Digital Humanities as Critical University Studies #s198
Digital Humanities (DH) are a model for diversity and inclusion in academic work and humanistic method. Where various modes of computation act as both tool and artifact in DH, they have simultaneously created more modes of engagement and sites of access within humanistic disciplines. As a result, DH draws out productive tensions between academic positions (TT faculty, librarians, and Alt-Ac), between institutions (R1 to SLACs), and between disciplinary approaches to similar content. To borrow from Amy Earhart’s Traces of the Old, Uses of the New on this point, “The digital humanities insistence on difference, difference in approach to scholarship, in types of methodologies, in the way that we do scholarship, is an active form of resistance to traditional academic hierarchies” (121).
Concurrent with DH’s rise, critical university studies (CUS) has sought to achieve similar ends by focusing on institutional austerity and the precaritization of intellectual labor. Christopher Newfield’s Unmaking the Public University outlines five imperatives against austerity and precarity that parallel Earhart’s language above (272-275). Even more strongly stated than Newfield, Chandra Talpade Mohanty augments CUS’s focus in Feminism Without Borders, arguing that feminist literacy in the university “necessitates learning to see (and theorize) differently–to identify and challenge the politics of knowledge that naturalizes global capitalism and business-as-usual in North American higher education” (171). At an infrastructural level, the Edu-factory collective has endeavored to reimagine the university through global alliances, similar to efforts like ADHO and GO::DH, calling for the formation of a “global autonomous university” in response to neoliberal imperatives over education.
Post-2008, austerity measures and the precaritization intellectual labor are undeniable. It is also undeniable that digital humanities emerged as a contemporary force for disciplinary transformation during this precise economic shift. Matthew K. Gold states this matter of factly in his introduction to the 2012 Debates in the Digital Humanities anthology, “The Digital Humanities Moment”: “At a time when many academic institutions are facing austerity budgets, department closings, and staffing shortages, the digital humanities experienced a banner year that saw cluster hires at multiple universities, the establishment of new digital humanities centers and initiatives across the globe, and multimillion-dollar grants distributed by federal agencies and charitable foundations.” Although this is and continues to be a point of critique in DH (see “Neoliberal Tools” by Daniel Allington, Sarah Brouilette, and David Golumbia), this panel is focused on two extensions of Gold’s observation. First, this panel highlights DH’s recomposition of academic labor, not as an extension of austerity, but as a response. Second, this panel pairs DH’s commitment to diversity and inclusion with CUS so as to augment DH’s “insistence on difference.” For example, Moya Bailey’s critique of CUS in “All the Digital Humanists Are White, All the Nerds Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave,” starts us on this path: “people of color have been engaging in critical university studies long before the 1990s when the field is said to have emerged. By demanding space as students and faculty, in addition to advocating for rights as the laborers that built and maintain these institutions, people of color have organized through concerted effort to bring about changes in institutional culture and structure.”
Clearly stated, this panel furthers DH’s commitment to diversity and inclusion by pairing it with CUS to reapproach DH praxis, graduate training, and labor. This panel showcases two current projects that connect DH’s focus on diversity and inclusion to its socio-economic realities at the level of labor and academic rank. Further, this panel showcases a third paper that teases out the conceptual affinities between contemporary debates in DH and CUS. All three papers are situated within the debates cited above as they also showcase practical issues and obstacles to DH and CUS as a collaborative, interdisciplinary endeavor.
Dr. Roopika Risam’s paper explores the relationship between digital humanities and academic labor, arguing that DH practitioners hold a unique view of the university by virtue of their labor, one in which the typical academic triad – research, teaching, and service – is muddled by DH praxis. Risam shares insights into this argument by presenting work from 35 interviews with digital humanities practitioners across multiple roles (faculty, librarian, and alternative academic), and articulates their work as situated at the unique nexus between administration, pedagogy, and scholarship. Given their positions, Risam argues, DH practitioners offer a multi-focal perspective on the university that most employees do not have, and subsequently allow them to build sustainable infrastructure for digital initiatives, transform scholarly communication, and develop ethical practices for collaboration across roles within the university.
Dr. Beth Seltzer performs a statistical analysis of the 1,658 files from the 2015-2016 MLA Jobs Information List using NVivo. Seltzer is particularly interested in drawing out potential contradictions in graduate training that are overwhelmingly oriented towards training for tenure-track, R1 faculty positions, despite a growing emphasis on preparing PhD students for a broadened job market. As a result, Seltzer’s project makes the point that academic job descriptions often ask for what we might more readily identify as “alt-ac” skills, imploring us to imagine and implement a model of graduate student training and academic hiring which acknowledges that our discipline has already made this expansion to a broadened career model. Therefore, training graduate students effectively in alternative careers is not only not a distraction from preparation from the academic market, but is, in fact, essential to it.
Dr. Matt Applegate’s paper forwards an “Alt-Genealogy” of DH praxis by linking contemporary concerns for “critical infrastructure” in DH with similar concerns found within critical university studies. Applegate follows James Smithies and Alan Liu’s DH interventions in particular, tracing the pair’s interest in institutional “anti-foundationalism” to Christopher Newfield’s focus on the same concept in his Unmaking the Public University. Applegate also connects Liu’s valorization of Foucault’s “specific intellectual” to Gerald Raunig’s use of the figure in Factories of Knowledge. He also speaks back to critical university studies from a DH standpoint, linking DH’s focus on diversity and inclusion to feminist and decolonial critiques of the university via Chela Sandoval, Jacqueline Wernimont, and #transformDH.
Abstracts & Biographies:
Digital Humanities with a View: Beyond Research, Teaching, and Service
Dr. Roopika Risam
Salem State University
Through its very practices, digital humanities scholarship has raised questions about the ethics and challenges of academic labor. Miriam Posner, for example, has called for a critical examination of what digital humanities labor in libraries looks like, particularly the infrastructural gaps that make sustainable digital humanities practices difficult. Trevor Muñoz has drawn attention to how librarians are producers of knowledge and are intellectual collaborators in digital humanities projects, but their intellectual leadership and disciplinary expertise are often not valued when collaborating with faculty. Posner, Haley Di Pressi, Stephanie Gorman, Raphael Sasayama, and Tori Schmitt have also identified the stakes of labor in student collaborations, through A Student Collaborators’ Bill of Rights, while Spencer Keralis has pushed back against the use of internships that exploit student labor for digital humanities projects under the guise of offering them course credit. Taking one step back from these assessments of the relationship between digital humanities and labor, this paper explores the unique view of the university that digital humanities practitioners at public teaching universities possess by virtue of the nature of their labor, locating it in Jeffrey Williams’ work in critical university studies. I discuss the insights gleaned from 35 interviews with digital humanities practitioners across multiple roles (faculty, librarian, and alternative academic) at teaching intensive public universities, which suggest that the typical academic triad – research, teaching, and service – is muddled in the practices of digital humanities, and these categories cannot be easily separated from each other. Whether in faculty, librarian, or alternative academic positions, these practitioners articulate their work as situated at the unique nexus between administration, pedagogy, and scholarship. Their positions offer them a multi-focal perspective on the university that most employees do not have unless they explicitly choose otherwise. This is at once a job description ripe for exploitation and one that engenders hope for the transformation of the academy. Based on trends among respondents, I outline the perils of this position through the lens of Autonomist Marxism and its feminist critiques and discuss how digital humanists are putting the theories of critical university studies into practice in three areas of their work: building sustainable infrastructure for digital initiatives, transforming scholarly communication, and developing ethical practices for collaboration across roles within the university.
Dr. Beth Seltzer
Bryn Mawr College
An Analysis of Alternative Career Skills in Academic Job Ads
Graduate programs are still overwhelmingly oriented towards training for tenure-track, R1 faculty positions, despite a growing emphasis on preparing PhD students for a broadened job market, a trend manifested, for example, in the MLA’s Connected Academics program and experimental public humanities PhDs developing at the University of Washington – Bothell and Georgetown University. While the realities of the job market make such training essential, it can still be difficult for advisors and graduate students to reconcile the demands of preparing for non-faculty careers with a fully rigorous preparation for the academic job market.
While the tensions inherent in navigating different types of career training cannot be clearly resolved, this project makes the point that academic job descriptions often ask for what we might more readily identify as “alt-ac” skills. Academic job ads routinely mention technical proficiency, involvement with public engagement, administrative experience, grant writing, and a wide range of expertise which falls beyond the traditional requirements of research, teaching, and service.
The core of this project is a statistical analysis, using NVivo, of the 1,658 files in the 2015-2016 MLA Jobs Information List. Preliminary results suggest some popular recommended skills, preparation for which could also lead to careers in academic administration or advising, non-profit work, or technology:
|Skill Keyword||Count of Job Ads|
While these numbers don’t look very high in percentage terms, to give a bit of context, here are some results for academic period or subject keywords, counted in the same method:
|Skill Keyword||Count of Job Ads|
Preliminary results from topic modeling of the corpus also demonstrate some interesting trends, though my sense is that the statistical analysis, built on manual identification of different skills, will ultimately be the more illuminating part of the project. However, topic modeling does already reveal topics which we could interpret as revealing alt-ac skills as professional writing,1 community work,2 and digital interdisciplinary work3.
Considering the manifest usefulness of alternative skills to academic careers, this project argues for a model of graduate student training and academic hiring which acknowledges that our discipline has already made this expansion to a broadened career model, and that training graduate students effectively in alternative careers is not only not a distraction from preparation from the academic market, but is, in fact, essential to it.
1 communication technical yale minnesota tech professional experience mn science seek technology engineering st www business students umn interested public minneapolis
2 experience students learning education college diversity faculty student commitment diverse academic work community professional san cultural successful program development including
3 humanities digital research social candidates sciences media work interdisciplinary arts areas interfolio seek scholar scholarship cultural open appointment interested college
Dr. Matt Applegate
Digital Humanities as Critical University Studies: An Alt-Genealogy of DH Praxis
This paper reveals two conceptual affinities in the discursive formation of critical university studies (CUS) with present and future-oriented practicalities of DH praxis. It also identifies two shortcomings in the concatenation of both areas of inquiry, specifically their focus on “infrastructure,” and forefronts feminist and decolonial incursions into coalitional politics as viable parallels. This paper thus offers an “alt-genealogy” of contemporary DH praxis, one embedded in its conceptual formation, but one that directs digital humanities outside of its own discourse so as to better conceptualize its focus on diversity and inclusion.
The focus of this paper is primarily rhetorical. It traces James Smithies and Alan Liu’s DH interest in institutional “anti-foundationalism,” and pairs it with Christopher Newfield’s use of the same concept in his 2008 Unmaking the Public University. This rhetorical traces leads to a secondary connection between Liu’s valorization of Foucault’s “specific intellectual” to Gerald Raunig’s use of the figure in Factories of Knowledge. Finally this paper adds an overlooked component to the DH/CUS pairing: critical feminist and decolonial approaches to university infrastructure. Chela Sandoval’s focus on “The Racialization of Theoretical Domains–an Apartheid of Academic Knowledges,” and Jacqueline Wernimont’s “Remediation, Activation, and Entanglement in Performative (Digital) Archives” are forefronted. This paper concludes with a brief discussion of feminist and decolonial approaches to the CUS/DH pairing potential interface with #transformDH.