have the impact that they could and maybe should have had. Too often, I feel that digital research in the Humanities, especially in the areas of digital writing and rhetoric, is focused on the end product and not the tools. We talk and teach about openness and access in the classroom while typing away on Mac books and requiring all documents to be in MS Word format. There is a disconnect there.

I want to stress that I do not think that Open Source or Free Software is a panacea. There are absolutely multiple issues that arise when we consider these approaches. That said, I think a deep discussion into those issues and into ways to address those issues could be useful for everyone involved.

So, my goal for my HASTAC talk, is to talk about how digital humanities researchers cross the divide within our own disciplines. In particular, how do digital humanities labs engage with researchers outside of the direct circle of the digital humanities? We do, occasionally. Certain artists or speakers can draw a crowd, but how do we move from a cool talk to potential change? I think a lot of researchers see DH as that archival project over there, and they miss the critical work being done into how technology shapes lives and teaching not only on a theoretical but on a practical level as well. I think DH Labs can really help to open that conversation up. So, I want to talk about that for a 5-8 minutes.

Will I get in? I am not convinced. That proposal was pretty rough, and wildly rambling. I hope I do, though. I actually have a meeting with our DH Lab director next week to talk about this, and I think that this may grow into something more as I look at participatory culture, publics, and technology. Most of all, its something that is important to me which means, HASTAC or not, I have to see where it leads.

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Author: Geoff Gimse

Category: rhetoric

Tags: digital humanities, technology, technoscience

© Geoffrey Gimse (Opinions expressed here are my own and are not neccessarily shared by employers, friends, or colleagues.). Built using Pelican. Except where noted, all photos are my own. Other images used on this site are in the Public Domain and available from Openclipart, or have been purchased for use via The Noun Project.