Jade Davis, doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Department of Communication Studies and a member of the HASTAC Steering Committee, recently sat down with me to talk about her research interests, her thoughts about the future of Communication Studies, and the role HASTAC can play in academic discourse and career development.
Jade is a HASTAC Scholar, twice over. She is interested in the creation, construction, engagement and performance of identity, and the larger societal implications of new social formation in digitally mediated spaces. Her dissertation, tentatively titled The Wretched of the Archive examines the effects of digitization and social media on historical photography.
You can find more interviews with HASTAC's leadership at hastac.org/collections/hastac-leaders.
What brought you to your field?
I think we are at a very exciting time in the academy, in terms of the shift to digital media and changing ways of knowing. While a lot of fields are currently working on, say, digital humanities initiatives, and trying to figure out ways to take advantage of the affordances of digital culture in scholarship, Communication Studies and, more specifically, Media-Technology and Performance studies seemed like the best fit to allow me to play in the digital world while simultaneously theoretically analyzing the implications of this work.
What topics interest you, and what questions have driven your work?
I’m really interested in how digital technologies are changing how we create culture, how we understand knowledge, and how we view history. Most of my questions start with “What does it mean to be/to do/to make ___________ online or in the digital world?” followed by “How is this changing socio-historical relationships?”.
How do you see your field changing? What excites you most about the future of the humanities and of higher ed?
I think that for my field specifically, and I acknowledge that this is coming from my viewpoint, the biggest change that is happening is the seepage of media and technology studies to other areas of Communication Studies. I am also seeing work coming out of lots of other disciplines that would traditionally be housed in Communication Studies. I think whenever we are able to engage in broader conversations and achieve more interdisciplinarity, it can only be a wonderful thing. To date I’ve worked with people from Computer Science, Information Science, Literature, History, American Studies, Cinema and Design, and Mathematics, all looking at similar questions or problems in really unique and different ways. I like to think that we’ve all enriched each other’s work.
What role do you see HASTAC (and similar organizations) playing in addressing some of the challenges in digital humanities?
HASTAC has been an amazing space for me and, I think, for many other scholars and aspiring scholars. I know that when I started my PhD program it was right before all the digital humanities job postings started coming out. I was able to find a community of people at HASTAC who were experimenting and willing to experiment with me on creating digital projects or incorporating the act of digital making into the research process. That was invaluable. I think HASTAC and other organizations that do similar things are great places to just put something out and see if anyone else is interested in the topic. I call myself a supreme lurker still, since I don’t post regularly, but I do get digests almost every day full of wonderful conversations that I wouldn't know about if they weren’t hosted on a public site like HASTAC.
I think one of the biggest overall changes that I consider to be part of the digital humanities is the need for academics to have something of a public footprint that shows the work that they do. While it isn’t a key to success, it definitely helps. HASTAC is one of the few places where people can experiment with that in a community where others are doing the same thing. Plus, there’s just so much to learn from such an active community. And the forums really help bridge so many conversations in meaningful ways.
Has HASTAC altered your conceptions of online community? Where do you see the most potential for growth in this area?
The thing that has been the most amazing to me in terms of the online community is the offline implications. There have been many conferences where I find another HASTACer and that is just really nice, especially as a student. I am currently at a research internship with the Social Media Collective at Microsoft Research. It turns out one of the other interns was a part of a workshop I hosted more than 2 years ago as part of a HASTAC-sponsored conference. That is pretty neat. I’ve also been able to watch other scholars ease into digital humanities and become comfortable with the idea of being an academic in public through the site.