It’s been too long. I realize that is probably how many people feel as they revisit a neglected blog and I take comfort in that camaraderie. I’m in the process of thinking through what I am going to say at a panel I have been asked to join titled “The Public Face of Digital Humanities”. This is a panel directed at undergraduate students and brings together Mark Jones, an alumni who runs a public history blog for WETA, Public Broadcasting station for the greater Washington D.C. area called Boundary Stones, Suzanne Churchill, an English professor whose has done digital humanities work with students and her own scholarship including an amazing site on Mina Loy, and me. The panel is supposed to bring different perspectives on doing public work, and after the initial feelings of “what the hell am I going to be able to add to this discussion?” I have decided to begin with the idea of being a DIGITAL HUMANIST. I’m currently reading Disrupting the Digital Humanities which brings together many of the thinkers I follow to understand what digital humanities means, and I will most likely refer to it.
What is my work? I’m interested in what it means to be a human in a digital world. As the internet continues to be a complex, exciting, dangerous, uncertain place, I think taking part in it and processing our way through it collectively remains an important part of academic spaces AND being human.
VINE – an online community
Why not start with Vine? The first online community that I took part in that consisted mostly of people I had not met in person was a community in Vine (the 6 second video platform) in 2013. Now an interesting example of what happens when a platform becomes extinct but makes some effort to leave archived artifacts, Vine at its height had a robust animator/creative contingent. When I say robust, I’m not talking about the Vine Personalities who performed for crowds (who I enjoyed watching), but a group of 200-300 creators, pushing the limits of the platform, experimenting with its animation and short form capabilities, and sharing their work with each other. This is the first time I took part in making things for a public audience. I will go into what I mean by “public” a little later in this post. What I want to highlight here is THE SWITCH I experienced from making something that may or may not be seen by people, to being able to see more of others’ work while working on my own ideas. I’m introvert that can get caught in my own thoughts, and this way of working got me out of my own head. Now let me again say that this wasn’t about going viral, it was about a different way of working. My partner Daniel Lynds and I eventually created a joint account and I think the most revines we ever got was 53 for this random Vine. Disclaimer: This only makes sense with the sound on, thinking back to a world where the Happy song was sooooooo overplayed.
Working in the open started to become my preferred way of both learning and working. It translated into my professional life as well as personal life. I was able to spend some time developing more professional NETWORKS through Twitter during a period when I was only working part time. I made my first online friend and collaborator Autumm Caines and we started an informal series on Digital Citizenship. We invited guests to come and speak to digital citizenship through the lens of their research, work, life experience. I think this is a great example of the following which I have found to be part of how I understand digital humanities:
- digital humanities as a practice
- public engagement happens during, not after [This comes from Steven Lubar’s Seven Rules for Public Humanists]
- bringing different expertise together, role of facilitating
- a critical look at the digital
- networks at work
who / audience / public ?
One of questions we were asked to think about was Who is your AUDIENCE when you do digital humanities? Or: is there a “public” in your digital humanities? I see this in two ways. One, audience has to do with the networks you have formed or found. There are always certain groups who relate to or are interested in different subject matter. Someone who has worked in public has hopefully found some of the networks that care about the things they are working on, even if it is at different layers. It’s important to think through who that might be and be as expansive in our thinking about audiences as we can. However, I think there is another side to public work that puts things out there for the audiences you don’t know about. You don’t close the door to who might want to take part. If you have different networks, don’t assume that someone from your gym doesn’t want to take part in a conversation about data collection. It is also this space of the who that is unknown that helps us not talk specifically to one crowd and to be more accessible.