I really like Adeline Koh’s stuff, and her recent “Letter to the Humanities” is no exception. Here are some of my favorite parts of this piece:
After explaining the basis of Humanities Computing: “Too many in this field prize method without excavating the theoretical underpinnings and social consequences of method. In other words, Humanities Computing has focused on using computational tools to further humanities research, and not to study the effects of computation as a humanities question.” Not only do I agree with Koh on this point, but I’d further argue that a lot of humanists (who may not see themselves as having anything to do with computers or the digital world) would do well to hear her call. Reflexively revisiting the connections between methodology and method is a move that should be taken up broadly and far more seriously.
Koh suggests that humanists interested in the digital humanities should “champion the new wave of digital humanities: one which has humanistic questions at its core.” In other words, let’s pay attention to the potential value of new tools and methods, but let’s not abandon what we’re good at. “[I]nstead of pouring more money into tool building or the latest and greatest 3D printer, let’s not limit the history of the digital humanities to humanities computing as a single origin point. Let’s consider “sister fields” to the digital humanities as actually foundational to the digital humanities.” Koh’s focus on what I might call origin stories here is one that can be productive in a number of ways. In the final chapter of my dissertation, I resist drawing hard conclusions and instead imagine how the field of technical communication might look different to us if we imagine origin stories for it other than the most commonly accepted one. What becomes possible then? Who gets included if we see technical communication as an ancient tradition rather than one born to serve U.S. engineering departments alone? Koh points out that for digital humanities, such a move means we can “redefine what we mean by the “best,” … digital humanities research. ”
“The insistent focus on computing and methodology in the humanities without incisive, introspective examination of their social implications is devaluing the humanities. We shouldn’t be pouring federal money into building tools without making the ideological structure of the process explicit and their social effects and presuppositions open to inspection; we shouldn’t be funding the digitization of canonical (read: white, often male) authors without the simultaneous digitization of works by people of color, especially women of color. To do both is to betray some of the most important lessons which the humanities has learned with the rise of women, gender and sexuality studies, race, ethnic and postcolonial studies and disability studies.”
If only I’d known about this resource before designing the Public Interest Writing course I’m just finishing! A colleague recently posted this link to a listserv. The site is an “online platform for a number of interlinked research projects that critically examine the use and impact of selected social networking tools in Australian society and beyond.” Clearly, we could use something so smart here, as well. View the project here: http://mappingonlinepublics.net/
From the Guest Editors of a recent special issue of Harlot:
“As Angela Haas has argued, the concept of digital refers as much to the work of the human hand as it does binary code. Even when digital tools enable activists to collaborate across great distances, the body remains a powerful force in the activist scene. After all, we must remember that the web is not and has not ever been a democratic, egalitarian space; power inequalities of sexuality, race, class, gender, ability, and nation persist—and are often reinforced—in online spaces.”
“[T]he body is one of the most important activist media that we have.”
Read the guest editors’ introduction to the special issue.
Just read this smart post over at Jill Walker Rettberg’s blog. As an academic and journalist, I have a slightly different reaction than most scholars seem to have to this type of debate. First, I think it’s worth examining how “The very reproducibility of the photograph means that it will be encountered in many different settings, and not always in serious, museum or documentary style contexts.” This is an issue of rhetorical velocity (Ridolfo & DeVoss), and it suggests that the viewer/reader has an obligation to understand the always-mediated nature of the image.
That makes sense, but I also think expectations surrounding acceptable levels of mediation in particular contexts are not only reasonable, but necessary. For example, when I look at a photograph in a newspaper, I expect that it might have been edited for better reproducibility, but I don’t expect that whole people might have been removed from the image for the sake of aesthetics. As a journalist, I was taught that any manipulation of an image other than limited cropping (to fit available space while working in design and layout) or adjusting the brightness (which is necessary because of darkening that happens in the printing of newspapers) was unacceptable.
Are there reasons for a journalist to alter photographs? I’m willing to entertain the idea. For example, there are things like this, where a photo is filtered for a seemingly ethical or kind reason–in this case, to avoid exposing children to gore. But, really, I can’t get on board here. While the concern that children might see blood and bone is, I think, valid, this is a lazy way to solve the problem. (Editors could have utilized blurring so that the editing was apparent, a jump to an inside page with a warning on the front, a digital-only distribution model, etc.). Worse, it’s a slippery slope from editing out potentially offensive gore to editing out entire people–say, women–because others find their presence intolerable.
This is why the apparency of particular kinds of mediation in particular contexts matters deeply.
I’ve been warning students lately (both in classes and whenever I give this workshop with Dr. Guiseppe Getto) that they really need to make sure to use appropriate key terms in their resumes and cover letters (while still remaining truthful to their professional identities, of course). That’s because all the rhetorical smarts in the world won’t change a robot’s mind if the right term isn’t there. Once or twice, when I’ve said this and gotten disbelieving looks from students, I’ve wondered if I read too much scifi. But that’s not it, because look!
How to Make Sure Your Resume Makes It Past the Robots
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