#tranformDH – Toward an Asian American Digital Humanities (pt. 2)

This last weekend was spent at the American Studies Association where I participated in panel with my amazing colleagues Amanda Phillips, Alexis Lothian, Melanie Kohnen, Marta Rivera Monclova, Tanner Higgin, and moderated by the amazingly supportive Anna Everett. The roundtable featured graduate students and new PhDs working in Queer Studies and Ethnic Studies each presenting a brief spiel about their concerns in DH.  As Amanda wrote in her recent blog entry, “#transformDH: A Call to Action Following ASA2011“, though not so well-attended, was incredibly productive, and we hope to keep the conversation and work going. The ultimate goal, as expressed in our open document, was to open up DH to critical mediations from ethnic and queer studies (what is DH? who benefits from current definitions of DH? why are digital humanists so overwhelmingly white? why is there such and emphasis on “building things”? isn’t criticism a form of production? what about critical production that happens outside the academy? how do we deal with the high costs of entering DH? … ).

Many questions abounded, from panelists and from equally important audience members (including Lisa Nakamura, who is one of the few practitioners, along with Anna Everett, Wendy Chun, Tara McPherson and others, who do critical DH work with ethnic studies in mind). Some asked if it’s too early to be trying to make an intervention, but I like how Amanda put it: “We need to do this now, before DH develops bad habits.”

My part in the roundtable was to talk about critical race and ethnic studies and the importance of Asian American studies, in particular, as a lens that should be applied in DH work, but also a paradigm to look at ourselves as DH practitioners. I’ll be writing more on this in the near future, but I do want to reiterate one of my main arguments: What Asian American studies has done so well, that DH would benefit from, is self-conscious examination of the contradictions that exist within the wide-spread community. My concerns are particularly with the networks and infrastructures of labor and the foundations of digital technologies. For Asian Am scholars working in these areas (tech, digital, media, pop cultural studies, labor, etc.) they must recognize the disparity and contradictions that exist within our communities. Asian Americanists have made it explicit that there is no homogenous Pan-Asian identity or politics. This is something we digital humanists can take away from Asian Am studies. DH can be a multitude of things, not just hacking, or building, or DIY. It is not in any way detrimental to have more inclusive and expansive definition of what Digital Humanities is. And in our practice of it, we must maintain a critical, self-conscious distance. We can’t remain enamored with technology and what we can do with it. At the same time, media archeology is important but it’s not enough, the material conditions in which technologies have been made and labor that produce them remain important.

As a group, we emphasized the need to be conscientious consumers/producers/critics. We need to critically reexamine the foundations of DH as a field and how it can be problematized and broadened by seemingly unrelated fields, like ethnic and queer studies.

Now that you’ve made it this far, I’d love to hear how others are working to transform Digital Humanities in their own way. Come comrades! Take on the #transformDH hashtag and tweet, blog, or submit to our tumblr. Whatever you do, please share and reach out. This is not a huge community, and the more allies we have in different corners, the stronger our cause. And if you want to read more from #transformDH scholars, check out the great list that Amanda put together in her post at HASTAC.

Seriously though, please share and get in touch!

P.S. ASA was awesome! Pretty sure that has my favorite conferencing experience so far.

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