By Heidi Kaufman and Matthew Hannah
For today’s review, I wanted to direct your attention to an amazingly useful resource for keeping up with recent developments in the DH field. Miriam Posner’s blog explores various DH topics relevant to classroom assignments and research projects. Posner coordinates UCLA’s Digital Humanities Program.
Posner’s blog delves into DH with aplomb, exciting interest in the field with a fun lighthearted tone. For example, Posner writes about the essential items she includes in her conference travel bag. Other posts are more academic. She describes some of her unique DH classes, suggesting possibilities for innovative course topics in digital humanities and media studies.
The above image shows what Posner’s blog looks like and includes an interview with Posner about her class “Selfies, Snapchat, and Cyberbullies: Coming of Age Online.” In this interview for an unnamed blog, Posner describes the impetus for a class on selfies:
“The class wasn’t entirely centered around the selfie. It was about the experience of being a young adult in the digital age and, more broadly, how we should think about the relationship between technological and cultural change. I wanted to teach this class because I’ve heard a lot of generalizations about millennials, both in the media and from people I know, and I felt that many of these characterizations didn’t accurately reflect the complicated, diverse people I encounter in the classroom at UCLA. I wanted to submit those generalizations to rigorous scrutiny, to see whether they held up.”
Posts such as this are suggestive for my own pedagogy, raising interesting class themes I hadn’t considered before. But Posner’s blog inspires other DH ideas. She also includes tutorials on fascinating projects she does. In one example, she includes a step-by-step tutorial for introducing students to data visualization.
Here’s a useful video from University of British Columbia describing basics of data visualization or “dataviz” just in case you wanted a refresher:
These tutorials are great because they suggest approaches to classroom projects but also serve as useful tools for her readers to explore software they may not have used before. Another feature of Posner’s tutorials that I particularly liked was her provision of the tutorials as Word docs, enabling readers to manipulate the material for other courses. This reflects one of the best parts of DH: sharing material and suggesting possible collaborations.
Posner also includes versions of talks that she gives such as a post with the provocative title “What’s Next: The Radical, Unrealized Potential of Digital Humanities.” This post critiques existing DH model and offers some ideas about where the field could go. According to Posner, DH has only just begun to investigate and critique power inequalities inherent in the very tools we use: “But let’s take Google Maps, which powers a lot of our projects. Many have observed — I’m certainly not the first — that this technology enshrines a Cartesian model of space that derives directly from a colonialist project of empire-building.”
Her point, and the point being made by others in the field, is that DH sometimes focuses on doing important work while neglecting consideration of the underlying structural inequalities that may power those projects. As she sums up the radical potential for DH: “I want us actually to be more ambitious, to hold ourselves to much higher standards when we’re claiming to develop databased work that depicts people’s lives.” Provocatively, Posner questions the role of DH in perpetuating inequity…or in challenging it.
Blogs like Miriam Posner’s reveal the often exciting and cutting-edge quality of DH. Readers can subscribe to these blogs and keep up with the latest developments and innovations as they happen, plugging into a strange sort of informal, yet exciting academic conversation. Unlike conferences or symposia, increasingly blogs are being used to disseminate scholarly concerns in a form defined by its light tone and accessibility. Subscribing to blogs like Posner’s, or ours, connects you to fruitful discussions and can direct you to interesting new material and ideas.