Disrupting the Digital Humanities: New Radical Publics

by Dorothy Kim and Jesse Stommel

Disrupting the Digital Humanities 2 has been accepted for MLA 2016 in Austin, TX. The text of the proposal, which was adapted from our proposal for the 2015 panel is below. The 2016 iteration will include a whole new cast of panelists, also drawn from the contributors to the forthcoming volume from Punctum Books. 

Disrupting the Digital Humanities was, according to MLA Commons, the most tweeted session at MLA 2015 in Vancouver. We are proposing a follow-up session to continue the conversation started there, which included panelists, voices from virtual contributors, and extensive audience interaction. Our goal there and in this follow-up session is to start a dialogue about the changing shape of the Digital Humanities as an academic discipline. One of the themes during our first roundtable was the public digital humanities, and we will introduce new strands of that work from a new set of participants to align this roundtable with the 2016 Presidential Theme (Literature and Its Publics: Past, Present, and Future). In particular, the panel’s foundation speaks directly to this theme’s interest in “How is our work as teachers, historians, editors, and critics–above all, as interpreters–a public act?” This panel, then, is a way to explore the range of possibilities in seeing how our work “assembles publics,” reframes disciplinary boundaries, redirects our work outward towards an ecosystem of publics.

Our work in the digital humanities is about collaboration, taking risks, sharing resources, and reimagining paradigms for humanities work. Our aim with this session is to inspire new conversations. Building a truly communal space for the digital humanities requires that we all approach that space with a commitment to: 1) creating open and non-hierarchical dialogues; 2) championing non-traditional work that might not otherwise be recognized through conventional scholarly channels; 3) amplifying marginalized voices; 4) advocating for students and learners; and 5) sharing generously to support the work of our peers.

Our aim in gathering these participants is to use our thinking about what the digital humanities is and isn’t as a jumping off point for a much deeper inquiry about disciplinarity, the future of higher education, and what it is to be radically human in the digital age. More specifically our participants work within a diverse array of digital humanities subfields, including the postcolonial, queer, critical race, disability, radical librarianship, feminist digital humanities, adjunct DH, the public digital humanities, and digital pedagogy. The goal is to make more space for broader perspectives in the digital humanities, to bring otherwise marginalized voices (or bits of voices no matter how small) to the fore.

One can’t substantively “include” everyone without disrupting hierarchies — without transforming the field’s critical lens and practice. Different geographies, different languages, and different modes of scholarship demand new frames. Put simply, this roundtable will engage speakers and audience in a discussion of how the Digital Humanities can reimagine itself, and its boundaries, in order to make way for a more radically inclusive community–and a scholarship that faces outward towards our many publics.

Description of Format: The roundtable participants will each publish 750 – 1000 word position papers openly in advance of MLA 2016. While this won’t be required reading for attending the session, it allows the group to lay certain groundwork and offers a space for continued discussion after the session concludes. We’ll have brief opening remarks from panelists and a facilitator “leading” discussion but will also invite audience participation. In a sense, we’ll be “flipping” the conference presentation. The time spent together during the session, then, will be used mostly for dialogue and debate between panelists and between the panel and audience. The intended audience for the roundtable includes experienced digital humanists, as well as those curious about and/or critical of the digital humanities. We also hope the public will join us not at the MLA convention but on Twitter and possibly (with the MLA’s approval) via livecast video.

This Year’s Panelists: Jonathan Hsy, Rick Godden, Jentery Sayers, Eunsong Kim, Spencer Keralis, Angel Nieves, Annemarie Perez

The presider for the panel will be Jesse Stommel and the presider for the digital backchannel (and frontchannel) will be Dorothy Kim.

[“swarm” by flickr user Vernon Hyde licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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