Digital Humanities Futures: #transformDH, #2015ASA, #QGCon, Pt. 2

(featured image – Logo/stitching: Melissa Rogers, Photo: Reed Bonnet)

This is the second blog in a series about the conferences I attended in the fall, all of which have me very hopeful for the direction of DH and the place of transformative social justice work in the academy. If you’re not caught up, you can read Part 1 here.

Day 2 of the Transformative Digital Humanities Conference was a THATCamp themed around #transformDH, which resulted in a number of panels that strayed from the usual THATCamp fare in its dedication to a little more yacking.

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(In fairness to Patrick, the conversation went back and forth for a few tweets, and he understood how the rest of the #transformDH conference had prepped us for this type of alternative technology practice. This decontextualized tweet is not the final verdict!)

The yacking at THATCamp #transformDH, however, was centered around hacking the technologies of academia: institutional hierarchies, funding applications, underequipped classrooms, peer review, and more. These might not immediately be recognizable as “technologies” in the THATCamp sense, but the skills necessary to master them are elusive, particularly for the underrepresented groups of people who are drawn to the #transformDH community. These sessions more than “mere” conversations about how the structures of academia frustrate social justice work in academia: they are training and strategy sessions for how to use the resources available to us to do the work that is necessary for meaningful transformation.

For example, one breakout session began compiling resources for best practices guides for humanities scholars working with social media “texts,” an important ethical topic that is of interest to individual scholars as well as institutions like the Center for Solutions to Online Violence. My own session on queer gaming and programming practices was part introduction to procedurality and the normative functions of computer systems, and part brainstorming session for what queer game mechanics can look like. Another well-attended session was “Hacking the Institution,” in which we shared our successes and failures in accomplishing our specific research and activism goals.

What types of technologies did we end up with? Buzzwords for grant and job applications, specific methods for ethically engaging in online research, a new hashtag to network Southern DH communities, and a host of specific skills distributed at workshops I was unable to attend.

What we produced at THATCamp #transformDH, in the end, was a lovely set of tools and skills that left everyone feeling a bit more equipped to navigate the digital humanities in our own transformative ways. By the end of the day, Moya Bailey offered us a name for the emotional highs and constructive conversations that had carried us forward all weekend: world building. We are building our own digital humanities future, one person at a time. Our closing conversation about the future of #transformDH, in addition to our usual exhortation for people to pick up and use the hashtag for themselves, was an affirming moment of vulnerability and hope for those involved, in which we were able to express our very real anxieties and insecurities about academic life while also holding each other up.

There’s no point in pretending that academic and activist careers aren’t often intimidating, thankless, and lonely, and the situation can compound when you try to integrate social justice into your scholarship. However, the folks at #transformDH are actively working to build a world in which sustainable collaboration is the norm, in which a wide variety of technological skill is recognized and valued. In that way, THATCamp #transformDH was a productive day of hacking and yacking and building and bonding.

Stay tuned for more about #2015ASA and #QGCon!

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