In Which we Talked about Systems, Publishing, and Open Access: Or the Theme was Alterity and Race in the Digital Humanities

Alex Gil was kind enough to join us for an afternoon in a Google Hangout to talk about data, publishing, systems, open access, and creating more accessible digital programs and scholarship. His talk focused on the need to create a digital revolution, one that used the humanities unique abilities to be good distant readers, knowledge architects, and cultural analyzers, combined with a digital consciousness towards access and labor, to create and encourage new epistemologies. He argued for a new paradigm of thought that was technologically literate, resources conscious, open, and aware of labor. He positioned the Digital Humanities as a place where this sort of translingual and transnational work can be cultivated.

I found his call for a new discipline for the 21st century academy intriguing. This discipline would work to “understand the creation, distribution, and location of all scholarship, in all languages, at all times” (Gil). There is a sense of speaking truth to power through a questioning and unsettling the underlying assumptions of the labor and material practices of modern scholarship within the academy, and the associated businesses. Gil detailed the pervasive issues with the ways in which knowledge, in its various material forms, is housed, sold, distributed, and used. There are clear needs to look not only at what we produce, but how, where, and for who. Underlying these issues are concerns with labor practices, intellectual property, ownership, and expertise for digital circulation. Between Gil’s talk, our questions, and the readings, it seems that there is a need for developing within the digital humanities a critical mass to lead to a more fair, global, tranlingual, and socially just academy. We need to encourage the development of critical technical ideologies and practices in our work, scholarship, writing, and teaching.

These all bring important rhetorical concerns: how does work circulate, who owns it, how does or can an audience interact with it, and what effects does this have on the ultimate labor that knowledge does? In an open access world, we would do our best to account for the variety of technological barriers and literacies needed for effective and just knowledge making and sharing. His positioning of work, from within and without digital humanities and libraries, serves as a potential rallying cause for accessing new epistemologies and circulating them through new, digitally aware, texts and compositions. The de-centralized, data conscious, and knowledge centric views that he discussed were, in many ways, both inspiring and daunting.

Alex Gil’s various projects, Around DH in 80 Days, “The Digital Library of Babel,” “The User, the Learner and the Machines W Make,” and his talk all provide us with potentials for the sort of scholarship that access conscious, Digital Humanities, can or could do. They also bring attention to the knowledge, linguistic, and access gaps that exists in scholarship, and that the Digital Humanities perpetuate through unquestioned assumptions and differences in resources. I found the readings on Global Outlook::Digital Humanities (GO::DH), and their work to utilize the transligingual, transnational, and technological abilities of the digital humanities, as a vital and important project. Additionally, tools like Jekyll, and a call for becoming proficient (and perhaps even expert teachers) in the technologies we use, so we can be more critical and purposeful in our choices, and to better be able to describe our reasoning. This would allow us to exert resistance on the hegemonic structures that so often control scholarship.

I was worried by how logocentric this work tended to be, at least as presented to us. I know that text, in the material sense, is cheap. It is easy, it flows very quickly with very little bandwidth. This is also true if you think of labor, cost, and time differences between black and white, text only layout, versus producing something in color, or historically typesetting versus engraving. However, I think that it misses many of the epistemologies that the digital humanities can bring attention to and study. There is much to be gained from the study and production of visual, digital, and/or multimodal texts. There needs to continue to be a careful consideration of the many different ways in which we intersect and interact with technologies and knowledge.

Ultimately, I would like to join Alex Gil’s rebel force. I see a value in the open access, and for allowing epistemologies to negotiate and work with one another. This also gets to important questions of access to technology, social justice, and the connections between knowledge and production. I also believe that we can become more aware of the rhetorical nature of not only our compositions, but also the webs in which they circulate. Thinking about our work in a broader networked and material sense is important to engaging with the Digital Humanities. There is also a value in thinking about the material, embodied, and situated nature of the tools and technologies we use, and how to best and most equitably engage with them.

I found his talk and our discussion productive, and I look forward to seeing where else we can draw from, and what new knowledge can arise out of these technological confluences.


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