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.


Look at all this Stuff! On Playing, Printing, and Virtual Reality in the Digital Humanities

In preparation for this week’s visit with Ken Baldauf at the Program for Interdisciplinary Computing, I was struck by the amount of physical stuff that we were presented with. As we were presented with a lot of information, I will do my best to synthesize and highlight some major points, and to interject what I see as potentials and critiques of these technologies. I wanted to embed this video above as an example of the artistic and storytelling potential of these technologies. I found it through an exploration of the Google Tilt Brush website.

When I approach topics like this, I tend to think about what can I do with it, and how can I teach with it. These same concerns appear to be embedded within the questions that Dr. Graban has posed, as well as the assumption with the variety of introductory materials for this week. The use of 3D scanning and printing have the ability to let us see artifacts, art, history, and material differently. They offer us ways to view and engage with each other, our pasts, and our futures, in ways that are disruptive. As presented, they are also deeply effective pedagogical tools, and can allow us to explore narratives, perspectives, and materials and present them to a variety of people regardless of location or expertise. They allow for a play with the world that was previously unattainable.

While many of these readings and videos were informative on the technologies and their potentials in various spaces, their needs to sell the technology and to pose use-cases was off putting at times. This space, and these technologies are disruptive, especially at the price, availability, and capability that they are coming to. Lifelike virtual reality, such as presented by Lifelique, is becoming more possible and available. If I had the spare $800 for a VR headset, I would love to play around in these spaces.

While there are still several technical and adoption hurdles, virtual reality seems to be here to stay. As someone interested in these technologies, while they are becoming more affordable, they are still out of the grasp of many people and institutions, and could further the digital divide. These VR experiences are also incredibly solitary, at least as presented. One person puts on a headset to enter into the virtual space. I also see a danger of these VR experiences being sold to education, and being purchased, as another panacea (like other technologies before). I see an immense potential—I want to walk around with dinosaurs, explore Mars, and walk through ancient Rome—and the danger of hegemonic perspectives being reinforced. As Davis mentions in her article, VR is an empathy machine, and we need to be aware and critical of using these tools.

I was most intrigued by the ability of 3D and VR to allow for realistic, touchable, and experiential engagement with artifacts and collections of various museums. 3D scanning technologies offer potential new avenues for research as museums scan and share their collections. As mentioned in the Smithsonian video and article introducing their X 3D object site, the scanning has allowed researchers to see things within artifacts and sites that were not available to the naked eye. The use of 3D scanning is allowing researchers to investigate artifacts, see archaeological sites, and bring materials together from disparate locations together for study, without the immense costs of travel or purchase. Researchers could now have access, print, and explore artifacts from around the world. This scanning and sharing could unlock a variety of research, and I’m looking forward to seeing it realized and participating in it.

There is a sense of immense potential within 3D printing, 3D scanning, and virtual reality. The question seems to be, what do we do with it?  What I found most striking to think about was Drucker’s claim “that we demonstrate that the methods and theory of the humanities have a critical purchase on the design of platforms that embody humanistic values.” It isn’t enough to simply analyze or use digital tools and artifacts, but that we need a place in helping to create them. I see the maker and collaborative spaces as a means of doing so, through collaboration, learning, and exploration of tools and technologies.  Drucker made a clear argument about the need for humanities understandings within digital humanities, of a need to introduce and implement computing experiences and systems that attended to the interpersonal.

There was optimism and uncertainty expressed in these pieces. These technologies have been immensely useful within a variety of contexts already, and have gained a remarkable amount of general interest and support. This is certain to continue and accelerate as these tools and technologies become more affordable and have wider adoption. Given this situation of growth, the humanities can not only help craft the narratives, but also collaborate with how they are being told. These technologies allow for other voices to not only be heard, but to be seen, felt, and experienced. By allowing for engagement and play with people, places, artifacts, and history, 3D and VR technologies can be disruptive to the paradigms of knowledge generation and circulation. By allowing anyone with the right access to technology, the ability to engage and experience places and artifacts, the ability to come closer to others is immense.

In our positions as teachers, scholars, writers, and technologists, we can shape not only what these technologies do, but also to critique and present their potential to uncover and promote empathy and understandings between time and space. Constructing and becoming involved in maker and collaborative spaces seem like natural connections for humanists. I see potentials for projects and pedagogies that engage with maker-spaces as sites and structures for instruction. There is potential for new service learning opportunities, transfer, and writing across the curriculum.

These technologies also have the potential to change how we view the humanities, and the methods and methodologies of our research and practice. Engaging fully in the digital humanities through “the tasks of creating metadata, doing markup, and making classification schemes or information architectures forced humanists to make explicit many assumptions often left implicit in our work” (Drucker). The technologies also shape what and how we study, and the ways in which we share it. While I question the idealism of many of the videos and articles, I can see their position as one of optimism. These technologies have already changed so much, and they can continue to shape how, where, when, and what people engage with. As digital humanists, we must work to engage, use, and shape these tools ethically and effectively.