I'm writing to introduce myself, as one of the new HASTAC Scholars for the 2020-2022 cohort. My name is Rebecca Baker (call me Baker), and I am a 4th year English PhD student at UC Santa Barbara. In various capacities, I have been a teacher for nearly 15 years (from community college math tutor to Writing Center Peer, from TESOL EFL instructor in Mexico to Instructor-of-Record for Comp & Lit courses at two US universities). I believe that one’s praxis as a teacher is never “complete”—certainly you build up your toolkit and your pedagogical identity, but you must remain adaptable, flexible, and willing to learn new strategies. Pedagogy is and remains both a passion and a primary grounding element of my identity as a scholar--even before being accepted into this cohort, I would often raid the HASTAC community blogs for bits of wisdom to bring into my own praxis as a teacher!
My dissertation work focuses on worldbuilding in speculative human futures in space—both science fiction and projected “real world” goals. I argue that the way that we “world” these futures—the cognitive and ideological infrastructure we give them, what we believe is the praxis of the possible versus what we scoff at and dismiss—matters deeply in terms of how we treat the crises of today, here on Earth. In other words, the worlds we create have a palpable effect on those we inhabit, and who controls the narrative—and for what purpose—matters deeply in terms not only of the future, but also of how we understand the past, and how we act in the present. As such, my work straddles Science and Technology Studies, the Environmental Humanities (including decolonial and environmental justice), and Critical Infrastructure Studies. I center my analyses on Western science/speculative fictions about space travel, exploration, and de/colonization--even more specifically, I ask how we can challenge the narratives of hegemonic, colonial violence and (white) American exceptionalism that we often (wittingly or not) project onto visions of our future in the stars. How we can salvage and re-purpose these tropes to envision a kinder, juster, and better cannon for future world-building, one that emphasizes collaboration in lieu of conquest, in which difference is generative rather than a "problem" to be engineered away? As I often tell my students: just because something is fiction doesn't mean it isn't true.
As a scholar, I am at my best when I am teaching, collaborating, and otherwise working on projects that I feel have a tangible value to the world—reaching across disciplinary and circumstantial boundaries to create a thoughtful, respectful, and multifaceted discussion (within and beyond the academy) about how we might imagine a more just and sustainable future. This work is of necessity interdisciplinary, and praxis-oriented; although it may be convenient to silo different epistemologies, methodologies, and foci into their respective departments, I have found that the most interesting, engaging, and important work—both research and teaching—is happening at the boundaries and edges of traditionally distinct fields, particularly that which bridges the apparent chasm between the arts and the sciences. This sort of interdisciplinary thinking is one reason why an organization such as HASTAC is so exciting and fascinating to me-- I look forward to seeing what I can learn and contribute as a HASTAC scholar.
How can we encourage students from myriad backgrounds to engage critically, analytically, and ethically with cultural artifacts (including literature and pop culture) and with one another, drawing connections between the products of culture and current events, scientific discourse, the climate crisis, and their own learned understandings of the world? How can we innovate higher education and make it accessible, engaging, and relevant to the public, while at the same time challenging the profiteering university-as-business model that has come to threaten the very foundations of the liberal arts? These are questions of epic proportions, to be sure, and I have been called naïve more than once for asking them. And yet, as a first-generation, small-town college student who grew up in poverty, my original reason for pursuing a humanities education was the enormous egalitarian and interdisciplinary potential that I saw residing within it—a relevance and driving impetus, a way to reach out and touch all that is interesting, good, and generative in the world; it is difficult to explain quantitatively, but is nevertheless very real.
I learned about HASTAC from a number of former HASTAC scholars with whom I collaborated on a Public Digital Humanities project (https://we1s.ucsb.edu/) for the past three years. From our discussions I have come to understand that HASTAC is just the sort of collaborative conversation I have been looking for; a professional and academic network of citizen humanists, scientists, and artists whose work is focused on these very questions. If you get the chance, check out some of the public-facing research that our WE1S team has been doing with regard to the humanities in people's lives, and how it is important in the public context even when people are not using the term "humanities" (thus dispelling the myth that a liberal arts degree is "useless")!
I would like to connect with other HASTAC scholars and affiliates to brainstorm publications, workshops, and webinars, particularly those having to do with the public humanities, STS, speculative futures, and innovative pedagogy. Put simply, it is important to me that my career as a scholar and educator is meaningful to someone other than just myself—joining HASTAC will help provide me with the tools, mentors, resources, peers, and opportunities to help me on this path.
It is an honor and a privilege to be here with you all!
P.S.--In case you were wondering: the featured image on this post is Antimony, one of my merry mischief of (very naughty) rats! At any given time they are running around the apartment, making flying leaps from the bookshelf, stealing my lunch, drinking my coffee, crawling inside my clothes, or running across the keyboard--so blame any typos or other errors on them!