Local Digital Humanities, MLA 2017

696: Local Digital Humanities

Sunday, 8 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m.
405 Philadelphia Marriott

@rikersbot: Local-based, social-justice driven praxis in digital humanities

Alex Gil (Columbia University), Dennis Tenen (Columbia University)

@rikersbot is a coding workshop and an algorithmic storytelling project set in and about Rikers Island correctional facility, New York city’s main jail complex. In the spring of 2015, the Center for Justice approached the Experimental Methods Group with an idea of running an “Intro to Python” workshop for the young people incarcerated at Rikers and for Columbia University students interested in digital literacy. It was important for us to set up the encounter in a way that moves past one way conversation with effects that persist beyond the one time event. In teaching programming through digital storytelling, it was our hope to encourage a dialog between the youth at Rikers, Columbia faculty and students, and the community at large. In this presentation we will report on our experiences conducting the program, and argue for a local-based, social-justice driven praxis on issues facing us now that can complement and learn from our contributions to the history-based scholarly record.

Mapping The Insurrectionary States Testimony of South Carolina

Kimberly Hall (Wofford College)

In “The Condition of Affairs,” the recorded testimony of the citizens of Spartanburg, SC documents insurrectionary movements by the Ku Klux Klan in the former Confederate states during the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War. This historical text captures the verbatim recollections of both black and white citizens during this chaotic and violent historical episode. Because the thirteen-volume text covers five different southern states, each volume is organized by state and region. Although these volumes have been digitized and are currently available online, this persistent connection to place suggests that interactive modes of engaging the text’s spatial specificity would offer new insights into the text’s significance in history and today.

This paper describes the process of building a local DH mapping project in a literature course at Wofford College with these testimonies, which are housed in the campus library archives in Spartanburg, SC. The project aims to engage the embodied experience of racial oppression by having students reimagine this archive through their own personal lens. The resulting project reorients the text by organizing the testimonies spatially on a current map of Spartanburg, SC. Each resulting point on that map then opens up to a specific testimony accompanied by supplementary multimodal material created by the students.

The resulting project raises important theoretical questions about the concept of “locality” that highlight the relationship between knowledge production and current discourses of social justice. Within computer science, the Principle of Locality refers to the memory hierarchies of data access, and within Henri Lefebvre’s materialist theory of space, localization is the product of the natural world inscribed within specific markers of time. A local mapping project thus engages both the informatic and social dimensions of the local, and raises important ethical questions about the theoretical and pedagogical effects of such projects.

Digital Holland and Community-Based DH

Laura B. McGrath (Hope College)

Digital humanities has been celebrated for its emphasis on collaborative research. Yet DH’s transformative collaborative ethos is restricted to institutional spaces—within the university, between universities, or in formal academic communities—and at large research universities. This paper is interested in collaboration of a different sort and in different places, considering the role of the local community in the digital research program of the small liberal arts college, arguing for a model of Community-Based DH. Literature in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning has emphasized Community-Based learning as a hallmark of “high-impact” education, encouraging classrooms to expand beyond their institutional havens (Kuh, 2008). Digital humanities research lends itself, especially, to these pedagogical practices, expanding the reach of collaboration into the local community—work that small liberal arts colleges are especially equipped to undertake. To make this case, I rely on my own community, university, and students. As the Mellon Fellow for Digital Liberal Arts at Hope College (Holland, MI), I oversee a robust partnership between local partners (archives, historical associations, churches) and diligent undergraduate researchers. Our flagship research project, Digital Holland, has been running for four years; students have been partnering with local organizations and independent researchers to make Holland’s cultural heritage freely available and accessible to the public in the form of digital archives and exhibits. In addition, students have also developed a series of “turnkey” projects to make digital research methods accessible to the public, inviting community members to participate in the making of Digital Holland, partnering in the act of knowledge creation alongside student project managers. In placing the discourse of Community-Based learning in conversation with DH Pedagogy, I hope to transform both: reframing the local community as more than simply a site, object of study, or recipient of service, but as a partner in research, and by expanding the traditional models of the DH Lab or Center to consider the applications of digital research and scholarship for the public good.

Digital Humanities at the Local University: A Case Study of Digital Salem

Roopika Risam (Salem State University)

In my Digital Scholarship in the Humanities article “Other Worlds, Other DHs,” I make the case for local forms of digital humanities and the need for the digital humanities community to recognize that its practices are accented by a myriad of geographical, political, social, and economic factors that shape them. This talk builds on that work to discuss a particular, U.S. institutional context for digital humanities work that often goes undiscussed: the regional comprehensive university. In discourses on digital humanities and in the world of foundation funding, regional comprehensives trying to build digital humanities programs are caught between two worlds. Often classified as master’s institutions in the Carnegie rankings, they are neither small liberal arts colleges nor research institutions. They are teaching-intensive, short on funding, and filled with job-driven students. Yet, regional comprehensives are often deeply tied to a sense of place and their unique qualities can be leveraged for new directions in digital humanities. In this talk, I discuss my work building a digital humanities community at Salem State University around the place-based project Digital Salem. I examine how the project’s design – an umbrella project comprised of small, modular digital humanities projects created using our archives – responds to the particular needs of digital humanities at the regional comprehensive. The talk further considers how Digital Salem has served as a locus for developing institutional support for digital humanities; has begun to change the nature of faculty research at Salem State, offering faculty a new way of engaging their undergraduate students in their own research; and has helped develop university-community partnerships. In doing so, I argue that emphasis on the local is essential to expanding communities of practice within digital humanities and, in turn, sheds light on digital humanities practices beyond research institutions and small liberal arts colleges


Dene Grigar (Washington State University Vancouver)

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