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#transformDH - A Call to Action Following ASA 2011

#transformDH - A Call to Action Following ASA 2011

**UPDATE: For those just joining, the #transformDH Tumblr is now active! Go to, click on the submit button at the bottom, and submit your work for inclusion in our collection of DH projects that push the boundaries of the field.**

I came back from the ASA meeting in Baltimore with the distinct feeling that something had gone very right. One week after a very successful UCLA Queer Studies panel in which Micha Cárdenas, Alexis Lothian, Margaret Rhee, and I showcased our technoqueer theory-by-praxis projects, I was having some of the same conversations again at the national level, joined by junior and senior scholars alike. It's starting to feel like we're reaching a critical mass of people who are ready to see the "Digital Humanities" (used here in the most expansive sense possible) begin to diversify itself in terms of inclusion, approaches, theorization, and application to social justice issues.

For ASA 2011, six of us proposed a roundtable that would run like a THATCamp session, chaired by Anna Everett. Entitled "Transformative Mediations? Ethnic and Queer Studies and the Politics of the Digital," this panel sought to ask many questions of the digital, but one of the most important was how do we define the digital humanities, and who benefits from this definition? At first, the turnout was embarrassing. We began presenting our talking points with a paltry 3 people in attendance (though one of them was Lisa Nakamura...), but over time we managed to get 7 folks to even out the balance between "panelists" and "audience," resulting in a discussion in which every single person in attendance had something significant to say! Everyone left the session feeling energized about the possibilities of moving forward with projects that continue to bridge/break/ignore the boundaries put in place by the dominant DH discourse.

At the next session, most of our panel attended "Transforming Scholarly Research in the Digital Age," which ended on an apt note with Tara McPherson's various calls to action: We need more critical race coders. We need more feminist media scholars who can't write code to run software labs. We need more people fighting to make these paradigms play nice with each other.

...and, it turns out, more people to keep track of when and how they do. While I was elated by McPherson's talk and the enthusiasm with which it was met, I was equally frustrated by the low numbers our panel drew - partially out of a misplaced sense of pride (jr. scholars/grad students vs. the likes of, oh, Jasbir Puar and Lisa Gitelman in the same time slot....), but mostly out of disbelief that few people even seemed to be aware of where and how these conversations are taking place. In fact, ASA was a place for me finally to meet the people that I couldn't find (for the most part) at MLA: digital ethnic studies scholars, digital feminists, digital queer theorists... maybe dhers with a lower case?

I know you are out there. And you are doing important work and I want to talk to all of you. I've met some of you on the Internet - you were the ones tweeting the occasional non-DH panels at MLA with me. You were all over the ASA backchannel. Being the backchannel jockeys that we are, a handful of us (including the lowercase-q queen of Conference Tweeting herself, Alexis Lothian) were able to advertise our collective goals and invent a hashtag that I'd like you all to use: #transformDH. Let's build this critical mass and share projects that do the work we want to see in the field. I want more people to read the HASTAC forums on queer/gender/race/ability/etc issues and keep those conversations going. I want a Tumblr called I Am A Digital Humanist where we can show each other what a critical digital humanities looks like. I want more themed conference panels. I want a directory of these panels so we can keep finding each other.

So... come #transformDH with me? Plzkthx.



Continue below for credits and resources!

"Transformative Mediations" session co-conveners:

  • Anna Everett, UC Santa Barbara (Moderator)
  • Anne Cong-Huyen, UC Santa Barbara
  • Tanner Higgin, UC Riverside
  • Melanie E.S. Kohnen, Georgia Tech
  • Alexis Lothian, U Southern California
  • Amanda Phillips, UC Santa Barbara
  • Marta S. Rivera Monclova, Framingham State U

Here's a list of stuff that I think showcases an escalating interest in the issues of the Hack/Yack Divide and implementing social justice theories (of many persuasions) in the practices of DH. My perspective comes mostly from the literary corner, so I started watching in and around MLA 2011 and entered the conversation shortly thereafter at THATCamp, so this is a woefully inadequate list. Please suggest stuff in the comments and I'll add them here:


1 comment

I think this is an important discussion, Amanda. Would you and your colleagues be interested in contributing this post, or some other piece on #transformdh (maybe some version of the tumbler?), to the expanded, open-access edition of Debates in the Digital Humanities? I think you're making an important intervention here and I'd love to put these issues on the table through the book project. Please let me know what you think.