This interview is part of the HASTAC Interviews Collection lead by Director of HASTAC Scholars, Kalle Westerling.
Purdom Lindblad is the Assistant Director of Innovation and Learning at Maryland Institute of Technology in the Humanities (MITH). She has an MA in American Studies from Michigan State University and an MS in Information Science from the School of Information, University of Michigan. Interested in digital humanities since graduate school, Purdom has worked at Michigan State University’s Matrix, Virginia Tech Libraries, and the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia Library.
This interview was conducted by Sylvia Fernández, a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Houston and HASTAC Scholar 2017-2018. The recorded interview was made after Lindblad's talk, "Archives in the Anthropocene" in the guest speaker series and workshops on Digital Humanities and Social Justice - organized by Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage at the University of Houston.
*Purdom Lindblad interview can be found on YouTube under the title of, HASTAC Interview with Purdom Lindblad.
Video credits to Victoria Moreno, MA Student at the University of Houston.
Fernández: Okay, so the first question I have for you is, how do you define digital humanities and what do you think are the strengths and challenges of this specialization?
Lindblad: That's a really great question and so, on one hand, I tend to look at the digital humanities less as a field and more as like a series of communities of practice which allows us to think about like connections and bridges and still retain interesting and respect for different expertise, but I also think sort of the role of digital humanities is to have that back and forth between critique of the tools and like looking at how humanities questions change the tools if that makes sense
Fernández: How did you get involved in this field or how did you call it, digital humanities series of communities of practice?
Lindblad: Yes, it's so much easier to say it's a field because then it's like succinct right? But I think that obscures like the different areas of expertise, the different specializations and contributions, it kind of like nudges out other fields so like if we talk about the field of digital humanities we don't have as much of an anyway to talk about like the contributions of like artists and designers, or the contributions of librarians and information specialists you know we talk about it you know either disciplinary or technical specialties, so I like communities of practice that kind of highlight that there are other ways of approaching digital questions. And then I became involved through an amazing research assistantship program, so I was a research assistant for Matrix, which is the digital humanities center at Michigan State, as an early career grad student in American Studies they did some really incredible mentoring, as well as worked on projects that were extraordinarily compelling that they were sort of grounded in social justice questions, so the first project I worked on was creating some metadata schema and definitions for the overcoming Apartheid project which was documenting the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and so it was the first dh project that I worked on that sort of showed the broad scope of what was possible because in terms of materials, right? They had everything from like posters and ephemera, like papers that were calling for meetings and then oral histories and t-shirts and sort of put these things in conversation together was really compelling for me is if an early grad student. And then as I was working through my master's in American Studies I realized that I really wanted that information lens like that there I saw a great deal of significance and like how we created these metadata schemas and like what we mean two things and that became really interesting to me so I ended up taking a different path so rather than coming at dh from like a disciplinary perspective in terms of like a humanities perspective I came at it as like an archival perspective so it shifted a little bit.
Fernández: So, do you see there's a relation between archives and the digital aspect?
Lindblad: I think so and I think part of it is like how and when I entered the draw humanities like I came in at Matrix, which had a really great relationship with the university archives and special collections which are two separate things at Michigan State and so because many of their projects were focused on helping digitize West and South African archives for both preservation but also for access.
Fernández: So, we were talking about how the archives and digital humanities relate?
Lindblad: I think there is an interplay between archives and digital humanities in part because they are very, very compelling resources in archives, they're like primary materials, they're rare unique things that don't exist anywhere else and so they are extremely compelling for researchers to put in conversation with other things. So, like the collections of the archive tend to be very rich and I think that when we start thinking about digital humanities particularly when I entered there were a lot of recovery projects, so projects that were trying to document movements where the archive of that particular movement was in some way fragile, right? Either because the archive was underfunded or because there were political pressures that were trying to push down what the records were, and Michigan State had a deep interest and then great expertise in African history and African Studies and so the sort of combination of factors that they were scholars really interested in these very compelling materials, they were archives that were deeply interested in having digitization to preserve and make accessible their records, both to scholars but also to their communities, and then digital humanities kind of was at a space at Matrix that could help build those collections, so it was very fundamental in terms of my thinking at that time and I sort of always carried it with me that there is this deep relationship and ways in which digital humanists can sort of talk back to the archive and have some influence in article processing and then how some of the critical theory and sort of deep reflection and justice work of some archivists could speak back to digital humanities and I think that now you know what ten years later is like really coming to being a very powerful conversation
Fernández: Exactly, and now that you're the assistant director of innovation and learning at MITH what are your goals for the program and how do you see the program under your control or under your management?
Lindblad: Oh yeah, that's a great question, so I think one of the things that's really compelling about this particular position is that MITH has historically been a Research Institute so projects significant research but it's been like sort of focused on scholars or graduate students who are completing their dissertation and my role is to think through like what does the center with a great bit of history and amazing work, how do we open that up to be a compelling teaching and learning space? And so, one of the things that I am most proud of is that the past year and a half at MITH we've been working on a value statement to do a couple of things: one to make it explicit, the kinds of work that we want to engage with and the kinds of values that are guiding our choices, but also to think through like how those values will then shape any kind of curricular activities, so if in our value statement we say we welcome everyone, so that's great what then does that translate in terms of like how we welcome people to a workshop, where we're trying to teach them a particular technical skill and so how does that work like how do we deploy expertise and honor it but then also like tap into the expertise in the room that might not be on TEI but or you know somebody might not be a spatial expert but they know how to read critically a website they already have expertise to draw from, so this is the long way of answering your question, but essentially it's like if we can articulate my goals for the sort of innovation and learning portion of MITH is to articulate a series of goals and values, we welcome everyone that we are really committed to reflective practice that we know that this kind of scholarship is not neutral, so what are the ways that we can communicate better, that we're working on it right, we want things to be accessible, they might not necessarily be fully accessible yet, but we're like that's where we want to go and so all of this grant like grounding how we organize workshops, how we organize space for students and faculty to come in and kind of talk through their research ideas and Trevor Muñoz is brilliant and I'm really very lucky to be working with him and he's recently considered ways of like how do we open up MITH not just to students and faculty and staff at Maryland but how do we like involve the community so one of the projects that we work on is documenting the oral histories of a historically black community called Lakeland, which is undergoing a great deal of gentrification and their scholars working on sort of tracing the history of this neighborhood and a lot of the young people in the neighborhood don't apply to Maryland as a school and so is there a way we might open up MITH a little bit and make that a space where they can see themselves they can do research and contribute to projects, particularly projects that have their you know neighborhoods history and then make a welcoming enough space that they either apply to Maryland and that's great you know or they know that they have a way to contribute to sort of the academic endeavor or scholarly endeavor whether or not they go to college, right that they are researchers in their own right now and there's space for people at MITH, so all of this to say is that the my long-term goals for thinking about like teaching and learning at MITH they're sort of the ways in which we talk about curricular directions at MITH are a few fold, support faculty who are teaching with digital tools and create the community so that there is safe spaces to experiment, create space for graduate students to really take their research and find a generous audience to help push forward their ideas and then have a welcoming space for undergrads to see how they might contribute to the humanities and then finally they can open up the space for community you know in order to involve people and the telling of their own stories I guess it would be the right way to say.
Fernández: So, do you do you like the idea of working as a team?
Lindblad: Yes, yeah, I think that, I think in part because I came in to the digital humanities in a highly collaborative environment and all of the projects that I worked on as someone new to digital humanities tended to be like multi people projects, so there were designers and developers and humanists and project managers and information people all together, I realized that if we just sort of distribute, if we distribute respect for expertise then we have a lot of really awesome voices coming in to contribute to something like around a shared goal where there are like single small projects that is a single person but the kind of pressure for that is really intense and I think that is also true for thinking about teaching or to thinking about creating a portfolio of curricular initiatives that they're stronger with other people like I've learned so much from the AADHum which is the African-American History, Culture, and Digital Humanities initiative in part because of the way we rethought how things like digital incubators work which are the technical training workshops and Catherine Knight Steele, she's the director of AADHum and we center the black experience and everything after that, all the technical tools we're critiquing and we're looking at we're using through this research question or the set of research concerns and so it changes the way we teach so rather than having like one person talk we get everybody on the team to kind of talk through and so that we distribute the expertise around the room and then it helps that kind of open up space for people to contribute their own expertise, and particularly in areas where we're teaching a technical skill that relies on the skills that people are developing as humanists, like we read closely you know like we know how to read closely we can do that with a poem, a text, a website, a map, you know? So like, but when you are offered a map you might hesitate right and so to kind of like help showcase that the variety of different kinds of ways one could approach that I think it helps like spread out that the pressure I guess it's like easier to like explore with someone to like kind of co learn with someone rather than having like a single person directing the entire thing, if that makes sense, that it allows different like skill sets like I, I tend to be really excited and nonlinear and I work really well with people who like kind of pull that and correlate little bit who are like okay that's great non-sequitur let's move from A to B to C and so participants in the workshop can see both approaches, so yeah I think working collaboratively both on a research project but also like thinking about teaching and learning I think is invaluable I think.
Fernández: You mentioned the digital humanities incubators?
Fernandez: Could you tell us the objectives of this project and why is it important, why was incorporated at MITH?
Lindblad: So, the digital humanities incubators was a brainchild of Trevor Muñoz and Jennifer Guiliano, and the idea in phase one was MITH has a relationship with the library and there are a lot of conversations in sort of libraries writ large about how can we better equip librarians to assist and contribute to digital humanities work, so that first set of incubators was really designed to sort of break open the box of how dh worked, so how do research questions get formulated how do we decide which technical skills to use and not others how do we think about project management and what kinds of facilitation and support need to happen to take a nascent idea and grow it into something that can actually be a digital project and so they set the sort of infrastructure and intention of the incubators and it was a reaction in part and I hope I'm not miss communicating, Trevor and Jen's work, was that previously there had been a single fellowship, so that kind of support of like you have a great idea here's that all the steps you need in order to like take that idea into something that you can then enact and open it up to a broader number of people so that it's so we're reaching more than just one or two people that we're reaching as many people who have the time and interest to attend the incubators and so that shifted a little bit with the collaboration with the AADHum project the African-American digital history and culture and digital humanities I think that's no it's African-American History, Culture and Digital humanities, AADHum there we go so it shifted a little bit so rather than like a direct skill training or a direct like approach to project management it was, what are the concerns and what are the conversations that if we center the black experience and have a conversation like what are the intersections of Black Studies and digital humanities look like and what are the conversations that might need to happen in order to sort of advance work or transform the kind of work that is possible and so for the AADHum digital humanities incubators the idea was that we would have themed modules, so the first year or themes of space, race and place so we talked through like different approaches to mapping, different approaches to understanding how the work of that map might be deployed or protected based on the subject. This year we have a theme that kind of threads the modules together in terms of like movement, so there's the movement of ideas, the movement of bodies, like so connecting performance and black studies and so what are the technologies that we could use or draw on to think about creative responses to the black experience, so we're centering things, like creativity as a method, you know in sort of what that does and then how do we choose which kind of tools to tell stories with and so the next module will be, the movement of people and so thinking about migration and that kind of thing and then the fourth module the end module will be social movements, so they'll have different approaches, but each of the sessions kind of centered these questions of like what does it mean to have creativity as a method, how have we told stories and shared about the black experience through video, documentary, film you know and like what kinds of tools does that give us and to look at our own research whether our research is involved with creativity or not and then the next will be I think at the end the social movements will be thinking more about like social networks and that kind of thing so we might have some spatial components to the migration of people's and then the final and will be sort of thinking about networks and connections among people and social movements like how do ideas travel across social movement and so, but I think, I think AADHum has contributed a great deal to thinking about the incubators because it centers it dissenters the idea of a one-to-one technical training and it sort of puts back into conversation the research question with how that research question shapes the technologies and then how do we better understand the work of that technology through these research questions, so I think that's the major contribution of AADHum and incubators there.
Fernández: Are you familiar with #TransformDH? What do you think towards digital humanities as a field of transformative research, pedagogy and activism for social justice accessibility and inclusion? I think that's very related to what you just mentioned.
Lindblad: Yeah, absolutely, I mean and like all, all cards on the table right I just I think that the work given our current political and environmental moment is that we have to contribute something and part of that means that we I mean as humanists, as technologists, we have the tools to tell different stories, we have the tools to make connections, in ways that we, we have a responsibility to imagining and reconceiving types of infrastructure, so I think that the transformative dh hashtag and then also the movement has been really incredible because it opens up the conversation like whose voices count as researchers, right, how do we represent the stories that might other have been erased or silenced, and what kinds of ways did technology allow us to put the tools back into the hands of communities to tell their own stories, right, so rather they're not like stories that are told separately or in disconnection from the real histories and pasts and aspirations of communities and people, so I think that I think that transformed dh has been particularly instrumental and getting these conversations to push back at the absolute whiteness of like the academy in general and then dh you know, specifically I mean, I came in to Matrix who in that Research Center had a focus on thinking about social justice anyway so I did not come in to dh through a very canonical English department who was sort of like well let's make archives of great white men, you know, so I like I came in from a very different place and I've always been exceptionally thankful for that and so I haven't had like I've always had mentors you know who are like thinking about social justice who are thinking about ways in which we can use the sort of imaginative tools to let communities document themselves, tell their stories and in ways that can be less mediated and I think that I take that with me you know, so like I think that there are others who have had a different kind of path entity age which has been through like very white and whitewashed either History or English programs and so I think that the transformed dh gives a space for everybody to meet you know, it's like folks who have kind of come up through a more social justice way of thinking or folks who have had to like fight tooth and nail to like have you know their department see them as someone who can engage in social justice work and that it's valuable and needed and makes a great contribution. I think that hashtag sort of gives a space for everybody, so I think it has been, I don't know, I kind of interested in this idea of like center and periphery because I think there's a great deal of power at the periphery but I think that echoes need to hit the center and like move the center a little bit left so but I think that transform dh like the folks who lead transform dh like Alexis and several others, Moya Bailey have made huge influences on like how people who have initially imagined themselves as the center of dh like they've changed the conversation in a very powerful way so I think it's been an exceptional contribution and sort of signal forward for digital humanities in general
Fernández: Yeah, you were also involved in the Scholar’s Lab, right? Could you give us a description of the project and why is this kind of projects important towards the success of graduate students?
Lindblad: That's a great question, so, as when I was part of the scholars lab I was the head of graduate programs so in again I wanted like stress how highly collaborative this was, and particularly the lab led by Bethany Nowitzki at the time when I joined and she has a powerful vision for what dh should look like in the role and agency empower of graduate students, which has been extraordinarily influential on me so, I took over thinking about the Praxis program which is a six person fellowship and again, as sort of a response against that single fellowship dh has been really beneficial and deconstructing the idea that there is a solo scholar and all of their work is done separately, you know, without influence or you know, influences on the thank you page or the acknowledgments page but not in all of the ways in which we contribute to each other's work, so Praxis was sort of, no as humanists we're not solo scholars it can’t, it's collaborative and particularly if we start thinking about digital work, it's really collaborative, so Praxis has six students from across the humanities to conceive of and then build a digital project and so I think that this was really instrumental because it opens up space for graduate students to see, one that they can learn technical things really proficiently over the course of a year, that digital humanities doesn't have to be giant scoped projects, in fact smaller projects, where a small group of people you know, develop and conceive of and think about the intellectual contributions of this work, and can be mentored by folks who are, who are developers, who are designers, who are library people, so that there's a broad spectrum, it sort of opens up what the career paths are, and what the career possibilities are for students and I think that it gives a space to come out of your discipline and learn to talk about what kind of work you do with others who are sympathetic, but are not of your discipline, so there's a practice and sort of give-and-take and asking for something and learning something, at times somewhat vulnerably but you're not alone, you know, so I think that that is really nice, the Scholar’s Lab has always been a space where I have felt cultivates a safe space for intellectual curiosity so you can take and do something experimentally and even if it completely fails there are people cheering for you and I think that that still holds it's a really collaborative and brilliant place to be and I think that that's not necessarily how folks feel in their home departments, I mean I'm sure it changes across the board and individually but that there's sort of a third space that you have not necessarily like-minded people but similarly those people who are willing to experiment and play and I think Praxis is sort of the infrastructure for that and I do think that that begins to transform graduate education because it opens up, you know the possibilities like, perhaps you don't need to slave away completely and take an adjunct position, there are you know alternatives pathways for academic careers that you can make significant contributions and pursue your own research but you're more valuable than the exploited labor, essentially you know, like that you know and I think again I've been very lucky because my graduate programs are not like that, but I do know that there are programs that can be very isolating that if you are interested in non-tenured positions or you're interested in sort of taking an alternative academic job there's not a lot of support, so I think places that are like the Scholar’s Lab that showcase what's possible I think are very valuable.
Fernández: Since we are going into the direction of students, what are your methodological and pedagogical approaches to advise and orient students interested in creating a digital humanities project or that they're just in the early stages, well not even digital humanities, just working with archives and that later could become a DH project?
Lindblad: That's a great question and I wish I had a full answer, like: "These are my influences." I'm slightly embarrassed by the card that I I do lean on hard it's an xkcd comic so it's like stick figures help me illustrate, but basically the artist goes through and kind of statistically breaks down like how many people are learning something new for the first time, each day and it turns out to be 10,000 and I'm not a math person so I trust the statistics rate, I'm like sure 10,000 and this sort of like tag, it's so much cooler to show someone what happens when you add Coke to Mentos or Mentos to coke, rather than mocking them for not knowing about it and I mean it's always kind of a nerdy little thing, it's like these stick figures who are gonna go explode code, right, but I mean, I think the ultimate like message is that we all are gonna learn something new, right, and and that there is no reason to let the fact that you might not know something stop you, but I also know that like graduate education is often like a sense of performing expertise, right, it's like really hard to look like you don't know what you're doing because it's a really vulnerable space and, you know, you have all of these other pressures and so often we, particularly the Scholar’s Lab and definitely at MITH too, when we have students who are interested but are new to dh, I often hand them that web comic, I'm like 10,000 people and I also lean really hard on Jovonne Bickerstaff, who's a postdoc for the AADHum project, she and she was talking about like sort of the difference between being an ally and being a co-conspirator, like if you're an ally for like social and racial justice that's great you know, that's a really important work, but if you're a co-conspirator you know like you have money on the table, right? Like you have an investment that you're showing up and you're side-by-side and you know that the work is not because it's important but it's like that your absolute salvation, my absolute salvation depends on a better world, right, in a more just world for everyone and I, this is long-winded, but I take that, her construct of a co-conspirator, I always feel like that's how we should approach teaching, like you're going teach me as much as I'm gonna learn from, I'm gonna learn so much from you, as I might be able to contribute, you know back and if I show up as a co-conspirator saying like together we'll figure this out, you know, then I think that's a much more powerful place to start than like I have these things to show you, right, because like your background, your expertise, like your life experiences, are going shape a conversation and we'll learn so much more together, so I don't have like a go-to person, other than like Jovonne and her co-conspiracy and has changed my life, you know, but I mean I think that that's like where we start, right
Fernández: Yeah, and in regard to the programs, software, that you're more familiar with, which ones do you work with and which ones do you recommend to scholars?
Fernández: Exactly, as far as your own projects, can you tell us what are you working on?
Lindblad: Yeah, so Jeremy Boggs at the Scholar’s Lab and I work on an approach to research called Advocacy by Design which borrows a great deal from feminists interface design to think about who and what we're advocating, for what who are the subjects of archival materials, who are the subjects of research, and what are the sort of stakes of that research, and so we're thinking a lot about ways in which we can take these principles of like transparency or stewardship, polyvocalism, so how do we tell stories with many entry points and many narratives and then how do we create actionable, deployable pieces to support that advocacy, which we call elements so things like how do we imagine documentation to be very welcoming and accessible or how do we indicate the number of people and the number of expertise that contribute to a project in terms of like a shared credit kind of thing, so we call that project Advocacy by Design and we're working on a variety of different case studies to kind of show an approach to research that's reflective and sort of engaged with social justice and advocacy based work and then I'm starting to move in to thinking a little bit about archives in the Anthropocene and sort of like how we curate and preserve the materials of our pasts to tell stories and work new infrastructures for the future and this is highly experimental, so I'm not exactly sure what it will look like on the end, but right now I'm doing a lot of work thinking about like the work of archives and like how we can both as digital humanists and as archivists start to like tell better stories and like be more attentive to the kinds of materials we collect and think through like the very real power structures that we deploy when we mean things, but when we describe something and there's some really amazing people working in this area I lean very hard on Michelle Caswell and Ricky Punzalan alone and T-Kay Sangwand and others, so I'm hoping to like join that conversation in a meaningful way thinking about how environmental change shapes archives.
Fernández: So, one of them almost done, but where will you want digital humanities to be in five years and where do you think it will be?
Lindblad : That's a great question, I have really high hopes for the transform DH I think the sort of Latino Studies and dh is a really great additional voice to the African American dh project at the University of Maryland, so I think that these sort of articulations and experiments with approach can really shape like what we should be attending to, as like researchers, as digital humanists, I think it can change the way we imagine and build our tools, I think it can change the way we like collaborate with others, and, and how we talk about the research products. So, I think that it's really, what I would want dh to be in five years is like an aggressively social justice minded, I think community of people like actively engaged in speaking into being new futures and new infrastructures, new ways of being, I think that's probably a bit optimistic for five years, but you know, maybe, maybe. So I think that the work of dh is to articulate and make space for a variety of different voices, I think the accessible features group, thinking about like how do we make our work more accessible, how do we tell stories that are not just about able-bodied people, there's another group of people, another voice in a conversation trying to like, really determine how we reflect out what it means to be human and I think that's sort of the work of dh to think through like where the infrastructures of power and oppression and where are there like active spaces that are building new alternative infrastructures for that and to like put our energy in cultivating and fostering those new infrastructures.
Fernández: So, you mentioned that when you got into DH it was really a man power, so what is the role of women at digital humanities and how it has changed throughout the years?
Lindblad : That's a great question, so when I came in like the broader sort of conversation around dh tended to be very dominated by male voices, however again I kind of want to stress like Matrix was really amazing, that one of their sort of very quiet focus were to cultivate young women as developers and sort of give space and mentorship for young women to like become developers, and I thought, and it's still like a major focus of Matrix and it's very quiet and I think it's an amazing work and I've always had benefit of really strong women who are leaders and critical thinkers in dh so Bethany Nowviskie is a mentor of mine and I tend to find her leadership, particularly in the way of like making space is something that's really profoundly changed dh, I think Moya Bailey and others have added like new ways of approaching and sort of like how we talk about, what counts as a valuable dh project, and whose voices, and how we collaborate with people, so I mean I think that like many other places, there's a lot of emotional care and labor that women take up in the in the digital humanities, but I also think in that sort of active fierce care there's a growing platform and a growing community of really powerful female voices sort of taking and leading where the conversation goes in DH. I think Roopika Risam is amazing in that space too and I mean I think there's always a tension because a lot of women in DH are called on to talk about diversity, they're called on to talk about the ethics of care and they add amazing things, like Moya Bailey has a call for like an ethic of pace like can we think a little bit more carefully about like how fast and how aggressively we're doing this kind of work, you know, there's a cult of busy that maybe we can reject, you know, that maybe we could slow down and take time. There's a role for slow dh, right? And I think that in some some cases the risk is that we have really powerful women contributing extraordinary visions for what dh can be and there are also incredible scholars in their own, right, and they're often asked to talk about the care and the pace and the diversity as opposed to their scholarship, so I think we ultimately need to find that balance and sort of hand back the sort of ethic of care to some of the male voices in our community in dh and I think again kind of drawing on Jovonne Bickerstaff’s idea of a co-conspirator because there's a really fantastic wonderfully minded men, they have a really big microphone, right, you know, so it come as a co-conspirator and and I think that that's hopefully where we go, right, you know that it's not just female voices we need every voice.
Fernández: I really like that to conclude, thank you Purdom.