Open Thread: The Digital Humanities as a Historical “Refuge” from Race/Class/Gender/Sexuality/Disability?


By Adeline Koh and Roopika Risam

Read David Golumbia’s post on the “Dark Side of the Digital” conference yesterday? Consider this:

In 2007, Martha Nell Smith observed:

When I first started attending humanities computing conferences in the mid-1990s, I was struck by how many of the presentations remarked, either explicitly or implicitly, that concerns that had taken over so much academic work in literature—of gender, race, class, sexuality—were irrelevant to humanities computing. For those not held back by the sentimental and simplistic question of whether books would be displaced by electronic media, the field of humanities computing brought the models and rigors of science to the intellectual work of literary and artistic criticism and theory, and in that fulfilled some new critical dreams of bringing objectivity, rational thought, and aesthetic purity to departments of English. Scientific matters of mathematics and computation, objective and hard, do not seem to be subject to the concerns of gender, race, or sexuality. 2 + 2, so the reasoning goes, always equals 4, whether you are black, a woman, a queer, a straight, or whatever. HTML, SGML, XML—the codes that make words and images, texts, processable—and TEI conformancy are supposedly gender-, race-, class-neutral.The codes always work, and the principles always apply, whatever one’s personal identity or social group (or so many seemed to believe). It was as if these matters of objective and hard science provided an oasis for folks who do not want to clutter sharp, disciplined, methodical philosophy with considerations of the gender-, race- and class-determined facts of life. After all, in the wake of the sixties, the humanities in general and their standings in particular had suffered, according to some, from being feminized by these things. Humanities computing seemed to offer a space free from all this messiness and a return to objective questions of representation.” (4)

Martha Nell Smith, “The Human Touch Software of the Highest Order: Revisiting Editing as Interpretation.” Textual Cultures: Texts, Contexts, Interpretation, 2(1):2007, 1-15. Full text available for free here.

In your view, how much of this has changed since Smith’s article was published, if anything?

  • What is your perspective on the intermingling of race, class, gender, sexuality and disability and the digital humanities?
  • What are your “core” texts of the digital humanities, and how do they engage with race, class, gender, sexuality and disability?
  • How are cultures of technology implicated in imperial projects? Is there existing DH work on digital colonialisms?
  • How would you write a genealogy of the digital humanities?
  • How should the digital humanities adapt and change, if at all?

Please add your comments below. 

Overwhelmed by our thread below? We’ve parsed the main ideas of the thread in a new post, “Room for Everyone at the DH Table?” Chek out our summary and leave your $0.02! 


on “Open Thread: The Digital Humanities as a Historical “Refuge” from Race/Class/Gender/Sexuality/Disability?
166 Comments on “Open Thread: The Digital Humanities as a Historical “Refuge” from Race/Class/Gender/Sexuality/Disability?
  1. Two contrasting thoughts…

    I think of DH as providing a set of tools. These tools do not engage any topics on their own, but only those chosen by the user. So this question would be about digital humanists rather than digital humanities. But then I got to thinking more…

    …and as someone who focuses on Asian history and culture it is clear that the overwhelming body of texts and data available for DH analysis are in English. My interests in colonialism and non-Western topics thus lags. English sources and traditional historical topics are the low-hanging fruit for this new approach. I am waiting for, say, the Dutch VOC archives to attract DH projects, or Chinese court records. Hopefully we will get there!

  2. Though HASTAC is a welcome exception, an overwhelming majority of digital humanities works try to act as if tools are transparent, as if the biases, druthers, preferences, ideologies, philosophical stances of the toolmakers will not inhere in the ways particular tools shape our perceptions of and stances toward information and knowledge-building. More than a decade ago, Bowker and Star (see SORTING THINGS OUT) and George Lakoff (WOMEN, FIRE, AND DANGEROUS THINGS) acutely analyzed how this is just not possible. I’ve tried to be aware of that in my dh work. In other words, the tools influence how questions are formed, what is seen and not seen.

    A colleague sent me a link to an article about digitizing Tagore’s work in India. We need to acknowledge the imperial nature of English, which frames ideas in a particular way (subject-verb-object) and in doing so begin to work in different languages and with more flexible, if just as rigorous, frameworks.

  3. Thank you for writing this, Martha and Adeline. It is so important. It is interesting that one of the most persistent dynamics in DH is that those most dedicated to the dominance of tools are also the most resistant to viewing them critically–that is, they are most insistent that tool use is a fine form of “theoretical humanities,” and yet most resistant to understanding the humanities the way many (maybe even most) of us do. That insistence on neutrality is one of the few beliefs one might have thought the humanities in general to have overturned over several decades, so it is odd (but maybe expectable) to see it return, especially in a guise that doesn’t want to talk about the very issue it is putting forward: in other words, we don’t even get to talk about (or at least, we shouldn’t)–which is exactly how many of us think ideology works, rather than (for the most part) having a direct discussion about political investments.

    As side notes, I’d advocate for the view of *majority languages* rather than *English* being imperial. Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Mandarin, Japanese, and many others are also imperial within some contexts (Spanish is not particularly imperial within the US, but more like a minority language). Getting the web to not be hostile toward speakers of minority languages is a huge, urgent, and non-obvious task, and involves much more than spreading out toward the other ~200 majority languages.

    Also, I’d want to stick up for Tara McPherson’s Scalar project & Vectors journal, definitely another big exception to the “tools are transparent” perspective.

    • Just a quick note to your side note, David. I certainly do not want to take away from your comments on DH, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that the history of “Spanish” is in fact imperial in the US and it’s minority status is a recent discursive phenomenon. Lest we forget, the Spanish Crown and later Mexico claimed most of the US Southwest as sovereign territory for a couple of centuries.

      • Hi Salvador,

        That’s absolutely correct and I’m sorry if I even seemed to be suggesting otherwise–if anything I meant to draw attention to the fact that despite the negative affect displayed toward Spanish in the English-speaking US today (which I do believe should be called out and countered when possible), it *is* mostly an imperial language when seen from global an and historical perspectives. Even what we today call “Spanish” itself (“Castilian”) was imperial within the territories that went to make up Spain, etc.


  4. Adding to the comments above (maybe): I think since at least the 90’s the reduction in cost and simultaneous increase in power of PCs (and extending now to the cloud) has enabled the development of types of analysis that allow us to see things at levels of description that were unimaginable just 30 years ago. In my area, neuroscience and human computer interaction, we can now pretty reliably infer certain cognitive states based on munging enormous amounts of high-dimensional EEG data almost in real-time – all on one mostly normal computer.

    I fully agree that the tools we use – the computers, machine learning algorithms, the EEG sensors – all come with their own biases and assumptions. And we who program the computers, do the experiments, analyze the data, have our own assumptions – just as any human does who investigates things. I agree 100% with putting all your implicit assumptions and biases on the table so that you can discuss them and hopefully improve them.

    The same algorithms that we use on EEG data can (and have been) applied to massive text archives to reveal relationships among semantic concepts, musical genres, power relationships etc (there are references I’m in too much of a hurry to get right now 🙂

    The advantage of this approach is that you can process far more text in a few seconds than any individual humanities researcher could process in a lifetime. And people in the computer science world would claim that their methods are “objective” in that the algorithms do not have human biases – even though I think it’s obvious that the algorithms are biased because they were designed by humans.

    Nevertheless, I think this approach can be an important tool in studying oppression, racism, sexism because there tends to be resistance to the idea of structural oppression toward minorities and women when this oppression is pointed out by individual scholars working from selected texts.

    For example, it is possible to process millions of news paper articles from digital archives, or from Google books, etc, and with semantic algorithms reveal how power, racism, and sexism is expressed in text. I guess this is otherwise known as Big Data. But it’s mostly used now to sell us more useless crap or see if we’re terrorists. These tools can also be used to reveal and resist those things, I think.

    The interesting thing is to see how closely the algorithmic approach mimics our own human intuitions about such things. Because some of the algorithms are meant to be models of how the human brain learns and processes semantic information.

    So while you don’t escape the bias problem by using these tools, you can discover perhaps latent or hidden relationships by moving the level of analysis to these enormous scales.

    Sorry that’s long winded.

    • Thanks for your comment, Andrew. In response to your observation about technological innovations since the 90s, I’d add that you have unintentionally alluded to a different sort of DHPoco concern – for the vulnerable labor sources of cheap products, many of whom work under dubious and unregulated conditions in the Global South.

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  6. I don’t think anyone is reluctant to fuse digital methodologies and questions of politics or identity. On the contrary, this is a combination of approaches that’s very likely to interest a wide audience. No researcher would want to avoid that sort of topic, unless they have a morbid fear of getting published in a prestigious venue.

    But questions of identity are also challenging to address digitally. I think what people need is not encouragement to try this project, but assistance overcoming specific obstacles. For instance, we don’t have good metadata for most of these categories — at least not on the scale where I find digital methods most useful. In collaboration with Mike Black, I’ve created a bit metadata for gender, but there’s a lot more work to be done. If someone decided to create metadata about nationality, for instance, they could very quickly discover publishable results.

  7. Responding to bullet point #3, above: scholars who do affiliate with DH ought also to know and use work on “digital colonialisms” that can’t necessarily be claimed as “existing DH work” on that topic, should they not? Just a few scattered, yet in this particular context handy examples (and not even mentioning work in anthropology in particular, but among other areas): Maria Fernández’s “Postcolonial Media Theory”; Kavita Philip et al.’s “Postcolonial Computing” and other work; Terry Harpold and Kavita Philip’s “Of Bugs and Rats: Cyber-Cleanliness, Cyber-Squalor, and the Fantasy-Spaces of Informational Globalization” and Harpold’s “Dark Continents: A Critique of Internet Metageographies”; more broadly, the work gathered in volumes like Sandra Harding’s Postcolonial Science and Technology Studies Reader; etc…

  8. I would just like to add that Martha Nell’s panels at Digital Humanities (entitled “Agora.Techno.Phobia.Philia: Feminist Critical Inquiry, Knowledge Building, Digital Humanities.” (Parts I and II) were among the most stirring and thought-provoking I’ve heard at DH over the years (and I’ve heard many). I remember, in particular, excellent talks by Laura Mandell and Susan Brown, among others.

    I wonder if it’s time to re-ignite those discussions, perhaps by holding the next panel in the series?

  9. One thing that occurs to me reading this thread is that perhaps one of the issues facing DH is its inability to recruit and retain practitioners from “diverse backgrounds” (don’t love the word diversity but you know what I mean, people of color, working class people, women, queer people, people with disabilities, etc.). I wonder if part of the reason that DH hasn’t been as widely applied to questions of coloniality, and while we’re at African American and Latin@ studies, is because of the lack of diversity in its ranks. While there are some amazing organizations like Black Girls Code that try and incorporate marginalized communities into the practice of computing, for the most part i think that it can be an alienating world. There are few models for what it looks like to be, for example, a queer person of color in a DH world. In sum I guess I think that an important first step might be trying to create fellowships or bootcamps or some other infrastructure that brings together current DH practitioners of color (and allies) with students who are not traditionally represented in DH and start to have these conversations about race, gender, sexuality, and disability as well as create a safe space in which to learn those skills necessary to be involved in computing and coding.

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  11. Thank you for this open thread; this is a fantastic idea that I hope recurs in the future. I’m just now diving into Nell Smith’s piece, and when she writes, “standards need also to be more interdisciplinary and take into account the ‘messy’ facts of authorship, production, and reception: race, class, gender, and sexuality,” I think, as a librarian, instantly to the work of the radical cataloger Sanford Berman who has been fighting for years to alter and extend the often racist and sexist subject headings of the Library of Congress. In DH, we do a lot of cataloging, curating, encoding, and other types of sorting and classifying that all too often are (un)thought of as impartial, inert, and neutral; though, as probably most people reading this know, that is most certainly not the case. I would like to keep alive Berman’s efforts, furthering them to include radical (re)conceptions of definitions of what we do as well—DH, librarianship, programming, criticism, etc.

    A second, and slightly unrelated thought: I think we give a lot of lip service to issues of access when creating digital projects, but have not historically done a good job on this front. I would like to see more responsive designs; responsive not only to the multiplicity of screens and devices, but to types of users, including hearing and seeing impaired, users with slower connections, etc. I think a lot of this links back to Nell Smith’s idea of adding the “messy” into our standards, and this includes leveraging web standards to afford greater access to our projects. I think, in a way, this is an approach very much aligned with the open access movement, too. I’m often frustrated when I confront radical critiques of digital culture published in such exploitative and closed ways online, work given away to corporate publishers and sold back to the very institution who created the work. The reasons for this are many, of course, (tenure pressures usually being the biggest) but I’d like to see increased discussion and consideration on this topic, as well. We’re doing a better job critiquing the capitalist structures that create and control digital culture and technologies, but maybe not as good a job at critiquing those same structures that perpetuate our work.

    • Thanks for the reference to Sanford Berman. I’ve been looking at the LOC classification to try to think about problematic ontologies of categorization. I’m going to follow up on Berman’s work.

      You are absolutely right about the consideration of disability. I’ve said for years that the way to engage with this problem is to have grant agencies tie money to compliance. I’ve seen good work in disability studies on design that would really enrich DH.

  12. On the one hand, anyone who believes computational platforms are transparent doesn’t really understand those platforms.

    But on the other hand, a blind focus on identity politics above all other concerns has partly prevented humanists from deeply exploring the technical nature of computer systems in order to grasp those very understandings.

    • Could you elaborate on what you mean by a “blind focus on identity politics above all concerns” preventing humanists from “deeply exploring the technical nature of computer systems”? Thanks!

      • It’s a matter of methodological oversealousness. Of refusing to look at hardware and software engineering as areas that might educate the humanist and improve his or her efforts, rather than simply serving as ideological targets for clever accusatory trumps.

        Nick Montfort and I wrote a paper for DAC 2009 on myths of platform studies, which addresses some of this. It is on my website somewhere. Anyway, after presenting it we were criticized for not taking “the body” as a platform. That’s a good example. The body isn’t a computer. But talking about computers doesn’t preclude us from also talking about bodies.

        Sorry for not saying more; tapping this out on my phone.

        • I think I can turn the screw one more time on that one in a way you may agree with: there has been a distinct impulse within some parts of DH (not ALL parts by any means, but a substantial part)–and in digital culture more generally–that, in resisting the view of the digital as culturally constructed, thereby discourages others from engaging with digital tools at a more productive level. Which goes back to Martha’s original essay. And to which, again, I think Tara McPherson’s questions about “feminist software” & implementation of SCALAR and some similar efforts on HASTAC have been the exceptions.

          • David and all, I really wish we could go further than detached observations like “there has been a distinct impulse within some parts of DH” and “thereby discourages others,” etc. Please, I’m not asking for anyone’s good name and reputation to be dragged through the mud, but I’m honestly curious as to who it is that is making influential arguments about the digital *not* being culturally constructed which others among us then take up as influential and propagate in such influential ways as to discourage or prohibit counter arguments. Can we be good enough disciplinary historians to get down to the level of something like a particular series of papers, its derivatives and impact? Not to indite, but to at least place a commonly-held example before us? Wouldn’t that be the thing to genuinely further discussion?

          • Notwithstanding the branch of conversation Matt opened up and that continues below, I do think this characterization describes a real pattern. Tara McPherson’s work on feminist software offers a window into the degree of difficulty at work here: to really show how gender assumptions are baked into computer systems is such an enormous task, it’s hard to know how to begin sometimes. So I fear we often see a kind of centrifuge effect, in which the easiest, heaviest observations (e.g., rightfully observing the connection between issues of identity and computation) spin out to the edges and take the place of the more intricate, harder, and often less immediately gratifying analysis and system building that we truly require to make progress on this matter.

  13. I think there’s actually a lot of good work being done that grapples with categories of identity. From the Brown Women Writers Project to that piece by Neal Caren about the representation of gender in NYT ( to Matt Jockers’ Macroanalysis, which has quite a lot about race and ethnicity, as well as gender.

    Basically, these topics interest people. You’d have to be peculiarly self-destructive to seek a “refuge” from them.

    Postcoloniality is probably one of the harder categories to get at, because digitized collections aren’t evenly global in scope, because you might have to work in multiple languages, and because the 1923 wall is especially frustrating here. But I don’t see any obstacles that can’t be overcome. HathiTrust Research Center is working hard to find ways around copyright barriers, and I’m guardedly optimistic.

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  15. in reply to Matt, I’ll risk two examples.

    1) the MIT Press Digital_Humanities book, which on my reading stays far away from discussing the tools as cultural products, and could only even mount a legitimate claim to do so in a positive valence. It repeats a great number of canards (with an anti-corporate valence, but not seeming to realize that these are routinely promoted within the business world) about the revolutionary aspects of tool use, but rarely if ever discusses the circulation of particular tools and methods in culture as a whole (that is, it appears not to take seriously any of the sort of cultural analysis of computers and computation found in work like mine, Paul Edwards, Phil Agre, Wendy Chun’s, Tara McPherson’s [although her project is actually mentioned favorably, but not her line of critique], Lisa Nakamura’s, and many others, and moves forward as if these lines of reasoning do not exist).

    2) Speclab, a foundational DH project-lab, and an experience in which I was forced to participate (in violation of the University’s own guidelines and practices on use of junior faculty), in which we were routinely told that the codex book is an “unstable” object or “machine for producing interpretations,” yet on the few occasions when I dared to ask: “are representations on the computer itself not also unstable in just the same way?” my questions were tossed off with bemused grins. And in return for my forced and involuntary service to other people’s research projects (although given as cheerfully and willingly as I knew how), I have now been written out of that history entirely. Someone might even have published a book about it in which my name does not appear a single time, despite being one of only two faculty members who participated in it anywhere near as long as I did, and the only English professor. I don’t think it’s fair to ask me to read that book, but I’ve heard nothing about it suggesting that there is any consideration there of the tools as cultural objects, as I understand the concept.

    3) Building on that, I don’t think Radiant Textuality applies anything like the critical pressure to the computer that its author does so ably to textual objects. Photoshop is not an unstable interpretation machine; it’s a transparent tool that can be used to produce deformations, etc. In more recent work its author has taken a more expansive view, from what I can tell, but I see little of it in that book.

  16. This post is also online on my site:

    I think that the distinctive identity issue to address in considering “the intermingling of race, class, gender, sexuality and disability and the digital humanities” is the political economy of digital-human identity today. Such identity consists in a relational set of overlaps and differences between at least two [groups] of the digital human: those who stand in the position of producers or managers of the technologies and media that shape life in the information age, and those whose “power of identity” (to use Manuel Castells’ term from his trilogy about network society) is shaped by or against those technologies and media without having direct access to producing or managing them. More accurately, agency over technologies is fluid for each individual, such that one’s experience as a digital identity is constantly in flux between controlling and controlled (e.g., even the savviest tech person is cattle in a TSA security line), though it is certain that some national, racial, gender, and other population or sociological [groups] have greater agency or more “always on” agency than others.

    I bracket the word “groups” above because it is a placeholder term. What I find generally unsatisfactory so far about the way we try to discuss identity and social justice issues in the digital humanities (as well as technology and media generally in new media studies) is that we seek to factor identity and social groups directly into the political economy of the digital human (and vice versa). Missing in our discourse is a whole set of meso-level group identities that act as transmission agents, filters, frames, etc but that are neither the home nor the “refuge” of humans in the digital age but uncannily both. There are at least two of these meso identity formations that really matter: institutions and professions. What I mean can be quickly sketched in the portraits (or perhaps passport pictures) of the many engineers and programmers whose entire social, cultural, national, and ethnic identity has been mediated–shaped, constrained, but also emancipated–by finding refuge (sometimes they are literally refugees) in an institution and a profession.

    Recognizing the agency of these meso-level identity formations moves us into a whole other register of issues about identity. There are plenty of problems and contradictions at that level (including hypocrisy and injustice). But it cannot be said that the institutions and professions involved, with their “diversity management” programs, lobbying for H-1B visas, domestic partner policies, etc. (not to mention the institutions that are against all that) are simply neutral or oblivious in regard to race, class, gender, sexuality and disability. It’s that the problems are shifted onto an additional level that must be factored in alongside the social and cultural group levels.

    At that meso-level, we’re witnessing today a gigantic, historical change in the relation between the two formations I mentioned: institutions and professions, which overlap but are not isometric with each other. Operationally, what we call neoliberalism and postindustrialism proceeds through a shift in power within institutions from professionals to upper managers (and, within the phylum of managers, specifically to finance people). Restructuring is thus a kind of internal colonization of professionals (many of whom in tech firms, by the way, immigrated from the original colonies). What we call privatization is the aggressive propagation of this trend from business institutions in particular to the so-called “soft” institutions like universities and government agencies that either have indirect relations to efficiency metrics or that have multiple or contradictory missions, all of which makes them susceptible to pressure to conform to the trends of “hard” institutions with clearer metrics and missions. (Much of this is from “neoinstitutionalism” scholarship in the sociology field, which theorizes and studies empirically the non-rational forces that drive the formation and propagation of institutions–e.g., “normative,” “cultural-cognitive,” symbolic, and other forces.)

    So in my view, thinking about “the intermingling of race, class, gender, sexuality and disability and the digital humanities” requires that we think simultaneously about the institutional and professional identities that are today the staging ground for that “intermingling.” I like very much, for example, Natalia Cecire’s comments along these lines in her “Introduction: Theory and the Virtues of Digital Humanities”. Discussing the “epistemology of building” in DH, she writes: “digital humanities thus comes to be represented as a return to a (white, male) industrial order of union jobs and visible products, when in reality it is the subdiscipline of the humanities most closely implicated in the postindustrial ‘feminization of labor,’ with all that follows upon it: the rise of contingent and modular work, interstitiality, the hegemony of immaterial labor, the monetization of affect.” She adds, “I am troubled by the ease with which the epistemology of building occludes and even, through its metaphors, legitimizes digital humanities’ complicity with exploitative postindustrial labor practices, both within the academy and overseas.”

    Of course, I think we should also be mindful of Stephen Ramsay’s rebuttal of 5 Sept. 2013 to Daniel Allington’s “The Managerial Humanities.” Steve reacts “strongly to overt connections being made between “digital humanities” and “corporatism,” “neo-liberalism,” “anti-intellectualism,” etc., and repudiates the view that the digital humanities can be held “responsible . . . for the “managerial humanities,” the death of the humanities, the downfall of the university, or any of the other facile notions with which [they are] “associated.” DH is a small player in much of this and can’t be asked to bear outsize responsibility for either representing or resisting the historical forces of our times. But the “neoinstitutional” approach I suggest is helpful in thinking about where and how DH does shape, and is shaped, by the multilevel problems of human identity today. The direct responsibility that the DH field has is to its institution of higher education (and related cultural or heritage institutions), through which its relation to institutions in other social sectors is mediated. DH has not been shy to exert critical and agential force within its institution, not only through its building activities but through its vocal, often passionate support of open access, collaboration, alt-ac, etc. The trick is to open that critical force outward so that DH is aware that in specializing in the technologies and practices in its own institution it is also in the sweet spot for thinking about the premises it shares, and does not share, with other great knowledge-work institutions today that rely on the same kinds of technologies and practices.

    At the end of the day, it’s useful to cast these issues in pedagogical terms. What do I as a digital humanists want to teach my students? I want them to come out of university with the intellectual methods and technical skills needed to interoperate across the institutions and professions for which they are headed. But I want them also to have retained enough of a comparative sense of the differences in premises and identities vested in society’s institutions and professions that they can enter that fray as what we used to call “well-rounded” human beings. The companies call that “flexible” these days. But in educational and cultural institutions, we call that being “ethical,” having the ability to “think critically,” seeing things through “others'” eyes, etc. The difference between those two shades of flexibility is what society needs different institutions and professions for, and why there shouldn’t just be a single great Google Inc. or any other Inc. The digital humanities can really be a sweet spot for teaching such differences–encoded, as it were, as low in the stack as how databases are appropriately used in different social contexts. Todd Presner’s truly wonder work in progress on “The Ethics of the Algorithm” are a model here (a book that uses the Holocaust testimonies of the Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive to ask “how a database or information architecture can be ‘ethical.’) (Short blurb and link to his paper on this here.)

    • Just a brief comment to register that I’m persuaded here. DH can and should be a “sweet spot” for this sort of self-reflexive institutional/social critique.

      It strikes me that it’s not going to be at all easy to do this well. It would be easy to convey a generalized suspicion of authority (which, btw, is not a bad thing!) But the program Alan is proposing is not a simple matter of advocacy: it would require us to grapple seriously with several social sciences (as well as all the other disciplines we’re already trying to understand).

      I don’t say that in a discouraged way. On the contrary, I think this is an inspiring mission for the humanities. But perhaps it’s a responsibility that needs to be broadly distributed across departments and disciplines. On the other hand, it’s true that people doing digital work could be in a particularly good position to speak to these issues.

    • Alas, I was writing mine while this one was being posted. Alan breaks down here, what I clumsily hinted at when I called for an awareness of different institutional contexts at stacked levels of analysis. Very useful, Alan. Looking forward to reading the sociological tradition you’re pointing to!

      I agree with Alan and Ted, that DH, while probably inordinately burdened with the responsibility for larger forces, might be the perfect tight rope between the scylla of critique and the charybdis of design.

      • Just some quick comments on Ted’s and Alex’s replies in place of what if I had time could really be full posts in themselves:

        * I do think that the kind of mission I describe requires a more broadly distributed set of disciplinary alliances than we usually imagine for DH. We often talk about bridging to engineering and CS, to the arts, etc. But we need social scientists to be part of our orbit as well.

        * The relation of DH to “critique” is a rich, rich topic (one of the most interesting parts of the “theory” issue in DH). I’m influenced at present by Rita Felski’s ongoing work criticizing “critique” (e.g., this piece); a piece I’ve read by James Smithies (a really good essay that I don’t think is published anywhere yet); and Bruno Latour on “compositionism” (PDF). DH’s so-called “epistemology of building” is iterative, ad hoc, and processual in a way that is often post-critically critical–any oxymoron meaning that DH can be structurally critical of absolute, finished, stable grounds (not to mention platforms) of truth without being tonally critical. That makes it uncannily similar (yet, I would say, somehow also different) from postindustrial enterprises whose ideology of innovation implemented through “restructurings” at all levels (processes, organizational units, staffing, etc.) is also post-critical: “disruptive” of established realities while somehow also being buoyantly hyper-enthusiastic (i.e., emphasizing “creative destruction” and not “creative destruction). The puzzle that a comparative institutional framework might help solve is how DH overlaps with, but is different from, other kinds of post-critical, flexible, iterative, and processual knowledge work facilitated by technology. Is an infinitely flexible and fungible set of database relations or other structured relations encoded in a DH curated set of knowledges, for instance, the same as knowledge hoards in private enterprise as they now exit the digital version of what Marx called primitive accumulation to become “aggregators” in highly structured and cross-partnered ways?

  17. Thanks for those David (and the bonus third!).

    With regard to number 1, I would submit it’s too early to judge the lasting reception and influence of a book that was published not six months ago; indeed (and at the risk of contradicting myself). the intensity of the online debate which met it and in which many here participated may well serve to have already defined and delimited its ultimate impact; we shall see. With regard to number 2, I simply can’t comment since (I know you know) I left UVA in 1999 and was not party to any of it. With regard to number 3, I actually remember Jerry McGann talking about bringing in someone from Adobe to do a talk at IATH but being discouraged by being shunted around to the marketing reps as opposed to anyone on the tech team. In any case, as you say, the work has evolved, and indeed much of my own, for better or for worse, has been about applying exactly that sort of “critical pressure” to computers as unstable objects, albeit along primarily materialist and historical lines.

    But the examples David furnished here (at my request, above) can and should also speak for themselves; so do others find that these in particular have been notable in terms of shutting down cultural critique? Or are there others that ought to be considered as well?

  18. In some ways, it seems to me that we ought to have more voices joining this conversation, not least because it now offers several different strands to be followed. But, regarding Matthew Kirschenbaum’s (most recent) question: we might certainly continue by identifying specific publications and projects that some of us may see as having at least actively attempted to “shut down cultural critique” (Kirschenbaum’s phrasing) in various ways (I do not think we can conclude that such efforts have succeeded). I’m sure much dispute might follow from that, and that that, in turn, might produce clarification, and thus be worthwhile.

    But that would also displace the framing of this discussion originally (as I took it, at least) by a question about “refuge” and taking refuge — that is, as a structural question about overlooking or avoiding something, as distinguishable from actively working to suppress it. In her comment above, Cecilia Márquez remarks on the lack of diversity in the ranks of self-identified digital humanities enthusiasts, and wonders (as I read it) if the problem begins there, with consequences for what is noticed, becomes known, and is valued as an object of research. No responsible thinker could discount all the complexities of the mediation that Alan Liu so persuasively identifies as in play, here. But I can’t help sensing that there’s also something somewhat more direct and conclusive to be said about that, responding to the particular (and I think productive) way this discussion was originally framed.

    • Here I will simply remind that my “identification” question was a response to David Golumbia’s contention (above) that there is a “substantial” constituency within DH “resisting the view of the digital as culturally constructed,” a move which “thereby discourages others from engaging with digital tools at a more productive level.” I requested examples of that discourse, preferably at the level of citation, which David provided, and I proceeded to comment on the extent to which I found them compelling.

      David’s language of a “distinct impulse” amongst a “substantial” segment of self-identified DHers speaks to a broad and highly developed phenomenon, surely one that must extend beyond the three examples he has already provided (which in fact are historically localized to a very specific strain of DH). I still think this particular line of discussion must continue its descent from innuendo to specifics if it is to advance productively, though I of course agree that this is not the only productive line the entirety of discussion might take. As for the language of “shutting down cultural critique” I am happy to defer to David’s phrasing of discouragement.

      • I don’t want to turn this into a pissing contest, but I’m not sure the word “innuendo” is especially charitable. You dismissed one of my examples because you weren’t there, but I was pointing to a published book emerging from that experience which I’ve heard widely referred to, as are the other two books, and to start questioning their degree of influence as a kind of “innuendo” seems odd. I mentioned my personal experience only to point out that for being a well-known cultural critic of the digital, I was *erased* from the public history of SpecLab, despite being a major contributor to it for two years–the only evidence you need of that is (a) the published book which does not mention me, and (b) my pledge that I was there for two years and participated heavily. These are prominent books by major DH scholars, and 3 of the most prominent recent DH books. They constitute examples of the turn away from cultural criticism in DH that is not paralleled, to my knowledge, in literary studies of the same period.

        This thread begins with an excerpt from Martha Nell Smith. Alan Liu, Tara McPherson, Rita Raley, Wendy Chun, Richard Grusin, me, Brian Lennon, and quite a few others have said we feel a distinct difference in the way some DH operates as a form of literary criticism. Instead of taking seriously these concerns by a wide range of technically and culturally knowledgeable scholars, they are termed “innuendo.” Even this thread, instead of discussing the issues raised by Smith’s original essay in a productive sense, is turning into a defense vs offense form of combat, in which one notices not many women or people of color contributing. I will ask as was asked on the “Managerial Humanities” thread: do you really want to say that all of us are just making things up, or expressing some kind of buried fear of technology? Would you dismiss all our assembled perspectives on any other topic related to current scholarship as “innuendo”?

        I will also point to the fact that this thread was in part engendered by a review I wrote of the “Dark Side of the Digital” conference, whose proceedings a major voice in DH pronounced as “silliness,” based only on reading the publicity materials for the conference, and whose subject was explicitly cultural criticism of the digital. I have been trying to be charitable about the current mindset in most of DH, but if that remark in and of itself–and its maker’s belief that the readers of Humanist would likely assent to it–is not an indication that there remains to this day a significant bias against cultural critique and particularly cultural critique of the digital in DH, I don’t know what would be.

        • By the way, I am working on a piece about this which will hopefully come out soon, but it is worth reading what the recent D_H book says about cultural studies and the state of literary studies today. It is not something most cultural critics will be happy about.

          • I didn’t dismiss the example, David, I said I couldn’t comment on it. And I really can’t. As for “innuendo” I don’t think it’s especially in appropriate given the construction of your original language, but it really wasn’t meant to be especially uncharitable either. Honest. So please consider it retracted.

            As for the “silliness” remark, it was voiced by one scholar in the context of a listserv discussion, and I note that Ken Wark in another venue has inclined to not overly fixate on it. In any case, myself, Steve Ramsay, and others who would no doubt be pegged as part of the DH establishment have distanced ourselves from it. I was sincere when I said I appreciated your review, I myself do not think #c21dsd was “silly” or otherwise misguided or misaligned, nor would I (personally) shy from terming it “digital humanities,” not least because so many of the papers there clearly emerged from longstanding hands-on engagements with various forms of digital work.

          • For some reason I can’t respond to Matt’s last comments directly. But I did want to ask, re: specifics–I think as you both know it’s a touchy subject to raise, particularly by people who don’t have a lot of standing within the community. As Domenico rightly points out below, with an example: “But is it possible to criticize specific DH totems without risking rapid isolation or being held up to public ridicule?”

          • It *is* a touchy subject and I won’t insist further that it be discussed here; but I do think at some point we have to bring the same level of material/historical scrutiny to bear on DH that we might see in other areas of, for example, science and technology studies, where the work often descends to very specific readings of papers, citation networks, grants, labs, and the like–indeed, David himself has done some of that on his own blog, and effectively. Patrik Svensson has done it. I like to think I’ve done it. So the claim is not that it hasn’t happened, but that the work of a disciplinary archaeology/genealogy remains very incomplete. That is not the only way to accomplish critique, but it is one way, and a way that enjoys significant intellectual precedent.

          • With Keguro Macharia’s remarks below also in mind, I’ll suggest another methodological precedent for historicizing DH, one more directly consonant with the host rubric (“Postcolonial Digital Humanities”) of this open thread. That is the historicizing of modern philology that we find in postcolonial studies, beginning (if that’s even the right word — quite debatable) with Said’s Orientalism and moving in many different directions. I’d say that the intellectual history and legacy of that effort has somewhat more geohistorical, intellectual-historical, and literally agonistic breadth than the debates within STS, whose domain, as Amit Prasad and others have observed, is quite narrower (The Postcolonial Science and Technology Studies Reader, which I mentioned in an earlier comment, is a bit of a novelty in that respect, though of course the precedent established by Harding’s own work goes back to the 1990s).

      • I applaud your repeated calls for specific examples. As someone new to DH, I’ve had an especially difficult time sorting out blanket criticism. I’ve had some exchanges with people where we try to sort this out–“Is it this project? This initiative? Who?” I also appreciate your response concerning the book “Digital_Humanities.” I actually like that book quite a bit, maybe because I’m in many ways the intended audience for such an introductory text. I didn’t find the book at all dogmatic or unaware of the field’s protean, contested terrain–I learned quite a bit from it and was surprised to see some condemn it so quickly.

  19. At the edge of dawn, I encourage all of us to continue the practice of building and transforming the systems, platforms, standards (as Sanford Berman above), communities, digital archives, classrooms, and yes, tools that will help us move forward.

    At the edge of dawn, we must remain alert to the different realms in which we fight, academy, nation or the rhyzomatic world. While the largest digital corpus available for experimentation might very well still be the pre-1923 English corpus, while the institutional history of humanities computing in the North might as well point to a retrenchment of canonical work parallel to the rise of historically excluded groups in departments and academic presses (n.b. that institutional history of DH still needs to be teased out collectively and rigorously), while Wikipedia recaps a truly provincial world history, while English does bring to code several unspoken cultural assumptions as Domenico Fiormonte and others have pointed out, and while participation in the professional structures where our DH cultural capital is being doled out in the North seems still to be mostly a white-anglo affair, the center cannot and does not want hold. The world continues to be mostly someone other writ-large, and we’re on it. Most folks I know who self-identify with our para-discipline would welcome such a development.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Ian that we should not refuse to look at hardware and software engineering. At the same time, I don’t share his deterministic conclusion that “a blind focus on identity politics” prevents us from achieving a working knowledge of the former. For that statement to be true, the systems themselves would have to operate on a realm where issues of identity cannot reach, which contradicts the very point he’s trying to make. We can and are doing both. Yup.

    Martha, the builders I know within the academy “act as if” very little because for the most part they shun the limelight. In my experience that does not mean that they are unaware that in principle bias is built into systems. At the same time, I agree with you that we must do the work to recover the places where they “don’t know what they know.” Let’s do it as we transform the systems themselves. All to github now!

    At the edge of dawn, remember the work of Aimé Césaire. He has been often critiqued for his exclusive use of the French language in his poems and plays. Even LePen admires him for it (ugh!). Imperial machines (ex. English and English-based code) are double edged swords. While we must constantly don G.K. Chesterton’s fedoras on the chase for fake transparencies and universalisms, we cannot deny the usefulness of these machines for South-South alliances, nor the ways in which these machines are vulnerable to cannibalization into Armes miraculeuses (miraculous weapons) as Césaire would have it. And we need those if we are going to resist the pressures of assimilation and make our gambit for true transparency and the universalisms to come. Accommodez-vous de moi. Je ne m’accommode pas de vous!

    Here’s a sensitive one: That same tradition where David had a less than ideal experience is also a branch of the DH family that continues to inspire me. While I wasn’t part of the Speclab, I was there for the beautiful aftermath where playfulness and deformations of all sorts flourished, both real and virtual, both tacitly and loudly. How can we not see the connection here between Césaire’s miraculous weapons and the impish generosity of the C’ville crew? David, I’m not lancing you, just acknowledging benevolence where I see it. Surely, a parallax of sorts is tricking us.

    And to those of you just joining us, if you feel unwelcome, find us. We are here. If you give us some time, we’ll find you. This world is not as coherent nor white as it may seem.

    • I think my blog comment shorthand may have confused my message. Because I think you’re agreeing with me, yet you seem to think you are not? I’m not sure. I am likewise confused about what is “deterministic” here. If it means what I think it does, then you may illustrate my clarification:

      My point is that doing hardware and software studies sometimes requires one to bracket identity—even if just for a moment, in order to learn something in the latter’s service. But those of us who do that work are frequently chides for failing to focus all energy and all attention at all times on the accuser’s notion of what comprises the entire discourse on social justice. It’s the blindness that’s the problem, not the focus.

      • Yeah, I wasn’t sure what you meant. That’s why I thought it was a bit contradictory. Then yes, we see eye to eye. There is non-critical work to be done for the learning process to go apace. I can vouch for that. The one does not prevent the other, nor does it make one subservient to the other. I would go even farther and claim that we are not even compromised by this oscillation. I think we all get that. I hope so anyway.

        • After reading Cecilia’s comment below, it strikes me that I might have been too hasty to generalize based solely on my experience. I think for very real pedagogical reasons we should be able to have recourse to both an oscillatory model and one in which identity takes center stage in the learning process. What that would entail in and outside of the classroom remains to be seen. I know that the Scholars’ Lab’s Praxis Program has been learning how to improve their pedagogical model to address identity at different stacks of the instructional package.

      • I didn’t know where to insert this comment, it isn’t a critique of Ian’s or anyone’s notes in this discussion, but: queer, feminism, post-colonial thinking, race….aren’t really about identities…but rather about technologies of thinking, of processing, and of making distinctions such that the plentitude of what reality is gets “processed” to “be” one thing and NOT another.

        I elaborate this approach in my chapter, “Gendering the Technological Imagination,” that draws deeply from feminist physicist Karen Barad (who herself was revisiting foundational insights of Nils Bohr).

        For some of us, identity politics (and approaches) were abandoned many moons ago because of exactly the problems raised in these disucssions.

        I would argue that doing hardare or software studies is about close reading the logics enacted/spoken/written/express…where one reads for what is there as much for what is unexpressed. Identity based criticism, IMHO, leads only to a retrograde biological essentialism that is philosophically untenable.

        • Thank you for adding this post to the discussion, Anne. It is often easier to categorize the critical inquires that queer, feminist, post colonial and decolonial thinking as simply “identity” issues and not fundamental questions of epistemology.

        • Thank you for saying this! There’s a reason I do ‘critical’ race, rather than simply ethnic studies…I’m trying to figure out the rhetorics of technoculture, rather than simply the empirics of representation.

          • Andre — I find your contrast between “rhetorics of technoculture” and “empirics of representation” really productive and clarifying. And also the implication (is this fair to say?) that the two are not forever opposed, but rather related in important ways that need illumination…as are the linkages (and differences) between critical race studies and ethnic studies more broadly. In dialogue even when rhetorically and empirically in tension? Thanks! — Michael

    • Actually there’s more to say about this, but I’m tapping responses on my phone today. It’s not just the lowest level where social construction becomes material, but at other levels too. Nick and I tried to make an argument for the layers of software and hardware abstraction in Racing the Beam, all of which are surrounded and influenced by cultural and social concerns (it’s the last chapter of our book).

  20. I agree with Ian – I mean I agree with what I think Ian is saying – that learning to engineer hardware of software is itself seen as some kind of betrayal of La Résistance. One thing I believe very strongly is that radical theorists, humanists and social justice activists have to become as good at “the digital”, however defined, as the very white-male-military-industrial-complex which originated “the computer” and “the internet” is. It’s a daunting task because that complex has almost unlimited resources and attracts clever people who almost without exception do not ever question their own cultural construction (I know because full disclosure: I worked in the military-industrial-complex and largely kept my radicalism secret until I wrote a book, that’s not why I left, blah blah etc anyway).

    I wouldn’t go so far as for example Douglas Rouskoff goes in “Program or Be Programmed” because becoming a really good programmer and a really good humanist scholar might not be possible in a single person’s lifetime (hence maybe the sentiment that all one’s energy must be devoted to the cause). But that is exactly why the cliche of interdisciplinary research is actually crucial. Every discipline does this: physicists are usually not software experts, so they have to hire them, neuroscientists too etc. Many scientists (like me) can code just well enough to make some pretty graphs out of some data, but generally write terrible code that has to be fixed by someone who is an expert.

    I also think there is a limit to the social construction of the digital by virtue of the fact that digital technology, at its lowest level, relies on the physical laws of how information is represented in voltage. The way computers and networks work is determined (or maybe very constrained) by the laws of physics. Obviously what you use these tools for is more open – but still limited or constrained. We can’t yet use computers to travel back or forward in time.

    But DH people can (and should I think!) use computers to empirically study social theory.

  21. Pingback: @JessieNYC

  22. Thanks to Alex for his post, and thanks to everyone for this wonderful
    conversation! I would like to add one item to the “race, class,
    gender, sexuality and disability” list: language. Actually, I think
    that’s the first “disability” of colonized subjects.

    In fact, I confess I am not sure I understood everything correctly:
    the prose of this thread in some cases is too sophisticated (I wonder
    how this undermined the basis of their own post-colonial argument –
    which is typical of any competitive intellectual discussion, I guess).
    It would be difficult for me to “compete” with such well-known and
    highly rhetorically skilled scholars, so I will limit myself to two
    observations taken from my own (and by all means marginal) experience.

    1) In responding to one comment, I’d like to stress that in academia the
    worse fate is to be ignored than to be suppressed. I was stimulated to
    speak (or to be listened to?) about the Anglo-American dominance of DH
    when I was invited by Manfred Thaller to the Cologne Dialogue on
    Controversies in the Digital Humanities. But that was not the first
    time I spoke about these issues. My first article on cultural
    colonialism in Humanities Computing (some may remember DH is a recent
    label) was published in Italy in 2001, and I translated, circulated
    and finally put it online (after even publicizing it on Humanist: in 2004 (see
    However, I repeat what I already said in my old Humanist post: we
    (colonized, de-colonized, and post-colonized) people do not need to
    seek legitimation from the “center” of the world. To be at the margins
    today in theory means to have fewer economical resources (but where?
    And for how long?), but in practice more freedom to create alternative
    solutions, and less dependence on the so-called “standard” tools and
    “models” (I was pleased to see Bowker et al. cited by Martha).
    Innovation has little to do with legitimation. So, maybe after The Day
    of DH, we’ll have the Occupy DH day :-)!

    2) The lack of a critical reflection on its own tools and methodologies
    is recognized as one of the main problems in DH today. But is it
    possible to criticize specific DH totems without risking rapid
    isolation or being held up to public ridicule? This month I spent
    hours with my Masters students trying to make sense of the TEI P5
    Guidelines. We’re working on an encoding of the manuscripts of
    Federico De Roberto’s novel “I Viceré”, one of the masterpieces of
    Italian XIX century literature. The first thing to say is that the
    students complained a lot because the information on the TEI website
    is confusing and it’s hard to find what they need. The Italian
    translation is partial and clumsy, so the students are always forced
    to translate from English. And you know TEI is one of the most
    “international” DH projects we have in the West. But the most striking
    problem is that 99% of the online examples are taken from
    Anglo-American sources (we are using chapter 10, Representation of
    primary sources), something that – for obvious reasons – drives my
    students crazy. They ask very simple questions, like: “why should we
    encode our cultural heritage with tools designed by and for an
    English-speaking audience?” As always, we are having trouble
    representing many of the writing phenomena — something the experts
    call “overlapping hierarchies” and which, after years and years of
    struggle, I have begun to see as the favorite regime’s metaphor for a
    long-lasting guerrilla resistance. They told you everything’s going to
    be all right, and then suddenly these little textual Tupamaros come
    out from the jungle to spoil your immaculate digital representations.
    All these problems – I’ve been told for ages by my TEI friends – can
    be solved by looking at similar TEI projects (in my case, genetic
    texts), good practice from around the world, customization, RTFM, etc.
    It might be true. But even so you’ll need to invest a lot of time and
    money, and when you have money and resources you’ll look for
    mainstream solutions, following people and institutions that have
    invested all their credibility in those solutions. So, day after day,
    the vicious circle is completed and alternative ideas become useless
    or dangerous, because no one has any interest in throwing away a
    project that cost millions of dollars. The real “imperial machine”,
    however, is XML in itself. XML is an historical (thanks Brahma!)
    application born out of SGML which was NOT (believe it or not)
    invented for representing cultural objects. So the most serious
    weakness of its son XML is its most powerful strength: its
    universality. While this can be true for any computer
    languages/algorithms/etc., in this case the consequences seem
    particularly serious, because markup languages impose an
    epistemological bias on a hermeneutical activity (i.e. transcribing
    texts). DH projects, like many other things in our life, are like
    onions, made up of different layers of theoretical, cultural, social,
    linguistic, technical, sexual, etc. prejudices – or choices, if you
    prefer. TEI-XML represents the institutional layer of a universally
    (?) accepted distortion of how a document (i.e. cultural object)
    should be represented digitally. But to express these opinions in a
    public DH gathering is blasphemy, because 95% of the most influential
    DH people, institutions and associations are somehow involved in
    TEI-XML or related digital infrastructures. But I dare to insist:
    TEI-XML, like any other successful computing application or language,
    is not the manifest destiny of humankind.

    • I like what you have to say Damienco: I just want to point out that people with very different motivations with TONS of resources are working on exactly these problems within the defense industry.

      Using these tools they will be able manipulate and own history to a far greater degree than before; which is why as I wrote in my last post I think these techniques should not be the sole provenance of Lockheed-Martin, NSA etc. I would liken it to being able to mass produce books half a millennium ago. But today anyone has access to XML and related technologies.

      I too think the issues you raise about XML are being worked on with web ontologies: no?

      But – there are likely inherent limitations to what kinds of concepts can be represented (from any natural language or record of that language), which I think is an interesting topic for research.

    • The TEI welcomes volunteers to help translate the Guidelines — and the examples within the Guidelines! — into other languages, giving examples that are more relevant to other linguistic cultures. I have tried posting the URL in this comment twice before, but it always gets caught in the spam filter. But if you search the TEI website for “internationalization”, you will find a page describing what has been done so far and giving an email address to volunteer to contribute.

  23. Thanks everyone so much for their thoughtful contributions to the thread so far. I am sympathetic to much of the concerns raised about the ways in which these are important, but complicated questions that require true interdisciplinarity that require “assistance overcoming specific obstacles”.

    I wonder, though, whether it is really possible to “bracket” out race/class/gender/disability/postcolonialism–or, as Domenico rightly points out, the role of language in structuring a global DH community. It seems to me that that some can afford to “bracket” out considerations of marginalization is due to what whiteness studies scholars have termed privilege.

    Peggy McIntosh has written about this clearly in her landmark essay on the “Invisible Knapsack” of white privilege: “I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to se white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless backpack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks. […] My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will. My schooling followed the pattern my colleague Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as a morally neutral, normative, and average, also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work which will allow “them” to be more like “us.”

    I wonder if readers so far find any resonance in McIntosh’s characterization of privilege with regard to DH projects and issues of marginalization. No one has claimed that tools are “neutral.” But doesn’t bracketing these considerations in building and using these tools indicate a type of privilege? Why, for example, is there little metadata on gender in DH projects available, as Ted suggests? What does this say about what information has been deemed important and identifiable, and how this feeds into invisible forms of privilege?

    • I completely agree with this and I’m so happy you brought up McIntosh’s work. I can’t think of a moment when identity disappeared or dissipated even for a moment. Especially because as I am coding or doing anything I have the acute awareness that I am not supposed to be able to do this for historical and contemporary reasons. I also know for me, as a DH newbie, the process of learning to ask questions was incredibly difficult and entirely inflected through my identities as a queer woman of color. It took a while for me to feel comfortable asking questions–I often felt that it revealed that I had been put in this world by mistake, or just my general ignorance. While I think I have gotten much better about asking questions and not feeling an associated shame, I still am hard pressed to think of a moment when my identities are not interacting with the work that I am doing.

    • I noted above that we don’t have much metadata on gender or nationality, and that at Illinois, Mike Black and I had to create it manually. Similarly, I think people at Stanford had to create metadata on gender and nationality for their corpus.

      But I have to say: it’s not like we started with great metadata on anything else, either! When I wanted information about genre, for instance — I had to to create that myself, partly manually and partly algorithmically.

      I don’t mean to deny that all kinds of privilege have shaped library collections. They absolutely have. White privilege, colonialism — it’s a familiar story.

      But the collections that resulted are not sufficient for digital research. A whole lot of work has to be done on them before they can be used for anything. So if you look at what researchers are doing now, I don’t see a lot of “bracketing” going on. On the contrary, I see researchers desperately trying to create organized information about a whole range of issues, prominently including issues of identity and difference. We’re working as hard as we can to address those issues — not, frankly, because we’re altruistic, but because issues of identity and power pose huge, obvious research opportunities. No sane person would want to bracket them.

      If certain kinds of identity that you care about haven’t received enough attention in this process yet, my candid response would be, “Roll up your sleeves.” You can view things that haven’t been done yet as objects of critique — which is fine. I have no objection at all to critique. But it’s also possible to view things that haven’t been done yet as research opportunities. Get a couple people together and figure out how to create a list of HathiTrust volumes that were published in India, or in the Caribbean. It’s worth doing, and it will produce a resource you can use for further research.

      • A careful read of this comment stream itself, Ted, will reveal that there have been calls for this “bracketing.” No one is denying that these issues are important. But even in this thread we have seen suggestions that occasionally doing hardware and software analysis requires occasional bracketing.

        Projects like DHPoco are a form of sleeve-rolling. Many DH projects with this focus on marginalization exist (See the TransformDH Google Document here: )

        Whether these projects receive the substantial funding and administrative support that others have is another question, and this, I believe, is what Martha’s, David’s Alex’s, Domenico’s comments and remarks have made clear.

        For that matter I don’t think the people with our concerns have ever stopped rolling up their sleeves *building* more traditional DH projects. Amy Earhart’s essay in Debates in DH regarding the disappearance of DIY recovery projects by people of color is an excellent example. But did this recovery work receive substantial institutional and federal support? Well, how many of these projects are online today? And given that most of them are *not*, what does this say about the line of argument that DH has always been open to race/class/gender/sexuality etc.?

        • While there is no doubt that lots of collections aren’t ready for much, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t directly address complicated issues of race/gender/nationality etc. It makes more sense to think about how to form metadata at the start of the project that considers this rather than trying to tack it on at the end. I’ve been in a couple of project discussions recently that are thinking through what metadata can do for the nuances of race. How does on “tag” a person for multiple forms of race? For example, Jean Toomer resisted defining himself as African-American, but many anthologies add him to the black tradition as a black author. He’s also, at times, passed for Italian. Does passing itself indicate a cultural form that has been applied that we need to nuance? I actually think these sorts of ontological questions in relationship to technology are fascinating and truly help to address some of the concerns of Martha.

          Here is a perfect example of some of the most “traditional” DH folks having important conversations about technology that has cultural implications:
          I really like the links that focus on trans identity and metadata and think we should focus on these conversations as potential examples of how we might proceed in DH. I’d also like to point out that if the TEI folks are focusing on issues of gender that speaks well for all of us. Even though some of the comments clearly resist consideration of cultural studies concerns, the change to TEI means that we are seeing shifts in practice.

          There have been ample projects underway, they just don’t necessarily interact with what often is called DH. I”m not interested in thinking through the in/out dh debate, as that isn’t productive. I am interested in thinking through issues of why scholars of color or scholars that come out of certain cultural studies traditions feel underrepresented by DH. What might we do to increase participation? Even better, what should we learn from those traditions? I think an easy overlap is the activist traditions found in both DH and cultural studies fields.

          Thanks Adeline for this thread!

        • I agree that DHPoco is a form of sleeve-rolling, and that’s an impressive list of projects. I’m familiar with many of them.

          Re: the fate of previous recovery projects: I think we’re sort of comparing apples and oranges here.

          Building new collections from the ground up seems to me a very difficult task. I haven’t attempted it, because it would require a more durable sort of institutional commitment than I’m likely to get from my own university. I can only think of a few places that have sustained that sort of commitment over time — Brown Women Writers might be the most prominent example.

          For the most part, the work I’ve attempted is much less ambitious — I’ve started with existing digital collections and corrected them or enriched their metadata in order to pose particular research questions. Of course, existing collections have limits, and I understand why they won’t work as a resource for certain projects. But they’re also not chopped liver! I suspect there are resources that could support research on gender, and class, and race, and sexuality, and disability, somewhere in the 10 million volumes already stored in HathiTrust.

          I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying we *shouldn’t* attempt to build new collections. The Brown Women Writers Project seems to me a central DH success story, and I’ve used their archive in my own research. I’m just saying — that kind of thing is hard.

    • Thanks for starting this thread. I think it’s really important that there is a space like this to have these very necessary, if difficult, conversations. As many here have highlighted in different ways, feeling comfortable enough to even enter such a conversation is not a luxury we all have–participation can produce extreme anxiety not only when your identity feels at once invisible and glaringly obvious, but also when you inhabit a space of institutional precariousness such that your very presence in a conversation like this could count against you personally and professionally. As a graduate student who has not yet earned her PhD, as a queer white woman in her mid-twenties who fully benefits from the privileges and status conferred by a major research university, I still do not always have the power to make the critiques I want to make in the way I want to make them–all this to say that I appreciate the courage exhibited here.

      I’m particularly interested in approaching these questions from the angle of a genealogy of the field (or fields) of DH, and that’s why I’m particularly grateful to Adeline for drawing attention to McIntosh’s essay. I also link to McIntosh’s essay in my recent post for Matt Kirschenbaum’s graduate seminar in the digital humanities, here: I was presenting on #transformDH, which I’m sure many here are familiar with (and which is not, as was importantly pointed out on twitter, the same project as #dhpoco). Here’s a long excerpt from my post:

      “when Tara McPherson reports being asked “Why are the digital humanities so white?”, as her essay in Debates in the Digital Humanities is so provocatively titled, we need to ask ourselves what we are doing when we observe whiteness in one space or another. How does whiteness, and the power and privileges it accrues, organize and shape disciplinary spaces and imaginaries in ways that may be invisible to some but glaringly obvious to others? How is whiteness represented (or not), and how does it come to dominate our fields of vision without naming itself? What work does whiteness do, as a racial logic or a racial formation that critical whiteness studies understands to operate without or even beyond the actions of individual “white people”?

      There is definitely “more than meets the eye” here, especially when whiteness goes unmarked. Thus we might putatively say “the digital humanities are so white” and in doing so mark and name whiteness, yet we would also be constructing a narrative that actively erases or ignores the vital presence, contributions, and ongoing interventions of scholars and thinkers of color, individuals who might also be queer, might also be women, might also be trans, might also be poor and working class, might also be alter- and disabled, might also be working in contexts that do not center the United States, might also not be doing their primary work within the multiply privileged site of the academy, might also…. In our discussion today, therefore, I want us to strategically and temporarily (re)center whiteness in order to be able to track where it goes and how it moves, yet I also want us to recognize and remember that the margins are very real, that they do not cease to exist because “we” [who is that, anyway?] cease to think about them, and that they are a precarious space where conversations are happening, work is being done, and lives are being lived. What do we want to do when we move what has and continues to be marginalized to the center? What is tactical about the space of the margin?”

      I think it is essential that digital humanities accounts for its whiteness, as McPherson’s essay brilliantly begins to do, and that it explicitly theorizes it as part of its critical genealogy. In women’s studies and in queer studies, we know (or at least, we should! See Keguro Macharia’s most recent Bullybloggers post: that the specifics of the genealogy we tell about the field are fundamental in shaping our field’s imaginary–what is capable of being thought in a discipline, what projects we are allowed to undertake or imagine–right down to watch catches our critical interest as an object of study in the first place.

      What could we make newly visible if we told a genealogy of DH as a genealogy of whiteness? In doing so, what would we risk, and how would that be a different set of risks than those at stake in current narratives of the field’s formation and consolidation? What hopes are we pinning DH? For whose benefit do we do this work?

      One brief example: In a recent HASTAC forum, “Alan Turing: The First Digital Humanist?” (here: a number of participants draw attention to Judith Jack Halberstam’s generative 1991 essay, “Automating Gender: Postmodern Feminism in the Age of the Intelligent Machine.” What if we read and taught this essay, or the forum, as a fundamental digital humanities text? If that were the case, could we really argue that digital humanists “don’t do” race, class, gender, and sexuality? Could anyone really claim, going forward, that digital humanities is not a space for cultural critique or for examination of “identity politics” (massive scare quotes here because I’m not sure any of us could really say definitively what that phrase means)? It’s worth reconsidering what our founding texts are, who we call our “first” digital humanist, and in which direction our origin stories take us.

      Preliminary thoughts from a non-PhD, non-tenured white girl who is by no means an expert on postcolonialism, critical race theory, feminism, queer theory, or digital humanities.

      • I really appreciate your comments here, Melissa, and with the caveat that I worry about how whiteness studies recenters whiteness in a way that runs counter to the progressive work that many of its scholars want it to do, I think taking a look at DH (and other computing fields) as a genealogy of whiteness that makes strategic exclusions of women, people of color, and Third World workers to tell a particular story about itself would be incredibly revealing.

        I’m surprised that the rich body of work on colorblindness ideology has not made its way into this conversation. Scholars have been looking at problems like this in other disciplines, rooting out where cultural power structures “even” the disciplines like math and science where many least expect it. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Tukufu Zuberi’s collection _White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Methodology_ is a great look at how racial power operates in the statistical methods of the social sciences.

        While it has been the work of feminist, critical race, postcolonial, disability, and other theorists to uncover these structures all over the place, and I don’t want to gloss over that work, there are some folks who are working specifically on the invisible nature of racial power. In the humanities, we can look to scholars like Carl Gutierrez-Jones, Charles Mills, Toni Morrison, Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, Robyn Wiegman, and others. The very fact that these meta-DH conversations keep circling around the question of whether or not identity “matters” to these methods seems to me to indicate that it is of utmost importance to the history, present, and future of the field.

        I will echo the sentiment that has been going around in my feminist tech circles recently: if you are not doing the extra labor to ensure that your tool/theory/conference/whatever is specifically inclusive of the groups it has historically left out, then your work is exclusionary. Full stop. The body of work on the operations of colorblindness ideology makes a convincing case that even (and especially) when you don’t see power operating, it is there. This is a frustrating hard-line approach to take for some, but it is in the spirit of non-tokenistic affirmative action practices. And just like affirmative action practices, if the digital humanities weren’t so white, the hard line wouldn’t be as necessary.

        • Thanks for pointing out these great resources! I’ll be sure to check them out. Yes, I feel a similar ambivalence about the practice of whiteness studies–Wiegman’s work has really helped my thinking here.

          I also like your attention to the extra and quite intentional labor of widening the circle of conversation. I have met so many scholars, especially women of color and queers of color, who feel that they just cannot take the valuable time and energy from their own work to put toward repeatedly explaining their existence and their interest in the digital to the communities that primarily do work on tech–it is stressful and it is draining. I think we would be remiss to overlook the affective and other kinds of labor that we would need to practice to create more inclusive and welcoming spaces that actively combat oppressive structures. I am glad that twitter conversations and the space offered by threads like this one can become places where we practice public displays of affection and solidarity for one another.

  24. Does This Post Make Me a Tool?

    This is a rich and multifaceted discussion. I just want to add one observations that it has made me ponder.

    The discussion has made me think about the metaphor of “tools” in digital humanities work. This makes sense, because the word “tools” is full of all kinds of associations. It is most of all a way to imaginatively bridge the troubling gap between the individual and the machine, between older modes of production and autonomy and newer ones. It alludes to the romantic vision of handicraft labor; it hints at masculinized visions of work (in ways that Natalia Cecire convincingly proposes are profoundly gendered); it offers a way to overcome questions of scale between the individual and larger, overwhelming, and dehumanizing structural forces (tools are held in the hand, safe and under control, mastered; machines are scary, semi-autonomous, out of control things, watch out, it’s Frankenstein!!); tools are at once something from the deep past, often conceptualized as what makes us human–as in it is our species nature to create and use them–and they are also somehow futuristic, key to a cyborgian vision of humans fusing with machines; tools are a way of mediating between, navigating between, compromising between culture and counterculture (I’m thinking of Fred Turner’s great work here on Stewart Brand in From Counterculture to Cyberculture), as in tools sound are ostensibly small and mobile enough that they can be wielded in an oppositional way by the marginalized, oppressed, impoverished even though it takes the massive infrastructure of modernity, military-industrial style, to create them; and while we’re at it, let’s make a bad joke about tools and all the sexual innuendo therein.

    Tools are doing a lot of work for us, not only in building things digitally, but in building the theoretical apparatus for this construction zone. Men at work? Is this union restrictive in its membership? Who’s working for whom, anyway? What kind of shop is this? Won’t get tooled again?

    OK, I’ll stop. I could go on, but the main point is this: I wonder if part of developing a better critique of digital humanities as “refuge” from questions of identity, structure, and power might focus a bit more on this concept of “tools” and the work that this term is doing conceptually, politically, institutionally in DH.

    Do we want to imagine platforms, software, hardware, code, institutions, universities, funding agencies, bodies, identities, language, discourse, networks, the digital itself all as “tools”? Or are tools some subset of one of those other categories? If everything is a tool, what does that framework get us? What does it obfuscate?

    What I’m proposing is not that tools are part of the problem, but rather that the use of that word offers a way into better theorizing and critiquing of what is at stake in digital humanities work (Type 1, 1.5, 2, etc. see Ramsey post and all the responses) in relation to questions of identity, structure, and power, into concepts of building and critical analysis of that building, into issues of individual agency, collective negotiation, and institutional organization, into the nature of things and people and all that gets constructed between and among them.


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  26. Notes from a Faux-Poco: Faux-Africanist

    Most of the people I know with advanced degrees in Africa do not work in universities. Simultaneously, most of the people I know developing technology for broadly humanist purposes (which, surely, cannot be restricted to “the academy”) do not work for academic institutions. And so I find myself wondering what poco DH means for and from non-U.S. and predominantly African spaces. Are there ways that the labor being undertaken in other spaces, within other -geo-histories, should inflect what is meant by DH? By the uses to which it can be put? By the range of “tools” that it can include?

    What happens if, for instance, we consider oral histories from Africa as part of DH archives? How might we talk about preservation, loss, ephemerality, tools, failure, success?

    I have wondered–very speculatively, and this following from one of Ted Underwood’s claims that we don’t know very much about literary history–about the kind of empirical and broadly ethnographic work involved in doing Poco DH: what is being built in non-U.S. spaces? What is being used? By whom? For what purposes? What kinds of experiments are happening in other geo-histories?

  27. Pingback: @MelissaRogers17

  28. I have just read all this discussion at one sitting, and I find myself at a loss to choose any single thread to engage. Instead, I’ll describe a concern that arises from my experience around these topics.

    I’m an “island” Puerto Rican who has studied literature in English departments for my whole post-secondary education. I specialize in electronic literature and blog extensively about it bringing to bear my expertise in poetry in English, new media studies, code studies, and other aspects of what I understand to be the Digital Humanities. As a result of my interests and training, my I ♥ E-Poetry blog is in English, for a primarily English-speaking audience, and analyzes works from the contexts of so-called American literature and technologies. And while many of the poetic traditions I bring to bear are international in scope, and I certainly use my knowledge of Spanish (and French) literature and culture, that is not my primary focus.

    I don’t foreground my Puerto Rican-ness in my research or writing and it doesn’t come across as being a big part of my academic identity, to the extent that people have commented that I “don’t count” as Hispanic or Puerto Rican. This has happened more than once and sometimes off-handedly, as if it wasn’t even an issue. Sometimes passing feels like failing. 🙁

    And yet, I don’t feel compelled to hit the books (so to speak) and study Latin American and Spanish literature, poetry, and poetics to foreground my heritage on my research. There are several great e-lit projects in Spain, Argentina, and other countries that are already doing the same kind of research, but in Spanish and for Spanish-speaking audiences. I read some of them and reference them when possible. And that needs to be enough, because if I want to be effective as a scholar, I need to focus on the research I’m passionate about, which is not necessarily on my ethnic, cultural, or national heritage.

    I’m Puerto Rican on my own time, and because I live in Puerto Rico (present year excepted) it is effortless. That is a different context from a Puerto Rican in the U.S.

    Another context: as my year as a Fulbright scholar in Digital Culture in Norway draws to an end, I read this comment thread and see absolutely legitimate concerns voiced by scholars of an extraordinarily diverse United States. But with distance comes the sense that this conversation is occuring within the context as a very “American” discourse (bracketed because America is a very large continent and even “North American” tends to subsume Canada’s own identity under the discourse of the United States, and excludes its territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific), and the world is a very large place. During this year I have had conversations with scholars who have expressed that they and their institutions prefer not to use American software because it is too culturally specific. Yet is it unproblematic for me to go about waxing eloquent about the latest DH product to emerge from a US institution? I, along with Alex Gil and others, brought a THATCamp Caribe to my home institution (UPR: Mayagüez), yet I didn’t see a single colleague from the Estudios Hispánicos department. Were they resisting digitality or colonization?

    We should recognize the diversity, ideologies, and social concerns expressed (or not) in digital technologies– and who better than humanists to attune others to these concerns? And we need to be attuned to scholars who are researching these issues in order to recognize and address these issues in our work. But we also should recognize that other scholars may not be interested in engaging in cultural critique in their own research, which doesn’t make them any less (fill in the blank). And we shouldn’t forget the cultural contexts from which our conversation arises.

    • Thank you, Leonardo, for pointing out the overwhelmingly “(North) American” discourse here- this has been a recurring concern of mine as I read through this thread. I also note that many of the active members of this discussion are American-based men, which also raises some flags for me, and hopefully have for others. This is not to point fingers but rather to suggest that perhaps the people we should be actively seeking out for opinions are not yet here.

      Much earlier someone suggested that English as a dominant mode of discourse might be exclusionary – which I completely agree with – but I also want to point out that perhaps the “digital humanities” (whatever that is, and I make no claims of defining that here) is merely following the predominant lingua franca of the academy.

      This, in some ways, is severely limiting the output we could be doing as digital scholars: there already are very effective annotation schemes for English, it would be a far more worthwhile endeavor to put energy towards the creation & implementation of a similar annotation schemes for non-English languages. Wonderful as it is to have these sorts of resources available for English-speaking cultures, imagine what we could do with resources for other languages – though this will require some very careful handling to ensure that we are not imperalizing our own perspectives on someone else’s cultural artifacts. We don’t need another digital Shakespeare, but we could use a digital Les Miserables, for example.

      I’ve found in doing my personal flavor of digital humanities work (large-scale text analysis) is that the ability to uncover some lesser known authors who may have been excluded from the canon because of race, gender, class, or one of any other intersecting identities is one of the most exciting things about this kind of work. Digital work is most successful when returning to close reading, and placing these lesser-known contributors to the forefront of our findings gives them a voice and a context they have previously been lacking. I can only hope that as we continue to strive for a digital version of the humanities we strive equally to avoid whitewashing for convenience’s sake (we don’t know who this person is, so we’ll ignore them).

      • This is a great comment, and at the risk of continuing to talk too much on this board, I think it important to expand a bit on a point I hope to write up more thoroughly, which is that when we expand not just to multilingualism among imperial/majority languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, Japanese, Russian, Hindi, Tamil, Arabic, Swahili, even Quechua) but to minority, indigenous and endangered languages, the question of what counts as DH and why something should be labeled as DH becomes extremely vexed. To keep to North America but turn to the indigenous (aka First Nations) people of Canada, most of the major First Nations groups now maintain rich community/governmental websites with a great deal of information on history, geography, culture, and language–a lot of what might go into at least the “archive” if not the “tool” version of DH type 1. But none of this work, or little of it, is perceived or labeled as DH, particularly as Type 1 (one of the earliest DH projects I worked on was the Cree language site, and I have had trouble getting this recognized “as” DH, and for a lot of reasons have stopped trying). To my mind, in many ways, these are better than “archives,” because they are the marks of living communities using any form of communications to keep themselves active and alive. It would make DH look a lot less parochial and majority-culture oriented if this stuff “counted” as DH, but it’s hard to see how it would benefit the communities themselves. This is one of the deep cruxes that DH as a label has created for itself–it needs this material in order to de-colonize itself, but taking that material in looks like a colonizing gesture, one that is meant to benefit “us” much more than “them.”

        Some links to indexes of North American (especially Canadian) indigenous sites:

  29. Pingback: Alex Gil (@elotroalex)

  30. I think Keguro and Leonardo bring another point I wanted to hint at above, and which Alan Liu broke down much better. We are at a threshold point, I think, where we can start building a comparative institutional and extra-institutional analysis that spans the globe.

    In the Caribbean, we share Keguro’s broad view of the production of knowledge in Africa. Most of the researchers and artists I know and break bread with in Dominican Republic have day jobs. Banking and industry are prominent ones for some reason. This should put in perspective the anxieties about the crisis of the humanities in the North/West. Mostly because I see the humanities survive everyday in less than ideal conditions, carried on by displaced professionals and non-professionals alike. That said, survival and full-steam-ahead are two very different affairs. The goal–my dream at least–is to see the work of the humanities well remunerated in sustainable and equitable ways everywhere.

    In that world where I grew up, the brutal industrial-complex rhetoric of Andrew (and Ian to some extent) resonates more than our concerns about race, gender, disability and sexuality among those who are exploring technology for the humanities. “I will use that open source technology” does not necessarily come accompanied by “I’m not sure about the assumptions of this technology.” But I DO want to encourage the work of those anywhere who go after the poetics of everyday and rarified systems. With that goal in mind, I think we should not confuse the rhetoric of realism with the real power of poetics to inform our praxis.

    Many of the concerns here are internal to US politics of diversity and fail to universalize. The word ‘marginal’ as it has been used here, for example, gravitates towards that context. That’s ok, but bears reminding. In the Caribbean, the US lies on the margins, pesky or useful depending on the occasion. Even in that Caribbean right next door, Washington Heights, the center seems to be elsewhere. DH seems to have a center inasmuch as we refer to the band of cousins who memed the hell out of the words. The development of “technology for broadly humanist purposes” is the global affair of tinkerers and pirates that the meme will have to adapt to. Be under no illusions that the babel of tenure structures, institutional support and the more common extra-institutional activity will leave the Digital Humanities intact. Accommodez-vous de moi. Je ne m’accommode pas de vous!

    At Global Outlook::Digital Humanities we are hoping to net these centers and hopefully push the ADHO–and DH more broadly–beyond its current confines, while organizing South-South communities of mutual support and dialogue. The center cannot and does not want to hold. We are already starting to learn enormously about the different institutional structures of our members. I imagine the “global centers” of US academies have had similar experiences. I don’t think it so far-fetched that the first massive comparative institutional and extra-institutional analysis of the humanities might start with the most networked humanists. Mira, mami! I’m on the network!

    Several issues of a delicate nature need to be worked out before we get there. I will just address one in the form of a question that I think Leo hinted at last. How can we separate social critique internal to our individual professional contexts from the broader research on globalized labor flows and the role of technology in reshaping the humanities and the human proper?

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  32. As one of the founders of Postcolonial Digital Humanities with Adeline, I have been quite pleased to see that a conversation has developed around the very issues that are central to our mission.

    I’m always struck by the insistence that DH is is somehow automatically or necessarily “cultural” and I find that to be a specious claim. DH writ large tends to spend a lot of time writing about itself and constructing its genealogies – it is well-theorized. At times, it seems like the tendency for reflectiveness within DH is offered as evidence of its “cultural inclinations.” However, “well-theorized” does not necessarily mean “cultural.”

    Case in point, in Matthew Gold’s Debates in Digital Humanities, has a section called “Theorizing the Digital Humanities” and another one called “Critiquing the Digital Humanities.” How curious that race and disability fall under “Critiquing” (along with Amy Earhart’s article under “Practicing the Digital Humanities”). We might consider why work addressing such categories falls under “Critiquing” and “Practicing” but not “Theorizing” (or even “Defining”). In a collection that has the potential to be so definitive for DH, it’s interesting that those “cultural” sorts of contributions are positioned as “Critiquing” – it certainly makes an impression about the relative position of race and disability within DH.

    Identity politics can be useful here, given how significant the categories we inhabit are to how we view and construct the world – and in turn to the scholarship we produce. Consider who is doing that theorizing and the very narrow demographic profile of what we might call a DH vanguard. To me, as a woman of color and as someone deeply invested in postcolonial studies and minority discourse in the United States, it seems the argument that DH is necessarily cultural is a luxury – and not a luxury that I have.

    Without the kinds of engaged cultural critiques that we are proposing – and ones proposed by #TransformDH and by other scholars deeply invested in questions of culture and DH – DH runs the risk of perpetuating blindness (color, gender, class, ability, sexuality, etc.) and presuming that, at some point, these issues will work themselves out. They won’t.

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  35. This is indeed a rich discussion. Kudos to Adeline and the rest of the people working with DHPoco for bringing up these important issues. For me, I’m ambivalent. The past few months since Adeline and I chaired the two Race and DH panels at MLA 2013 have seen many interesting issues emerge — especially around gender and digital culture. I’m thinking, for example, of the social shaming incident occurring at PyCon with Aidra Richards (, the Dad who programmed his daughter’s version of Donkey Kong so that she could play as Pauline (, and the work of organizations like AdaCamp in bringing attention to issues in gender and programming (

    I am also quite proud that one of our graduate students here at WSU is hosting a Feminist Scholars Digital Workshop through HASTAC ( Certainly, if this work hasn’t yet shown up in the “canonical” books of the digital humanities, it is occurring and it’s important that scholars promote this important work.

    On the other hand, I have to echo what Leonardo Flores said up above. To what degree are the issues being mentioned here not only American-centric but conditioned by the digital humanities as a buzzword? Other disciplines concerned with digital studies (computers and writing, media studies, computer-mediated communication, internet studies) have a long history of the kinds of critical engagement being mentioned here. And, certainly, few fields that engage in that critical work expect all of the scholars within the field to participate in the same kind of analysis. Do we run the risk of repeating scholarship simply because “digital humanities” is in the title?

    To this end, I repeat some of Kimon Kermandes’s concerns about the term “digital humanities” from the most recent issue of The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy:

    “the term remains too contested, too fractured, and too frequently held up as a banner for radical change to be safe enough in the development of digital practice across an entire institution and with a wide range of constituencies. Because of its connections to such particular ideologies, it can become one of those dangerous flashpoints that inadvertently turns people away from a project that is focused more on the evolution of humanities methodologies and forms of practice than a radical dissolution and reconception of humanities research.”

    If we think about DH as a radical dissolution of traditional humanities practice (cultural studies, historicism), then of course these critiques make sense. If, on the other hand, DH is simply seen as the addition of new methodologies to academic traditions that are already taking place, the critique seems not so different from broader cultural insights about digital technology that have been central to forms of digital studies from the past few decades. I’m thinking, for example, about the work done on Universal Design by the EdTech field, the many connections between the rhetoric of technological interfaces and race and gender in Computers and Composition, and the wide-ranging discussion of the complexities of intercultural communication in CMC. It might, in fact, behoove scholars seeking to deepen awareness of cultural issues in technology to link their work with this earlier scholarship.

      • Apologies. I had indeed thought of you, but also imagined Alex Gil and David Golumbia…and so wanted to mention all of you — but perhaps that was due to my ignorance of the actual creators of DH Poco.

        • I am happy to be seen as associated with DHPoco, but I have no formal relationship with it, and would like to make sure that credit for it goes entirely to Adeline and Roopika, who deserve (IMHO) a huge amount of thanks from all of us for their inspiring work on this project.

        • We greatly admire Alex and David and enjoy the various formal and informal collaborations we have with them – but this is just Adeline and me!

  36. What an excellent thread. I write to make only one general observation, although I wish I had time to develop several, especially in response to some of specific points and challenges being made. It is this: critics of DH 1 (to use Ramsay’s recent category) honestly and deeply believe, following Jameson, that politics defines the horizon of interpretation of anything and everything and, more specifically, that /(race|gender|class|identity)/ defines the horizon of politics. The problem is that this is a frame within which no successful discourse is possible, if by success we mean some form of intellectual agreement or social accord. No one can win an argument about identity, and no one can escape a conversation about it without being accused. It is very much like a game of tag. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but there is another view of interpretation out there that one must juxtapose to Jameson’s: the machine is the horizon of interpretation, and the abstract machine, as represented by computation, provides a deep and rich source of reflection, a meta-discourse, a la Gregory Bateson, that can allow us to play out the politics of identity in a new and perhaps more fulfilling way. In this view politics is, as Hobbes argued, just another discourse that emerges from a special kind of machine (society). I like to imagine DH 1 as a kind of post-anthropological anthropology, something in line with Levi-Strauss’s remark that “the ultimate goal of the human sciences to be not to constitute, but to dissolve man.” The machine is not pre-interpretive, but it does wonderfully blur the boundaries between nature and culture, causality and meaning, and it provides a way out the klein bottle of identity talk. So there is nothing inherently at odds between these two discourses — the embeddedness of computation in culture is not at issue. What is at issue is whether the discourses of an Adorno or a Butler can be transposed and slotted into to the area of computation and conduct business as usual. I do not believe they can, and this, I believe, is something like what Type I digital humanists have in mind when they resist the charges of Type I digital humanists that they are not sufficiently aware of the dynamics of identity in their work.

    • The end of the last sentence above should read: ” … what Type I digital humanists have in mind when they resist the charges of Type I| digital humanists that they are not sufficiently aware of the dynamics of identity in their work.”

      • This is quite a good assertion of what I would call exactly the view that concerns me most. Coupled with some serious dismissals of the project of literary studies as most understand it–“no successful discourse is possible,” “no one can win an argument about identity”–we have the view that the abstract machine allows us “to play out the politics of identity in a new and perhaps more fulfilling way.”

        Had this view come out of cultural studies discourse, were there a rich history of theoretization of it along the lines Anne Balsamo indicates above, it might have more credibility. But there is very little of this, with the possible exception of some cyberfeminist discourse like Donna Haraway, but I don’t think even she would agree with the sentiments expressed here. As it is, there is a rich theoretical history indicating much the opposite, in which I’d include my own work as well as that of many others, including Jameson himself, suggesting that the “abstract machine” has always been with us and has never, on its own, without the kind of serious restraining work suggested by Amanda, done anything but work to concentrate and expand on power that already exists. The computer does not provide a “way out of the Klein bottle of identity talk,” and to the degree that it does, that “way out” aims toward just the colorblindness others have written about. There is no “way out” of the politics of the world that has gotten us where we are except by dealing with it head-on. The quest for a “way out” is deeply troubling–it seems to me not conceptually distinct from Martha’s original term of “refuge.”

        • I am glad that I have articulated the position well enough to draw out from you some of the issues that most concern me (at least) regarding what I will call the naive poco critique of DH 1. Most troubling is the genealogical card check — “had this view come out of cultural studies.” No, the position has nothing like this degree of ideological purity. In reality, practitioners of DH 1 trace a variety of genealogies; in my own case, it’s cultural anthropology, which has never needed the support of cultural studies, having invented and developed the concept of culture and the critique of practical reason in some many ways. Also troubling is the doctrinaire treatment of the history of the abstract machine concept. It is easy to say that it “has always been with us,” but this is retroactive land grabbing. Turing is among the first to grasp it in the sense that folks in humanities computing have found compelling, but Leibniz and Lovelace are interesting in this sense as well. Finally, I also find troubling the assertion that we are stuck with what I consider to be a tedious and failed discourse regarding the political. Politics is not the horizon and by insisting that it is so, you cut off human creativity and the potential to develop resources to resist the political when it goes bad.

          • You left out the word “discourse.” My point is not ideological purity tests; it is that DH as a practice of English does not have the written theoretical argumentation to stake out the position you are articulating.

            As I read it, you are affirming Martha Nell Smith’s original statement, and disagreeing with her: you think it is a refuge, and that’s good. I think it’s important for people to hear that.

            I’ll presume your statements about the abstract machine are directed at the genealogy I provide in some detail in my book, where it’s clear that I find the Leibniz-Turing version extremely doctrinaire–a canard, even–and tied very directly (via figures like Hobbes) to a specific, high-rationalist, and (in the Western tradition) deeply conservative politics.

          • Re your comment below — First, DH is not a refuge, it’s just a more interesting conversation. Second, I do find your work compelling, but I disagree with your conclusions. Having ventured from literary criticism into social science, you must expect that social scientists will question such direct causal relations between intellectual ideas and political positions. And you must admit that any attempt to directly link the possession of an ontological claim with a political position will strike many as ideological purity testing. It is the very essence of the inquisitional style to force these linkages.

          • Who has ventured from literary criticism into social science? this is a conversation about Digital Humanities; it’s pitched as about the Humanities.

            Again, rather than ideological purity tests, I was asking the question: what humanists have articulated the position you describe about “identity politics” and “race/class/gender” studies, especially humanists not directly invested in the project of Type 1 DH? This is not a question of ideology: it’s a question of discipline and of history. If DH has developed its own, internal account of these topics, one that does not have significant uptake in the rest of the humanities, it seems deeply incumbent on it to be able to articulate to other humanists why it does not constitute a turning-away from the concerns shared by most non-DH humanists.

          • If you make claims about the social consequences of cultural logic, then, in my view, you are doing social science. But let’s leave that to one side. I agree that the view that I expressed has not been articulated. I am referring to the spirit of DH as I have known it for twenty years. It has not been fully articulated and perhaps it should be. But your concerns sound so officious — as if DH, to have any legitimacy, has to show its papers to the Ministry of Cultural Studies. That is what I object to — that we are somehow beholden to this particular discourse. When you say that “it seems deeply incumbent on [DH] to be able to articulate to other humanists why it does not constitute a turning-away from the concerns shared by most non-DH humanists.” you write as if there are a clear set of concerns there and you are waiting, with your foot tapping, for proof that DH is part of the group. But no one has an obligation to report in this manner unless one finds it compelling and interesting to do so. I don’t want to come off as dismissing the concerns of DHpoco or of cultural studies, but I do find this requirement to participate in a particular conversion a bit chilling. We will have this conversation — we are having it — but it will not succeed under the shadow of ethical accusation and moral scandal that seems to characterize your criticisms of DH — and I say this fully agreeing with your recent criticisms of DH having two conflicting meanings.

      • I have to agree wholeheartedly with David Golumbia’s comments here. Alvarado is misrepresenting the spirit of Jameson’s thought and its place in recent intellectual history. As for the partition suggested by the statement “there is nothing inherently at odds between these two discourses,” I also see there the escape attempt described by Martha Nell Smith in her words at the head of this thread.

        • Well, I think Smith seriously mischaracterizes DH 1 here. Her observation seems to be founded on a simplistic opposition between the clear and distinct world of computing and the messy world of gender and politics — that is, she projects this opposition onto those whom she observes. But what draws people into DH is precisely the discovery that the computational is not clear and distinct, that it incredibly fuzzy and interpretive, and that it admits of what I call “transductive plasma.” As such, it provides a way of thinking of being without identity, of what Simondon calls transduction (although he misuses the word there). The problem I have with the cultural studies criticisms is that they proceed from the assumption that their discourse is already suited to handle this domain, that the same categories used to critique film and fascism can be applied directly to this meidium. I would rather trace a geneaolgy to thinkers like Bateson and Suchman to make sense of the digital and its relation to culture and identity. Is this heresy?

        • I want to reiterate the question I outlined above in the context of this discussion. Because, I did need to mention Roopika in terms of DH Poco, but I fear that my point was lost in the structure of the thread. While I don’t fully agree with Rafael that the machine is the horizon of interpretation (rather than the political, I’m not sure a single horizon of interpretation is either possible or desirable) – I do think some of these questions can be attributed to institutional (rather than purely ideological or political) concerns. To what degree are we defining DH in an American-centric way that ignores potentially applicable work in other fields like CW, CMC, Media Studies, New Media Studies, Media Archaeology, etc? Further — to what degree is there an assumption about DH being connected to a specific field (i.e. literary studies or history) and not others (sociology, anthropology, etc)? Also — what degree is the concern due to the revolutionary assertions of some of the figures w/in the DH community to do the humanities in a fundamentally different way?

          *As an aside, I’m not saying DH essentially embodies this revolutionary discourse, because not all members participate in it, just that it has become tethered to this discourse. There might be institutional reasons for this parallel as well (i.e. the connection between DH II and the #altac movement, the exhaustion of humanities scholars trained in traditional ways that do not land them jobs, etc). I think we need to be honest about ourselves as a community – not just on a political/ideological level but also on a historical and an institutional level.

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  38. Just to thank Adeline for creating this thread — I think it’s been valuable.

    Twitter is useful for a lot of things, but it can create an illusion of polarization, because people tend not to say much about topics where their response can’t be articulated in 140chars.

    That’s where a comment thread shines: it may not produce consensus, but it can at least more fully map the diversity of opinion. In this case that map seems to me pretty complex.

  39. This is an amazingly varied and interesting discussion thread–thank you Roopika and Adeline.

    When I look at the opening quote, I immediately wanted to paste in the entirety of Marjorie Perloff’s essay “Crisis in the Humanities.” Instead of the entire piece, I’ll settle for this paragraph:

    “It is, I would argue, the contemporary fear and subordination of the pleasures of representation and recognition –the pleasures of the fictive, the what might happen to the what has happened–the historical/cultural– that has trivialized the status of literary study in the academy today. If, for an aesthete like Walter Pater, art was always approaching the condition of music, in our current scheme of things, art is always–and monotonously– approaching the condition of “culture.” Indeed, the neoPuritan notion that literature and the other arts must be somehow “useful,” and only useful, that the Ciceronian triad —docere, movere, delectare– should renounce its third element (“delight”) and even the original meaning of its second element, so that to move means only to move readers to some kind of virtuous action, has produced a climate in which it has become increasingly difficult to justify the study of English or Comparative Literature.”

    Since I’m a creative writer and lit prof who teaches a lot of poetry, Perloff means a lot to me as a critic. My sense is that Perloff would reject the word “refuge” and replace it with something like “return.” But a return to what? Simply, a focus on poetics/form/rhetoric. When I first started dabbling in DH work, I was immediately struck by how text-centered the enterprise is, and that has proven very useful pedagogically, especially when working with an undergraduate population who often prefer to flee the text as quickly as possible and get right to ideas in the abstract. In short, I’m sympathetic to Perloff here because I think it approaches this question in terms of embracing an interest rather than primarily rejecting something else. Perloff, in that essay, gives respect to cultural readings of works like Ulysses and Heart of Darkness, especially as they relate to empire, etc. Still, what Martha Smith might describe as a refuge (or seemingly so), I hear someone like Perloff saying what’s needed is a return to poetics. Perloff wasn’t writing about DH, but I imagine one thing Perloff would respect about some DH tools are their ability to hone in on language/aesthetics and treat a poem as a unique rhetoric, stylistic artifact, etc. I’m learning so much from reading this thread, but I chafe a little bit against the notion of a “refuge” from a specific set of concerns, largely because it might attribute an act of will where someone might just be pursuing their particular interests.

    And having written this, I can also hear the response: “Perloff, as you demonstrate, is exactly someone who would see this as a refuge.” I’m not sure I could completely rebut that. PoCo is not my area of study/specialization, so I really am offering this very generally.

  40. I am interested in connecting Anne Balsamo’s articulation of post-identity social analysis (“queer, feminism, post-colonial thinking, race….aren’t really about identities…but rather about technologies of thinking, of processing, and of making distinctions such that the plentitude of what reality is gets ‘processed’ to ‘be’ one thing and NOT another”) to the current debate between David Golumbia and Rafael Alvarado about digital humanities and cultural studies.

    I’m approaching this as a cultural historian who spends a lot of time learning from cultural studies, gender and sexuality studies, literary studies, and cultural anthropology but is not deeply embedded in any of those worlds.

    It strikes me that Anne’s articulation of one way we might think about identity in non-essentialist ways—in place of static identity we shift to understanding it as generated by “technologies of thinking, of processing, and of making distinctions”—points toward a fascinating, strange, and intriguing alignment of cultural studies (Anne, is it fair to call your work cultural studies?) and digital humanities around conceptualizations of “technologies” as the means by which power operates. And I mean power here in all its senses: electronic, material, technical, political, epistemological, ontological, historical, economic, ecological, psychological, “biological,” racialized, gendered, classed, normalized, resisted.

    “Technologies of thinking, of processing, and of making distinctions.” Can we go a bit more into what we mean by “technologies” here? Is “technology” simply a metaphor for talking about cultural logics? Is it a way of referring to “machines” whether abstract or material, Jamesonian or Turingian? Are words such as “tools,” “technologies,” “machines” precise enough for the work we need to do to better understand DH as a refuge, whether that’s a good or bad thing, and for whom and on what terms?

    Most of all, what does it mean in the contested spaces of digital humanities to, in some sense, restrict “technologies” to digital operations alone, to the workings of ones and zeroes, bits and bytes, on-off electrical pulsations (this puts me in mind of Tara McPherson’s work on “lenticular logics”)? In other words, I want to know more about what happens when we start to use the concept of “technologies” as a way of thinking about both power in the social sense and power in the epistemological sense. When we come to know things through computers, what different kinds of “technology” are at work?

    Another observation and a few musings on it. I fear this is rather abstract (“abstract machine”?) and half-formed but perhaps it is useful:

    It seems to me there are really two conversations going on sparked by Roopika and Adeline’s open thread. One is about inclusion and exclusion in the digital humanities (what projects get to count? who does the speaking and what voices must they use or ventriloquize to speak? Who remains silent or silenced, too scared to participate?). The other is about trying to crack open the discourse itself of digital humanities to see what’s going on inside this new, vexing “technology” that has raised so many hopes and hackles in equal measure.

    These two matters (inclusion/exclusion and discourse) are, of course, utterly connected. The challenge we face is how to move between the two. On the first count, we must confront the static identities that are present, named or unnamed; how do we confront these and redress the injustices they create? On the second count, we need to grapple with the underlying (overlording?) forces into and out of which those static identities arrive as if fully formed.

    The deeper question being debated here, however, is how the surface appearances of identity and the deeper logics producing them/being produced by them interact. And this relationship can perhaps be better understood by grappling more with what we mean when we use the term “technologies.”

    For instance, there is a way in which the debates about digital humanities tend to break down into binaries: who’s in? who’s out?; Type I vs. Type II; etc. What I wonder about is whether the digital has intensified thinking in binaries? It’s either binaries or fluidity? Two sides or rhizomes? As a technology at the material level, why is it that digital code asks us, indeed seems to require us, to toggle between either putting things (and people) into binaries or imagining them in endless networks of decentered, fluid entanglements. Is this all we have at our disposal as our “technologies of thinking, of processing, and of making distinctions”? What else might we discover, invent, render, produce, foster, join, imagine?

    This goes to a deeper issue (“technology”?) haunting the debate here. What are the precise links between the material qualities of the digital and the intellectual/ideological logics of social relations? Is the link direct? Homological? Oppositional? A correlation? A horizon? An organization? Is there no link at all? Is there a hyperlink here?

    When we think through binary code, does it render everything around it into binaries of a static nature or can it crack open the world into more fluid possibilities? Do we want that fluidity or not? What would it mean? Is there something else to imagine and enact here in place of either static binaries or endless fluidities?

    These are but some queries, some terms for searching more deeply into what the “technologies of thinking, of processing, and of making distinctions” are, exactly, when it comes to debating the stakes of digital humanities.


    • Very thought-provoking, Michael. Your thoughts here on Balsamo’s “technologies of thinking, of processing, and of making distinctions” suggest to me a series of ways to address different varieties of technologies and their different kinds of materiality.

      In particular, I’m reminded of the notion of a “technology of the self,” which Foucault articulated and pressed upon toward the end of his life (so, early 80s). It isn’t difficult to find obvious and materialized definitions of “technology” around – you name some of them here, and I was also thinking about earlier technologies including the printed book and the manuscript codex. But Foucault’s “technology of the self,” which harkens back to a idealized technique of classical-era meditation and self-reflection, seems related to the ideological and contemplative possibility that you and Balsamo are gesturing toward here, especially if mobilized towards purposes in queer theory. Foucault saw this notion – and its parallel concept of “askesis” – as a kind of intellectual commitment that sought not to discover, but rather to invent ways of being (this includes the “improbable,” of course, that he mentions specifically in the “Friendship” interview). This would emphasize not a community, but rather the self as the presumably ethical center of humanity.

      This is a haphazard suggestion on my part, but I think Foucault’s fluid use of the word “technology” (uttered in an era when the history of the book was just finding its legs!) may occupy a useful position in this conversation. It’s been remarked that Foucault’s perspective is shortsightedly Eurocentric, so there’s that problem. But one might still usefully engage his notion of invention and “a manner of being that is still improbable” in conjunction with the traditionally-material notion of “technology” in reference to DH practice.

  41. Another way in which class and race intersect with the digital humanities is in terms of who has access to DH tools and to the ability to engage in DH scholarship. In From Gutenberg to Google, Peter Shillingsburg suggests that electronic knowledge sites could be financed by micropayments (a system which, incidentally, was tried and failed as a means of financing webcomics) and that “the fee would be small enough to deter only misers and the indigent” (106). In saying this in such a flippant way he’s ignoring the fact that a large number of grad students are indigent.

    And this relates to the larger point (which Shillingsburg admits but doesn’t fully explore the implications of) that because of the high cost of such knowledge sites, they will tend to be centralized in the largest libraries and universities. Does this mean that students and faculty at smaller institutions and community colleges will be left behind? I know that people like Anne McGrail and Steven Berg have been doing interesting things with integrating DH into the community college, and I’m curious as to how this can be done.

    • Thanks for the question Michael! The answer lies in the quote we used by Martha Nell Smith–she argues that humanities computing served as a refuge from these questions in the 1990s. We’re asking if this is still the case…

      • Right, so many comments later I forgot your initial positioning of the open thread! Historical forgetting!

        Humanities computing as part of a sort of conservative move back to the “text” in literary studies and to “narrative” in historical writing and to “aesthetics” in philosophy after the feeling that cultural studies had reached a dead end after the culture wars (and related dreams of socialism a dead end after 1989?). That’d be one way (not the only way) of historicizing what Martha Nell Smith is talking about.

        I’d wager based on the responses by many of those involved in humanities computing that they didn’t see it/feel it this way for the most part. But it could well have been part of underlying logics of the digital turn. The way in which new technological vistas (TEI, information superhighway, etc.) collided with feelings of political and intellectual exhaustion and hopes for revival within academic/political apparatuses?


      • I’m in full support of this discussion, and I’m also troubled by some of it. Even if we go back to the era of “humanities computing,” it seems a bit too easy to place a singular label on what was very varied work. It strikes me that this is even more the case for DH now.

        Part of the danger of seeing HC or DH as a field that has been a refuge from issues of gender/race/class/sexuality is that it misses – perhaps even erases – a great deal of work. Take, for example, all of the early feminist projects that Amy Earhart has drawn our attention to. Or the many early e-lit projects that have engaged an array of people commonly thought of as excluded from DH. I worry that in our effort to highlight existing institutional pressures, differential access, and lack of equity we make the case too strongly and thus erase the work of those that we are hoping to support.

        Gender has been a central issue for some of the most foundational projects – the Women Writers Project and the Orlando Project are great examples – do they do all that we might want, now? No. Does that mean that we should act as if they haven’t been around, transforming the work of DH for at least the last 20 years. I don’t think so. These are scholars, many of them women, who have been thinking hard about the relationship of tools to content. Who don’t think that technology is transparent. Who have asked hard questions about gender/sex and words, markup, infrastructure, and transformation procedures. And their work has shaped and continues to shape ‘the field.” I think we do ourselves and the field a serious disservice if we write a history that says that DH or Humanities Computing hasn’t been a site of thinking about gender and technology.

        I can’t speak to whether or not there are equally good examples for issues of race, class, sexuality etc. Although I do know that I’ve been following the work of people like Angel Nieves for longer than we’ve been having this conversation. Similarly, while Alan Liu’s important call to action is relatively recent – his work and its deep engagement with cultural studies is as “old” (sorry, Alan) as humanities computing.

        I think the critique is important, but I also want to draw our attention to the long history of the critique and to the important, field changing work that has already been done. To miss that history is to pretend that we’re inventing the wheel all over again and to deprive ourselves of much needed support and experience.

          • +1 (from me too) — see the two comments I made above that have been buried by (what I see) as a threaded forum fail. but whatevs.

        • Thank you for this Jacque. While I agree that there have always been humanities computing projects that have focused on race/class/gender, I would be very leery of arguing that they should be used to fuel the narrative that DH has “always” been cultural. Many of these projects have experienced opposition from their beginnings, and have not been considered “humanities computing” or “digital humanities” projects because they focus on women and gender for example. Now that the DH tide is turning, where ‘big tent’ DH needs to incorporate cultural concerns (as many people have noticed), I fear that these projects will be co-opted into a narrative of which many of us are suspicious. These earlier projects *were* hard-won battles. But whether or not they should be used to claim that DH has *always* been open to these issues is another point that needs to be teased out more finely.

          • I am really limiting my comments here in respect of Heather’s very accurate comment–but while I agree with both Jacque’s and Adeline’s points, let me also stick up here for a second for the view (which I suspect you will agree with) that I don’t see postcolonial studies/theory in DH as solely, and maybe not even *mostly*, a question of who is represented in archives and tools, or who is making the tools. There are deeper questions about orientations, theories, technologies, identities, and many other topics (many of them named here) that postcolonial theory asks us to keep out in the open, to keep open, and to reflect on in our research and teaching. How to keep those questions open while engaging with digital technology (in any number of ways) seems to me a topic that needs much more discussion, from a very wide group of contributors, and I think we are seeing the beginnings of it right here.

          • I agree with you both, David and Adeline. I don’t want to argue that “DH” has always been cultural – I’m more inclined to follow Jaime Skye Bianco’s suggestion that “This DH…Is Not One,” and recognize that a myth of a unified field is just that, a myth. My turn is then to recognize the genealogies that do exist, where they exist, even as we challenge the erasures and exclusions. This would include acknowledging the pressures that those early projects/scholars faced in the work of writing their histories.

            David – you’re absolutely right that this isn’t a numbers game and your point is well taken.

          • +1 to Jacque’s reply here. In fact, I’d put this a bit more strongly. I’m not convinced that “DH” names a definable field at all, and thus not convinced that it matters much to decide whether “it has always been cultural.”

            I tend to see “DH” as a name for a fuzzy zone of overlap between a lot of different projects and disciplines. I find it hard to make any meaningful generalizations about it.

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  43. I heard there were no programmers here, so I have come to impart the wisdom that can only be provided by those who understand a linked list. Sounds absurd on the face of it, doesn’t it? Ian Bogost’s Cow Clicker, I think, provides an example of the subversive use of programming in that it uses the master’s tools to mock the horrible grinding structured into the kinds of games common to FaceBook and elsewhere online. It is subversive, and can be viewed as a post-colonialist critique of the colonial power that FaceBook can legitimately be viewed as. But it engages not with gender, ethnic, or cultural elements that typify traditional post-colonial interpretations (as I understand them, and please go easy on me–it’s been a while since I’ve read Fanon). The idea of using code or, more generally, tools like ArcGIS to dismantle the structures that these things were created to support and extend, does require some level of literacy and even fluency of the kind one hears referred to by, for instance, Jinnah, who argued that the Indians had to out-British the British.

    But I’m less sure about or familiar with the code layer than I am with the soft, fleshy layer of DH and programming more generally. A long time ago I had the chance to sit in a meeting with the CEO, CFO and COO of a AAA gaming company, and the COO was regaling the group with his dream game: he thought it was possibly to make horribly mundane tasks like assembling and packing boxes at UPS into a game with game-like elements. This was long before gamification was a term, but the idea that he wanted to use gaming elements in this way, where the menials were tricked into being more productive by taking advantage of lessons learned in the production of entertainment software, always stuck with me. This kind of rhetoric in the deployment of public-facing software has power rhetorics embedded in it. It’s typical, in my experience, for designers and developers to refer to “dumb users” who have “no attention span” who need to be tricked into using something, or who would not understand the inner workings of their software.

    Collaboration as colonization is real, and I think we could look at “local decolonization” as a counterpoint to the broad theoretical issues brought up here. The demystification of programming at the individual level among humanities scholars and, through them, to the larger community, is one of the great services of digital humanities scholarship. But it can’t happen unless the professor of literature or graduate student in Classics who is working alongside a software engineer (or less credentialed developer like myself) understands how code works so she can understand when the explanation she’s receiving is more a reflection of the biases of the coder and not a reflection of the structure of the code/tool/language.

    Finally, it’s been my general experience that Ben Schmidt’s “Digital Humanities: Using tools from the 1990s to answer questions from the 1960s about 19th century America.” holds true to the research agendas of many professors exploring the use of digital methods. I received some pointed criticism for my Mesoanalysis piece from a professor because “post-modernism has been discarded”. When I argued that a functional approach could promote multivocality, it was seen as a dilution of the power of digital tools, and not a strength.

  44. “I am interested in connecting Anne Balsamo’s articulation of post-identity social analysis (“queer, feminism, post-colonial thinking, race….aren’t really about identities…but rather about technologies of thinking, of processing, and of making distinctions such that the plentitude of what reality is gets ‘processed’ to ‘be’ one thing and NOT another”) to the current debate between David Golumbia and Rafael Alvarado about digital humanities and cultural studies.”

    I do not “do” DH though some of my best friends do. And one of those friends told me I should take a look at this and I have spent much of the evening reading over the many many many interesting exchanges here. So thank you all for that. But I am very curious about Anne Balsamo’s comment embedded above. I get very nervous when folks start talking about post-idnetity social analysis or post identity social relationships etc. Perhaps In my haste and desire to read it all I am missing something but thinking, practicing identity politics has always been about technologies of power, thinking, processing etc. Essentialism itself is one kind of technology and its been, in case we have forgotten, mostly strategic (especially in a poco feminist context a la Spivak). Post-identity is a fraught fraught category in and of itself and cannot in itself be something that takes us to technologies….. And its dangerous to say that queer, feminism poco etc are not really about identities. i think they are –the question is what kinds of narratives are produced about those identities; what we do with them; how do we talk about them; how do we process them. It seems to me that so much of this conversation is precisely about identities and there ain’t anything “post” about it.

    • Sangeeta —

      Thank you for this. I too want to learn more about the vision of “technologies” of the self, of social power, of community, of race, gender, class, sexuality, nation, various trans formations, etc. marking a kind of break from “identity” as itself a kind of technology always in operation.

      I take your concern to be that you are suspicious of any claims that the concept of “technologies” could mark a break from previous struggles over identity and identity politics. That these should be understood more as new moves within the terrain of identity formation, transformation, narrativization, and agency and structure in conflict/alignment with each other.

      Debates about identity and post-identity social analysis aside, I am wondering about if and/or how we might utilize the term “technology” analytically to pivot between what Ernesto Priego describes as critique of DH and application of DH. Does the term, if developed into a more robust one, allow us to get into that space between thinking about DH in new ways and “doing” DH in new ways. To me, they really are connected in crucial, but easy to miss, ways.

      Since I’m not positioned within the poco/cultural studies world institutionally, I’m not as invested in the debate about identity vs. post-identity politics, though I recognize the profound intellectual value of that debate (in all its provoking of anxiety and its emphasis on how we might better talk about power, identity, social production, etc.). I think that your response to Anne’s comments does offer enormous opportunities for DH work to be informed by and in term contribute to these important efforts to understand, theorize, and enact new kinds of democratic activity.

      Thanks! Please say more if you have time!

    • Thanks for this Sangeeta. I appreciate your point that strategic essentialisms are sometimes important and useful. But my reading of Anne’s comment is not that she’s advocating a “post-identity” form of analysis, but to remind us that identity goes beyond the marked forms of the body. I am reminded, for instance, of David Theo Goldberg’s notion that the concept of race is best understood through how it is signified; through the various discourses and practices that signify it rather than in isolated racial markers that are tied to identity. Anne’s post makes a useful and important point in my view.

  45. Yesterday evening (~6pmGMT) I gave a quick eyeball through this thread and found that the ratio of men to women commenting was nearly 2:1, not considering repeated commenters. I’m not going to do it again, but someone else is welcome to – I just want to point out that it’s worth mentioning that in a discussion of gender (amongst other things!) there seems to be a gendered imbalance as to who’s talking. Earlier in the thread I suggest that the people whose voices we desperately need to hear aren’t present and I want to reiterate that, but with the emphasis of access this time.

    In the digital humanities we constantly talk about the importance of open access and the idea of build-it-and-they-will-come. But this presumes that everyone has access to our digital realm, which is wholly untrue. We have been making some big assumptions about class in saying that “Everyone has access”: maybe everyone has a computer these days, but certainly not everybody has a computer that can handle the minimum requirements to run some seemingly-basic software packages simultaneously. Digital work requires digital training, which requires funding to achieve. Interestingly I’m seeing & feeling a larger and larger divide between the (North) American model of digital humanities and the EU model of digital humanities, making this gap even more difficult to bridge.

    Jacque Wernimont makes an excellent point above about gender being a central issue to digital projects from the early days of humanities computing. But we’re still working on gender (cf this recent change in the TEI standards for gender:, from last month). We are so far away from “solving” this issue that we’re not touching some of the others because they are, as yet, too complex to cleanly disambiguate: even gender requires making some confidence decisions and sticking to them. Melissa Rodgers and Amanda Phillips, also above, make excellent points about whiteness which we should be revisiting closely when we begin to think about who we are doing our digital work about (and how we are going about it).

    • Heather – you’re absolutely right about access. It’s one of the many “dark sides” of DH that needs to be addressed. I’d add to your point that even if we supposed that access were universal, design targets an “ideal” user and there is very little design that seeks a user who is not a white, male, teen. I find Liu’s critique of modernist interface and design helpful for thinking through the biases embedded in a singular notion of “good design”.

      Thanks, also, Heather for directing my attention to the thread with Melissa and Amanda; I had missed it in the first reading.

  46. Pingback: Going Strong: #dhpoco Open Thread on Race/Class/Gender/Sexuality/Disability in #DH | Diaspora Hypertext, the Blog

  47. It is exciting to see more than a hundred comments here. It’s been done but once again thanks to Adeline for posting this and opening it up for discussion.

    The first thing I want to say is that whoa, one needs time and the right setting to sit down and go through this discussion and reply as one would like too (thoroughly, including correct references and hyperlinks, engaging respectfully with the different points of view, remembering people’s names, etc.). That in itself is a kind of privilege.

    I once published a post on U of Venus/Inside Higher Education that was inspired by Spivak’s “Death of a Discipline”, which is on comparative literature but I thought then it could also be ‘used’ to engage in debates around the theory and practice of the digital humanities. My post asked if the “subaltern could tweet”. By this I meant that under-represented voices often have to face much more obstacles than well-represented voices in online and academic discourse.

    I agree with several different aspects of what several people have expressed here. I also second those who have pointed out that a mere eyeballing of the names commenting here is indicative of the state of this particular debate.

    If I am allowed a quick informal opinion I would say that no, if you build it they will not come, one needs to build the thing and also build the community. They will not come because you have built it. It will be fully built until they come and they inhabit it. Even though I am sick and tired of the definitional debate, I have to say I like this metaphor of ‘building’ when speaking of the digital humanities. I echo what others have said (apologies if I don’t name you personally and link to you directly here) if I say there I believe there is a difference between the need to interrogate the discourse of/around/in/on/inside/outside the digital humanities and technology in general and the need to do something with those technologies for research. They are, indeed, not mutually exclusive, but there can come the point in which they need to be distinct activities. A simile might be useful Often, the academic critique of, say, colonialist representations of ‘the Other’ and the act of creating colonial representations of ‘the Other’ are clearly distinct. One is performed by the cultural scholar, the latter by the film maker, photographer, advertising agency. It is possible to create representations that are critical of those colonialist represenations, and indeed address in practice the need to interrogate colonialist represenations and in so doing offer an example of how to do it differently/ethically/better. I suppose the same happens with the digital humanities: we can spend the rest of our days (hopefully with funding we have obtained to do so) critiquing discourse or practices and calling for the need to do/engage with/ digital technologies differently.

    This activity, it seems to me, requires a different kind of investment than that of working directly with those technologies, no matter how imperfect. This is indeed a dilemma, because many of us are very much aware of the in-built discourses in the technologies/systems/structures/superstructures, but at the same time we face the danger of then not engaging with them at all. If we take the critique to its ultimate circumstances we wouldn’t even dare to invest our time in leaving a comment here, using these specific technologies that require such a long set of often-uninterrogated a prioris.

    It might be that the critique of the digital humanities has come too early, before we have even begun to understand what they can be. I am not saying this critique is unnecessary. On the contrary. It is. What I guess I am trying to say is that the much-needed (so-called) postcolonial critique of the digital humanities is in fact not different from the critique we all need to make of the whole academic endeavor. This also means realising that sometimes these debates reflect a USA-centrism which can be alienating for those of us outside the everyday practicalities of the USAmerican Higher Education system.

    Deep down what I perceive is a general dissatisfaction with the (to many of us painfully obvious) lack of equality of opportunity in academia in general and even more in the digital humanities (given that in most cases significant funding and infrastructural support is needed to get a project/center up the ground). From a non-USAmerican perspective, it seems that suddenly ‘DH’ became this trendy panacea, making some people feel included and many others excluded. Those excluded are not happy. Once again: this is not specific of DH.

    So the question is: where do we go from here? I believe there is room from all the different approaches. The fact some people are busy doing text encoding does not mean they are not sensitive to the “discursive formations” that govern most code.

    Needless to say these are personal opinions expressed quickly. I may be entirely wrong, and anyone is always-already entitled to disagree.

  48. I am sorry I cannot participate more fully in the debates about DH except in a general fashion. But first I believe we should parse some of the issue that have arisen here
    One is the concern with representation in terms of numbers–How many men work in DH versus women; how many men are participating here instead of men; how many are people of color; how many are queer etc?
    Two –There is a concern about representation in terms of who is representing or standing in for whom (Once again Spivak’s distinction between Vertretung and Darstellung (Can the Subaltern Speak? would be useful here)
    Third is a question of tools itself? In many ways this reminds me of the much, much earlier question that haunted academia in the mid eighties (with a difference of course) as to who does theory; who applies theory; what counts a theory; can we topple the master’s house with the master’s tools etc. Thinking here about Barbara Christian’s Race for Theory and the debates that ensued and the dismissal of that. And as a counterpoint to Christian one can turn to Chela Sandoval’s Methodology of the Oppressed that shows how “western high theory” can be productive to think with when engaged with questions of the other and minority formations.
    Fourth and I think this is of great concern to me–In what ways is Postcolonial itself differently, differentially engaged/positioned here vis-a vis engagements with a nationally based (US, UK etc) issues of color, race, ethnicity, sexuality. As those of us who have practiced poco for a while now we know how we have been used and been complicit with functioning as an alibi for race in academia. While I am happy to be counted as one of Bell Hooks’ Third World Diva Girls, the point she makes in that early essay can be useful to think about the relationship between Poco and other minority formations.
    Fourth–It is interesting to me that the question has not been framed as the relationship between DH and Minority Discourse formations here. Thinking through minoritization (a la Delueze and Guattari–again a whole history here thinking about the 2 early issues of Cultural Critique in the mid 80s??) could produce for a productive discussion rather than in terms of say a cultural studies approach.
    Fifth–questions of critical genealogy is so necessary here not just in DH but in what i would call Minority Discourse so that we do not have to reinvent the wheel every time a field is called upon to think about itself as a refuge from engagements with questions of the other.Some are; some are not and some could be or become. How we tell our stories is significant in the production of genealogies–Why Stories Matter by Claire Hemmings is one good example. There are other examples that one could use from QueerTheory –stories that are very divergent–say Weigman’s Object Lessons, Orgasmology by Annamarie Jagos, Munoz’ Cruising Utopia and Halberstam’s Queer Art of Failure. No story is complete and critiques are important. Think here about the contested genealogies in Poco studies–starting with Edward Said gets us one story; starting with Fanon gets us another and so on.
    People in this forum who allude to 20 years + of DH are saying one story, a story that they feel are in danger of being erased or ignored. Others are invested in a different story.

    And finally since someone brought up Science Studies one can learn from the history of that field itself couldn’t one? I could name many names and books but for the purpose of brevity one could just think about Gyan Prakash’s Another Reason as one intervention.

    Thank to Adeline and Roopika for starting the discussion.

    • yes yes yes to the above by SANGEETA RAY especially for adding in Chela Sandoval who I obliquely referenced in a tweet re the Santa Cruz people as i think of them almost all coming out of or around Donna Harraway ( see also Katie King and of course Gloria Anzaldua). I’, also happy to see more of the genealogy of feminism and race via Audre Lorde and Bell Hooks. I’d also add Patricia Hill Collins as of that same moment and influence for me (I was undergrad/early grad student late 80s early 90s) Also really pleased to see the extremely important Clare Hemmings book which I reviewed, blogged and am using for an article now. There is also an entire body of feminist critique of science and objectivity from the 1980s. I worked with Sandra Harding so I’m most familiar with her work, that overlapped beautifully with work in intellectual history from the same era (Novick and Holllinger v. influential for me in those days).

      Working, writing, and talking about these issues is hard, and sometimes made harder by online venues, but I appreciate the efforts of all to work through them.

    • Sangeeta – thanks for raising these salient issues from postcolonial studies. You might be interested in our MLA panel proposal for next year, which addresses some of what you raise:

      Because of our work, Adeline and I are in the never dull position of finding ways to bridge postcolonial studies and digital humanities. Our hope is to cultivate engaged inquiry at the intersections of the two. In addition to our work with Postcolonial Digital Humanities, Adeline and I are engaged in additional projects that, in some ways, are case studies for the kind of politically, globally, and culturally engaged work that DH can do: The Digitizing Chinese Englishmen ( and The Rewriting Wikipedia Project ( This is not to say that important work hasn’t been done – it has, but it has often not been recognized as DH work and its acknowledgment was hard-won. We aim to be part of a new move towards foregrounding many of the issues you mention, in the hope that these questions of race, class, gender, nation, culture, and so forth will no longer be an addendum to DH but an integral part of the work that DH does.

    • Sangeeta is absolutely correct to be raising all these issues and they are worth exploring much further. There are two points I want to raise alongside this initial comment and they are as follows:

      a. how do we quantify AND/OR qualify not-men, not-white, not-straight, not-cis, not-able, etc etc etc intersecting identities in the DH community? (More importantly: do we want to? is it useful?) As a white cisgendered queer woman on the more computational side of the humanities I’m thinking that having an awareness and visibility of other non-white-straight-male identities has the potential to be extremely important. I say this with a with a nod to those of you who do not carry various privileges in the same way I do to be able to be selective about how/when to be out – and I would love to hear your opinions on this topic. On the other hand, quantifying &

    • Sangeeta is absolutely correct to be raising all these issues and they are worth exploring much further. Thank you Sangeeta for this excellent comment – I have been mulling it over for most of my evening.

      There are two points I want to raise alongside this initial comment and they are as follows:

      a. How do we quantify AND/OR qualify not-men, not-white, not-straight, not-cis, not-able, etc etc etc intersecting identities in the DH community? (More importantly: do we want to? is it useful?)
      As a white cisgendered queer woman on the more computational side of the humanities I’m thinking that having an awareness and visibility of other non-white-straight-male identities has the potential to be extremely important. I say this with a with a nod to those of you who do not carry various privileges in the same way I do to be able to be selective about how/when to be out – and I would love to hear your opinions on this topic. On the other hand, quantifying & qualifying myriad intersecting identities is difficult and often troubling: hence the topic and urgency of this thread.

      b. The question of tools is an important one, especially the concept of master’s tools/master’s house. Worth unpacking more: who is the master? what are their tools, and what is their house? And, alongside that: whose view of postcolonialism are we addressing here? Are we committed to a dominant nationality (or continentality) of postcolonialism by virtue of the overwhelming location of commenters on this thread. How can we attempt to address varying forms postcolonialism beyond just the (North) American model?

  49. @adelinekoh, Michael Kramer

    I spent a good chunk of my time typing a comment and what gets picked up is who I did not mention. It should be obvious I did not mean to exclude Roopika or anyone else– that was not the point of my message.

    I merely looked at the byline of this post and the name I saw was adelinekoh. (It does not matter if the name appears elsewhere: in blogging, byline equals authorship I’m afraid). I never meant any disrespect. This for me shows the levels of hyper-sensitivity that can take us away from some of the issues. It is as if Domenico had made an issue of his name being mis-spelt in one of the reples above: do we see that as an expression of the anglo-centrism of DH or even DHpoco, or should we just see it as a normal, human typo? I am very happy it was seen as the latter.

    Moreover, this is a good case in point. The byline is the convention to express authorship. The fact most blogging interfaces only allow as default one author will not escape to most advocates for collaborative authorship.

    If the message we want to communicate is that we need to interrogate, in practice, how technologies impose certain discourses (for example, that authorship is not always the individual effort of a single author), we need to find ways to re-wire them. There are WordPress plug-ins that allow different authors to get their own byline, like Co-Authors Plus.

  50. yes yes yes to the above by SANGEETA RAY especially for adding in Chela Sandoval who I obliquely referenced in a tweet re the Santa Cruz people as i think of them almost all coming out of or around Donna Harraway ( see also Katie King and of course Gloria Anzaldua). I’, also happy to see more of the genealogy of feminism and race via Audre Lorde and Bell Hooks. I’d also add Patricia Hill Collins as of that same moment and influence for me (I was undergrad/early grad student late 80s early 90s) Also really pleased to see the extremely important Clare Hemmings book which I reviewed, blogged and am using for an article now. There is also an entire body of feminist critique of science and objectivity from the 1980s. I worked with Sandra Harding so I’m most familiar with her work, that overlapped beautifully with work in intellectual history from the same era (Novick and Holllinger v. influential for me in those days).

    Working, writing, and talking about these issues is hard, and sometimes made harder by online venues, but I appreciate the efforts of all to work through them.

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  52. Adeline: Point taken but I do not understand identity politics as one only and always marked on by the body and post identity as about discursive and social formations. That binary is in itself facile and not really necessary. Post identity allows one to sometimes bypass the issue of how identity politics must include tyne body.

    • In that regard we have different understandings of what we mean by “identity politics.” Nonetheless I don’t believe either Anne or I are arguing for “post-identity” politics.

      David’s comment is threaded with your first one in response to Anne’s.

    • oh Twitter! I can see how it reads that way, but meant I replied to Adeline’s post farther above (itself in reply to Jacque), which I hope echoes your comments in the entry about Vertretung and Darstellung etc., which I found really wonderful and necessary. Several of the points are ones I don’t think I’ve ever heard made before in the DH contexts and they deserve serious and sustained attention.

  53. Thanks Roopika. I looked at the Wikipedia Postcolonial feminsm entry. Is that one of yours and Adeline’s? Is that an ongoing entry or a finished one. I ask because there are a few gaps.
    And I look forward to hearing the talks at MLA.

    • Sangeeta – that is not a post we (Adeline or I) created. I don’t think it was one that anyone worked on during the Global Women Write-In either. It’s certainly one we could add to the list as an idea for future participants. But, the posts on Wikipedia are never finished and are editable by anyone who wants to jump in.

  54. Pingback: Roopika Risam (@roopikarisam)

  55. Amazed at how big this thread is getting, I ran this URL by Voyant, and added some common terms (reply, digital, humanities) to the stop word list. It’s here. The link has a limited shelf-life but if you click soon after I post it you might still be able to see it (after a couple of days it might get removed).

  56. Pingback: Postcolonial Digital Humanities | Room for Everyone at the DH Table?

  57. Pingback: @laurenfklein

  58. Pingback: Weekend Reading: The DH Summer Edition - ProfHacker - The Chronicle of Higher Education

  59. Pingback: Postcolonial Digital Humanities | Gender and the DHPoco Open Thread: A Corpus Analysis

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  62. Pingback: Postcolonial Digital Humanities | Postcolonial Studies, Digital Humanities, and the Politics of Language

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  65. Pingback: At HASTAC: Where do we go from here? A comment on ‘building’ in the digital humanities | Ernesto Priego

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