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Help Us Transform Digital Humanities

Help Us Transform Digital Humanities

We need your help! A group of us, including HASTAC Scholars, HASTAC Mentors, and others, have organized a workshop at the upcoming American Studies Association conference. The workshop is entitled, "Marginal Digital Knowledges: A Workshop on Technology, Transformation, and Resistance." One of the central questions for this workshop is to imagine a digital humanities (or perhaps a digital anti-humanities) that places questions of race, gender, access, empire, resistance and sexuality at the center of its inquiry.

We'd like to feature a number of projects, collectives, set of practices and rhetorical strategies which can help us all rethink the Digital Humanities construction as such. What are the politics of wwho -- and what -- counts as Digital Humanities?

Please share your favorite ideas from the edges, corners, borders and centers of Digital Humanities and beyond! Suggest anything that comes to mind: YouTube videos, websites, memes, academic texts, collectives, activists, multimedia projects, net art, workshop series, a particularly thorny moment in the last few years of the rise of Digital Humanities, or your own imagination of a #transformDH project.

Many of us have been working on this question for the past few years:

Three great introductions to the movement behind #transformDH are:


Dimensions of Empire and Resistance: Past, Present, and Future

American Studies Association Annual Meeting

November 15-18, 2012, San Juan, Puerto Rico


Marginal Digital Knowledges: A Workshop on Technology, Transformation, and Resistance

Workshop Participants - (all links are to HASTAC profiles, but personal/academic pages are linked from there)

Moya Bailey - Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, Emory University

Fiona Barnett - Ph.D. Candidate, Literature Department and Women's Studies, Duke University; Director of HASTAC Scholars

Simone A. Browne - Assistant Professor, Sociology, University of Texas at Austin

Tanner Higgin - PhD from the University of California, Riverside and Research Lead at the GameDesk Institute

Alexis Lothian - Assistant Professor, Department of English & Doctoral Program in Literature and Criticism, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Tara McPherson - Editor, Vectors; Associate Professor of Critical Studies in the School of Cinema-Television, University of Southern California

Amanda Phillips - Ph.D. Candidate, Department of English, University of California Santa Barbara


Digital media offer ways to democratize research, teaching, and academic networking through various platforms like Twitter, blogs, and open access journals. Yet the rhetoric of digital creativity and collaboration can often elide racialized, gendered, and economic divides, and the extensive institutional recognition often given to digital humanities work in the American academy coincides with budget crises that disproportionately affect departments supporting politicized scholarship around gender and race. 

Building on last year’s digital humanities (DH) workshops at ASA and on the collaborative work they inspired, this workshop seeks to imagine what a digital humanities (or perhaps a digital anti-humanities) that places questions of race, gender, access, empire, resistance, and sexuality at the center of its inquiry might be like. How can we place the alienated labor (largely of women of color) that builds digital technologies, and the global environmental effects of their production and disposal, at the center of our work––without reinscribing the rhetoric of a digital divide that erases the creative technological practices of marginalized people? How are digital media being used to do critical and political work in locations and in styles that the academy fails to recognize? And what are the strategies we can use to highlight these concerns within the disciplinary structures of American Studies and Digital Humanities? Can marginal media production provide a politicized counterpoint to the digital humanities’ push for academic relevance within the corporate university?

We can point to digital collectives and social movements which tackle issues of empire and its reverberations like racism, sexism, and homophobia. These would include online collectives such as the Crunk Feminist Collective and #transformDH, popular Internet movements such as “shit [people] say”, the proliferation of social justice Tumblrs, and work by artist/theorists like the Electronic Disturbance Theater and Critical Art Ensemble. Theorists including Wendy Chun, Lisa Nakamura, Tara McPherson, Anna Everett, Rita Raley, and Jack Halberstam offer productive explorations of digital productions and methods that interrogate racialized and gendered mechanisms of power and empire as well as the production of knowledges, pleasures, and politics within them. How might ASA productively connect these movements both within and outside the academy and work to increase the visibility of transformative critique within the larger field of the Digital Humanities?

Chaired by Tara McPherson, the workshop leaders will offer examples from their research, work, or activism to engage new sets of theoretical questions that expose implicit assumptions about what and who counts in DH. In the spirit of pushing the boundaries of the traditional academic conference mode, they will then engage the audience in sharing activist DH methodologies, projects needing more visibility, exchanging contact information for collaboration, and ultimately undertake a discussion that will further develop the concerns of the collective formed from panelists and audience members at last year’s ASA, #transformDH (

Digital Revolution: Photo by Flickr User Badger.20


1 comment

Hi Fionna,

I wanted to share a project that I worked on at Washington University in St. Louis. The project is titled, The St. Louis Circuit Court Records, (catchy, I know) and is focused on freedom suits that slaves filed through the St. Louis Circuit Court in order to sue for their freedom.

We've had the Dred Scott case up for years, but there were 300+ other cases that were in the archives. Besides digitizing and encoding the cases in TEI, we also developed a set of TEI extensions for legal papers and used RDF to map the relationships between people, organizations, and the cases. By mapping the relationships we are gaining a snapshot of the role of St. Louis' leading families and slavery.

The project is viewable here: