Agora.Techno.Phobia.Philia: Gender, Knowledge Building, and Digital Media

  1. 1. Martha Nell Smith

    Maryland Institute for Technology and Humanities (MITH) - University of Maryland, College Park

  2. 2. Carolyn Guertin

    University of Texas, Arlington

  3. 3. Laura Mandell

    Miami University

  4. 4. Katherine D. Harris

    San Jose State University

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The editors of a special issue of Signs: Journal of Women
in Culture and Society, a prominent scholarly feminist
journal, wrote in 1990 that “the degree to which American
society has embraced and absorbed computer technologies is
astonishing. The degree to which the changes provoked by
computers leave prevailing inequalities is troubling.”1 This
observation preceded the development of the World Wide Web,
which has enabled computational tools to suffuse much work
of the humanities. The questions that have informed our work
as feminist theorists and scholars—how do our items of
knowledge come into being, who made them, for what purposes,
and how does gender play a role in knowledge making—inhere
in our digital humanities work. That the two fields are or should
be inextricably intertwined seems, therefore, an inevitable fact
of life. But is this just personal coincidence, a fact produced
by the trajectory of our careers and interests? What is
humanities computing anyway, and why should it be important
for feminist cultural, social, and intellectual work?
Concomitantly, can feminism enhance and improve the world
and work of computer science, of humanities computing, of
digital humanities? After all, “very early in life, computing is
claimed as a male territory. At each step from early childhood
through college, computing is both actively claimed as “guy
stuff” by boys and men and passively ceded by girls and
women. The claiming is largely the work of a culture and
society that links interest and success with computers to boys
and men.”2
A culture that says to use computing tools expertly one must
know how machines work, or at least must be deft programmers,
dominates much of the world of humanities computing. It is as
if those who have fretted over literary and other humanities
fields becoming feminized or soft have been rescued by a field
that is hard science. Thus through computing, humanities is
being remasculinized. Scientific matters of mathematics and
computation, objective and hard, are not subject to the concerns
of gender, race, or sexuality. Either explicitly or implicitly,
concerns that had taken over so much academic work in
literature—of gender, race, class, sexuality—were assumed to
be irrelevant to humanities computing. 2 + 2, so the reasoning
goes, always equals 4, whether you are black, female, queer,
or straight. The codes always work, whatever one’s personal
identity or social group, and, as matters of objective and hard
science, are best dealt with by those who have been most
interested in being engineers and computational scientists of
critical inquiry. So surely those interested are also 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
Yet such dreams of a return to the “objective,” uncluttered by
messy identity questions, are nostalgic. That humanities
disciplines were in fact foundationally changed by feminist
scholarship of the twentieth century is obvious from project
development within humanities computing itself, and each of
the panelists is deeply involved with a major digital humanities
project informed by feminist scholarship—the Dickinson
Electronic Archives, The Poetess Archive, The Forget-Me-Not
Hypertextual Archive, a cyberfeminist archive, The Assemblage
Gallery. Our work as feminists leads us to concur with social
scientist Jane Margolis and computer scientist Allan Fisher that
“the goal is not to fit women into computer science [digital
humanities] as it is currently taught and conceived. Rather, a
cultural and curricular revolution is required to change computer
science [digital humanities] so that the valuable contributions
and perspectives of women are respected within the discipline.”3
In other words, this panel will posit ways in which the methods
of feminist, queer, and race critical inquiry might benefit the
work of digital humanists across the board (or screen, as it
were) rather than serving as a special niche of interest (for
example, the methods might benefit the multi-institutional
NORA project, <>, and its
second phase, MONK, tremendously).
Descriptions of the roundtable presenters are below and we
trust will serve to show the range of experience and expertise
on which we will draw to pose our questions, posit ways in which the messiness of such critical inquiry can advance digital
humanities, entertain questions and suggestions before, during,
and after our session in order to collaborate with audience
members in knowledge production.
Martha Nell Smith is Professor of English and Founding
Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in
the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland. Author
of more than 40 articles, including “Electronic Scholarly
Editing” in the Blackwell Companion to Digital Humanities,
her publications include Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson’s
Intimate Letters to Susan Dickinson, with Ellen Louise Hart
(1998); Comic Power in Emily Dickinson, with Cristanne Miller
and Suzanne Juhasz (1993); and Rowing in Eden: Rereading
Emily Dickinson (1992). With Mary Loeffelholz, she is editing
the Blackwell Companion to Emily Dickinson (forthcoming in
2007). She is also Coordinator and Executive Editor of the
Dickinson Electronic Archives projects at the Institute for
Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) at the
University of Virginia. With Lara Vetter, she is a general editor
of Emily Dickinson’s Correspondence: A Born-Digital Inquiry,
forthcoming from the Mellon-sponsored University of Virginia
Press Rotunda Electronic Imprint. Her digital humanities work
is an extension of her work as a feminist literary theorist and
scholar. Because her interest in the possibilities afforded by
computers as powerful and empowering tools of humanities
scholarly work became so keen as the World Wide Web was
gaining precedence, her work in humanities computing has
been powerfully influenced by cyberculture and new media
studies. As a digital humanities specialist she has focused on
the sociologies of knowledge production in our
technology-saturated world—what data is reproduced and made
accessible, and to whom, and what new knowledge has been
produced by computational tools. Her questions, suggestions,
and models will be drawn from the multi-institutional data
mining and visualization NORA Project (<http://norap>).
Carolyn Guertin is an Assistant Professor of Digital Media
and Director of the eCreate Lab in the Department of
English at the University of Texas at Arlington. During the
2004 to 2006 academic years, she was a Senior McLuhan
Fellow and SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow in the McLuhan
Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto
~ most recently giving the closing keynote address at
"Re-Reading McLuhan: An International Conference on Media
and Culture in the 21st Century" at the University of Bayreuth
in Germany. She does both theoretical and applied work in
cyberfeminism, digital narrative, digital design, media literacy
(or postliteracy) and performance. She is a founding editor of
the online journal MediaTropes, and a literary advisor to the
Electronic Literature Organization. She has written textbooks
on hypertext and literature and information aesthetics, and is
currently working on a new book project called Connective
Tissue: Queer Bodies, Postdramatic Performance and New
Media Aesthetics. Guertin is best known as curator and founder
of Assemblage: The Women's New Media Gallery <http:/
/assemblage.htm>, the only site devoted exclusively to
born-digital art and lit by women on the Web ~ soon to be
relaunched in a 2.0 version. She will be examining the trend
toward personal media and participatory culture that is a product
(or fallout) of the politicizing of diversity, the women’s
movement, and queer issues. Where notions of interactivity
focused on the technology as the most important component,
participatory or user-generated culture—from wikis to podcasts
to FaceBook to Second Life—puts the backchannel into the
foreground, and puts people of all genders back as active users
in the system.
Laura Mandell is Associate Professor in eighteenth-century
and Romantic British literature at Miami University. Her
book, Misogynous Economies: The Business of Literature in
Eighteenth-Century Britain, discusses the feminist potential of
anti-feminist writings produced during the long eighteenth
century. She has published essays in ELH, MLQ, European
Romantic Review, Studies in Romanticism, and
Nineteenth-Century Prose. She has edited The Castle of Otranto
and The Poetess Archive Database (<http://unixgen.m>), a TEI-encoded bibliographic
finding aid and full-text resource about the men and women
who wrote popular poetry in Britain and America between 1750
and 1900. Within the next year, this resource will contain author
and title information from tables of contents of all the major
anthologies and literary annuals. Within the next few years, it
will expand to periodicals.
Katherine D. Harris, Assistant Professor, San Jose State
University, has created an online hypertextual archive
of the first literary annual, the Forget Me Not, re-presenting
various aspects of the book as well as the poetry, prose and
engravings: “Forget Me Not: A Hypertextual Archive of
Ackermann’s 19th-Century Literary Annual” <http://www
m>. With Laura Mandell, she serves as an editor of The Poetess
Archive Database, which now contains a bibliography of over
4,000 entries for works by and about writers working in and
against the “poetess tradition,” the extraordinarily popular, but
much criticized, flowery poetry written in Britain and America
between 1750 and 1900. Their presentation for this panel will
not be a show-and-tell of these archives, but an in-depth
consideration of ways in which the feminist theories that have
identified the scholarly needs for this resource and informed
their development can advance the work of digital humanities
at large. 1. Jean F. O’Barr, ed., From Hard Drive to Software: Gender,
Computers, and Difference. Special Issue of Signs: Journal of
Women in Culture and Society 16:1 (Autumn 1990).
2. Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher. Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women
in Computing (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London England:
The MIT Press, 2002), p. 4.
3. Unlocking the Clubhouse, p. 6.

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2007

Hosted at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, United States

June 2, 2007 - June 8, 2007

106 works by 213 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (2)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None