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"I no longer feel that we are so very few": HASTAC and Community Building

"I no longer feel that we are so very few": HASTAC and Community Building

I had the honor and pleasure of being part of the "Building an Academic Community for the Digital Age" panel this year at #HASTAC2013 with fellow HASTAC Scholars Fiona Barnett, Amanda Phillips, Alexis Lothian, Ernesto Priego, and Jesse Stommel. This was my first HASTAC conference attended in person, and I'm still beaming from all the inspiration and love I've absorbed over the weekend. I think this is the first time I've ever felt like I wanted a conference to last longer! It means so much to me to be able to give this talk with other longstanding Scholars in this year's 5th-year anniversary of the HASTAC Scholars Program. Below is the talk I gave (some of it was ad-libbed):



It all started with an email. I was finishing my undergrad degree when my advisor, Rachel Crawford, told me about one of her good friend’s works and an organization I should look into (guess what the organization is?). At the time, I had finished my senior thesis paper on gender, bodies, and technology, but didn’t know anything about digital media studies or digital humaniites. In a single email, my advisor had given me two valuable recommendations: Alan Liu’s work, The Laws of Cool, and HASTAC, and that was more than enough to get me interested. When she told me about HASTAC’s 2007 conference on Electronic Techtonics, she said, “This may be of interest to you, or it may be too technological for your interests. If it is of interest, you may want to attend, if you are able, and make some contacts, and they may also have another conference that you could submit a paper to and start making your way into academia.” Little did I know that her suggestion on “making some contacts” turned out to be one of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten.

HASTAC Scholars beginnings

In 2009, when I was getting my MA at SF State, I received support from my faculty advisor to be a HASTAC Scholar. At the time, HASTAC had just started to expand the HASTAC Scholars program after they did their pilot program, and I made it as one of the first nominations that they received. Erin Gentry Lamb was passing the torch to Fiona Barnett that year as the Director of HASTAC Scholars, and I remember my excitement when I got the email welcoming me as part of this amazing network of scholars. I remember the Handbook (and the retro HASTAC logo!):

I also remember the inspiring words I read in the welcome letter that I received:

Our alliances are crucial to our ability to interact with – and redefine – the notion of communities, networks and what ‘digital’ means in an age where it is now the norm.

Five years later, this statement remains true and powerful, and as I see some familiar faces here in the crowd and also those whom I just had the pleasure of meeting in person recently, it strikes me how strong of a community has been fostered through networks like HASTAC and Twitter, and how that foundation carries over into physical spaces when we do eventually see one another in the flesh, and how these connections are continued and further strengthened in our digital conversations.

Building a Community

Why is it so important to build a community? Personally, it’s what keeps me going. When we talk about sustainability in academia, we must not only talk about sustainability and publishing, for instance, but we must also be mindful of what really sustains us as academics and as human beings. Sometimes, taking the first step to making connections can be terrifying because it means putting yourself out there (as Alexis mentioned in her talk, the level of accountability becomes higher), and for some, this kind of visibility may put them in a vulnerable position. But, in the long run, it is so worth it – especially when you are able to find each other, so that like-minded people can do the work together, as we have seen in recent events like Feminists Engage Wikipedia and Global Women Wikipedia Write-In, and in the TansformDH and Postcolonial Digital Humanities groups that have inspired me and given me a space to find others doing similar work. In The Next American Revolution, Grace Lee Boggs talks about the importance of finding the many others in our society and reaching out to find common ground. Boggs' articulation of love and compassion is not sentimental or weak, but transformative: her politics of love is one that can counter "the alienation, isolation, privatization, and dehumanization by corporate globalization," and one that really speaks to the HASTAC network:

We must have the courage to walk the talk, but we must also engage in the continuing dialogues that enable us to break free of old categories and create new ideas that are necessary to address our realities, because revolutions are made not to prove the correctness of ideas but to begin anew. In this scenario everyone has a contribution to make, each according to our abilities, our energies, our experiences, our skills and where we are in our own lives. When I was much younger, I used to recite a poem that goes: 'So much to do, so many to woo, and, oh, we are so very few.' As I go around the country these days, making new friends and talking to people about the challenges of the new millennium, I still recognize that we have much to do and many to woo, but I no longer feel that we are so very few.

That last phrase -- "I no longer feel that we are so very few" -- captures how I feel about the HASTAC community. In my home department, I always feel like I am on the edges doing the work that I do, and at times isolated. HASTAC, however, has allowed me to not feel so alone: not only have I been able to make connections with scholars having similar interests from other schools, but I have also been able to find and collaborate with other students locally. 

HASTAC Scholars and Public Intellectuals

I just want to mention how happy I am to be here. This is my first time at a HASTAC Conference even though it has been 5 years since I’ve been a Scholar; being that this is the HASTAC Scholars’ 5th year anniversary, I cannot possibly give this talk without talking about none other than Fiona Barnett.

From the very beginning, Fiona’s leadership has been nothing short of inspirational. I know she has commented on HASTAC that she doesn’t think communities like HASTAC has “leaders,” but this why Fiona is so fabulous: she recognizes the leader in everyone. An integral part of what makes the HASTAC Scholars network so great is Fiona’s work and care in fostering an intellectually and affectively productive and supportive environment. The personal notes of encouragement from her have been tremendous, and her emails are always meticulous yet warm. She is also, for me,  a model for public intellectualism, always encouraging us to document and share our work -- whether it's through text, video, or photos. Thank you, Fiona.


I feel extremely fortunate to have been a part of this panel, and to have been able to talk about how important the HASTAC community has been for me. Thank you, HASTAC Scholars! 



1 comment

Anonymous (not verified)

I 'm totally agree with you .I really get motivated by reading something like this .



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