VSW Day One: Loose Ends

Today we thought through these categories: public, culture (or, cultural as a classmate pointed out), and criticism. They are raising bigger questions that I have considered as a public digital humanist and that seem as important to practicing good cultural criticism, too.

First, a distinction from traditional academic training: Speak to what you know, with an ethic and/or a passion, to the audience you want to speak to. There is also a different temporality: things move much more quickly than traditional academic publishing. However, as one of our speakers noted today, there is a beauty in the speeds of both academic and cultural criticism: “we need to move slowly so that we can then move quickly.” Or, we take the time to dive deeply and develop our ideas through academic training so then we can quickly respond to contemporary events.

This also led to questions about who has authority and legitimacy to speak to an issue, and relates to an intersecting question raised today about the myth of objectivity. To hide the self from the work created a kind of gatekeeping. It created notions of legitimacy and cultural authority, and worked to maintain power structures. To say that an author can be truly separate from the work they produce not only misrepresents the process of research and writing, but prevents a potentially deeper engagement or recognition between author and audience. It seems that centering the self within a larger argument (whether historical or critical, or some mix of the two) also opens up ways to push back against white supremacist capitalistic patriarchal forms of knowledge production.

Finally, I keep returning to the messy days of the early internet internet when it seemed possible, or maybe even inevitable, to create a new kind of democratization of information. Now, we have seen a kind of enclosure of this space–by corporations and content management systems and social media platforms that limit the creative potentials for building/weaving/coding your own space into the web. We see even in the most academic of circles that the ability to publish does not, in itself, lead to transformative scholarship or new relationships between academics and the publics. Although this potential for democratization made up the founding ethic of the digital humanities through collaboration, accessibility, and open access publishing, its practitioners have not always fully engaged with its transformative potential. For instance, just because increasing access to an archive’s contents is possible through digitization, doesn’t mean that we are transforming the colonial logic of many of these traditional-turned-digital archives. This is why it matters to invite our publics in to the process of building online spaces; this is the generative potential of the web.

But the question of our publics is one worth revisiting from time to time, as the web continues to change shape and tone: how can we invite the public into our work in meaningful ways that actually increases representation, increases the transformative power of criticism, or creates a deeper engagement with the past and the present?

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Jessica Does History