I had the pleasure of offering a NITLE Shared Academics Seminar yesterday on the topic of Gender and Women’s Studies and Digital Humanities. We had a great group of people in attendance and there was a robust conversation around issues of infrastructure and funding. One of the challenges of being the seminar leader is that it’s a bit difficult to keep up with the chat while moving through a presentation, so I thought I’d take some time here to think about some of what was said.

Hidden Histories
The seminar was framed using Alan Liu’s oft-cited “Where is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?” and Natalia Cecire’s “Theory and the Virtues of Digital Humanities”. These two pieces allowed me to introduce the conversation that many in the DH field have been having about theory – its roles and kinds – and cultural engagement. Their work allowed me to raise the question: “what is at stake” when we bring gender and women’s studies (GWS) approaches to DH work?” Bringing that question to the fore is important, but I also want to signal that I think gender and women’s studies has always been at the heart of DH work. I don’t think we are bringing a new set of perspectives to DH, they have always been integral to some of the most foundational DH work. What we need to do is articulate that recognition and to continue to highlight the value of GWS within DH.

This is an interesting challenge for those of us who were trained to make “interventions” in modes that are combative or contrary. Rather than overturning or excavating problematic paradigms, can we articulate histories of positive change, of ethical structures that order our work? I’m compelled by Tara McPherson’s analysis of computational partitioning and its effects on our understanding of race, class, and gender (which appears in Debates in Digital Humanities). But I find myself increasingly interested in the yet-to-be-written histories of technologies and habits of work and thought that have salutary effects with respect to sexuality, race, class, or gender.

Infrastructure for tactical work
Included in our conversation about writing new histories – acts of remembrance, I think – were a number of conversations about communities/infrastructures that already exist to support GWS-DH work and how we might build new ones or further supplement existing efforts. I had begun and others have added to a resource document, as one way of aggregating information about existing infrastructure. Among the new-to-me resources discussed are two HASTAC resources, one on Feminist Game Studies and the other on Feminist Open Access Online Journals.

As more than one person noted, monumental projects – those large, multi-year, institutional projects – seem at odds with certain feminist principles. While they provide access, often to otherwise unavailable or excluded work and in the best cases to project documentation and processes, they also are subject to some of the gatekeeping practices that many feminist and queer studies scholars want to avoid (paywalls, certain kinds of authority structures that exclude particular groups, etc).

If we advance a critique of monumentalism, then perhaps we should be looking for alternative models. This led us to talking about tactical collaborations (by way of Mark Sample, by way of de Certeau) – those “fleeting and fugitive” kinds of alliances that we might make. We also discussed tactical-style projects that might utilize smaller scales and timeframes, something a group of us at an STS conference called “chiffon” interventions in order to mark their ephemeral nature. The tactical collaboration and the “chiffon” intervention have a long history in feminist activism, going back to early radical feminist zines (see Jacqueline Rhodes’ work on this). While there are clearly such projects in the history of DH – many of them fading into oblivion as Amy Earhart has pointed out – the infrastructure to support such work is lacking. Thus we found ourselves asking: how can we fund and make time for such work? In an era where “impact” is a metric for funding and funding essential to the time to do the work (course releases etc), how can we make the case for such tactical and ephemeral work?

Moya Bailey and others brought up Kickstarter as a possible funding source, perhaps we would form a feminist federation that would seek funding, and she later pointed us to Digital Sisterhood’s post on Kickstarter Funding. The Kickstarter suggestion gained some interest, and left me wondering how one might use Kickstarter while within an institution and how Review/Tenure/Promotion committees might see NEH grants and Kickstarter funding in very different ways. That discussion also brought the following exchange between Adeline Koh and Brian Croxall:Screen shot 2013-02-28 at 10.22.15 AM

Brian’s invocation of the web rings left me thinking that perhaps that sort of federation isn’t as outdated as the image might seem. This is, as Adeline’s tweet suggests, very much what efforts like NINES or the Feminist Open Spaces do. Which leaves me wondering, should we be looking to build new infrastructures and funding ventures for GWS-DH projects (using existing models) or should we be looking for those tactical opportunities, not to build something big, but to make those fleeting, fluttering kinds of interventions?