CFP: GLAM+Universities on Migration

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I’m pleased to be able to share the CFP below as part of an effort to develop the infrastructures of university and GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) to comment on issues of migration. This is a seed project funded by the PLuS Alliance and will feature one project in conjunction with ASU (including the Nexus Lab). We’ll also be working on a much larger grant proposal on this topic in the near future!

Call for Proposals:

GLAM+Universities Projects on Migration, Mobility, and Belonging

 

With the generous support of a PLuS Alliance seed grant, we are seeking proposals for projects that will test methods for creating and maintaining collaborative, multi-institutional, publicly engaged cultural ecologies on the subject of migration. Organized under the broad title mobility and belonging, we welcome proposals related to the historical, economic, political phenomena of colonization, decolonization, conflict, capital, globalization, and/or environmental displacement. We seek projects that wish to employ technology in innovative ways to bridge the gaps between Universities and GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and/or Museums) institutions, and facilitate more effective ways of communicating with the public.

 

The PLuS Alliance is a partnership of Arizona State University, King’s College London, and University of New South Wales. One project per participating institution will be selected and supported with $2,500.00 for student research/research assistant/research associate/production and $1,500.00 in materials (all dollar amounts in local currency). Additionally, our funding will cover travel to Sydney for a collaborative symposium for project team leads. Selected project leads will also have access to the expertise of both a local PLuS Alliance Fellow and three project experts on digital scholarship, public humanities, migration studies and/or GLAM institution collaboration. We also anticipate that this seed grant will lead to one or more major grant applications and project participants will be invited and encouraged to participate.

 

Background

This project is designed to experiment with best practices for social, ethical, political, and technological/digital infrastructures for GLAM+University research (GLAM = Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums). It prioritizes relationship building/partnerships and programming (exhibitions, knowledge sharing events, other dialogical formats etc.) that are led by or are in collaboration with those who have been affected by migration (in the expanded sense we define below) as a means to begin to shape and re-shape cultural institutions collectively.

 

Drawing on our shared areas of expertise at UNSW, ASU, and KCL we are focusing on a subject that is served well by the GLAM-University interface and is of critical importance to our specific locations and civil society on a global scale: migration. By migration, we mean the historic, (often) voluntary migrations that contributed to the settler colonial nations the United

States and Australia are partly founded upon. Critically, however, we also mean forced migrations that include slavery and human displacements that are a consequence of limited options–from the movement of people due to political turmoil and war, to the ones precipitated by global economic inequality and exploitation and, increasingly, environmental change. We also mean the migrations that were forced onto indigenous peoples of settler-colonies of Australia and the United States by European Empires.

 

GLAM institutions and universities are well placed to build better understanding of the highly complex historical and contemporary experiences of migration. For example, institutional entities like museums and universities have historic ties to the violence of both forced and voluntary migration; they are also the sites that people – both the public and researchers – turn to in order to find the traces of marginalized subjects in our respective cultures. Further, as cultural infrastructures, GLAM institutions and Universities must grapple with the complicated – often very vertical – power networks that flow through our work and institutions. These include, in the case of the United States and Australia, our shared historical realities as settler-colonial nations. On the one hand, the issues around migration and belonging are constitutive of the work we do in terms of exhibiting and interpreting our cultural heritage as scholars, curators, and public historians. On the other, the infrastructures that make this work possible have been – or can be – radically transformed by 21st century technologies and social practices. Consequently, GLAM + Universities are sites where these tensions around mobility and infrastructure enable us to forge new narratives about who we are, what we hope to become, and the tools we want to craft for the future. They are also the sites where we can and must develop new methods and relationships for 21st century scholarship and civic engagement.

 

 

Proposal Guidelines and Information

Please note that all projects must be able to mount a small public event at minimum within the 12-month time frame of this seed grant. Projects that are already underway and would benefit from resources for student research work, GLAM partnership, and public outreach are highly encouraged. Applications may come from anyone within the three universities, but are also welcomed from GLAM institutions that do not yet have or want to expand relationships with one of the participating institutions.

 

All applications should demonstrate a clear partnership between at least one university and a GLAM institution. While the two need not be co-located in a city or geographic region, it may be beneficial given the limitations of this seed grant phase.

 

Project teams agree to work with their project teams and PLuS Alliance leads to identify any areas of further development and to forge the appropriate relationships required for the project. Project teams will determine what kinds of infrastructural and/or institutional experimentation or prototyping they will be undertaking with their projects (knowledge sharing, personal relationship building, digital sharing, physical resource sharing, co-curation, or other) and will draft their own assessment materials. Project teams will be expected to send at least one team member to the in-person meeting in Sydney (date TBD, to be funded by grant) and the virtual meeting (April 2018), where the network will author draft a report with key take-aways and recommendations for future GLAM+University collaboration.

 

To apply, please send the following materials to Professor Jacqueline Wernimont (Jacqueline.Wernimont@asu.edu) via email by 8 p.m. GMT April 2, 2017:

 

  • 2-3 page cover letter outlining your proposed project, including how it engages with migration as a political, cultural, economic, historical phenomena (including but not limited to mobility and belonging), partner institutions, and a description of the planned public exhibit (may be digital or analogue). Please also provide a statement regarding how this grant opportunity will help you/your team further develop the creative-collaborative ecology in your area.

 

  • A 1-2 page summary of participants, their qualifications, and their roles.

 

Documentation (letters of commitment or evidence of access/ownership) that indicates the project team has the necessary assets or access thereto to mount the exhibition.

 

New Connections Workshop

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I concur with my colleague Jamie Winterton that “cyber” has become overdetermined and if you’re into understanding how that works you should check out her upcoming event with the Center for Science and Imagination.2c3csicyber02-300x169

“Cyber” simultaneously looks to be urgently everywhere while also remaining mystifying for many beyond whatever pleasure there may be in police procedurals. Additionally, while poking fun at a certain someone’s invocation of “the cybers” is an important way of addressing the mind-bending lack of information/awareness at many levels of American society, there are also real risks. We have been and continue to be in an historical moment in which the need to understand digital security and risk is urgent for not just nation-states, but for individuals and collectives as well.

As too many of our colleagues (both in and outside of academia) know, “security” is often leveraged as a tool to protect the state at the expense of its most marginalized people, or by dominant groups against dissenters and critics. And many of these same colleagues screenshot-2017-01-16-12-39-24have been at the forefront of innovative work both problematizing traditional cyber and other security discourses and finding ways to support and keep one another safe (thinking here of work by Simone Browne, micha cárdenas, the Digital Alchemists, Electronic Disturbance Theater, Tactical Technology Collective, Take Back the Tech, Crash Over Ride Network and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, among others).

In order to explore the ways in which digital humanities and cybersecurity domains might fruitfully and ethically overlap, HS Collab and Nexus Lab are hosting a small group of people together to have an initial discussion on February 9. This event builds on work that Quinn DuPont and Bradley Fidler and I have each been doing elsewhere. We recognize the dangers of becoming part of a military-industrial-academic complex that privileges the security of just a few and creates precarity for many. Rather than simply reproduce problematic frameworks and methods (or even tools), we’ll be spending the day thinking about how we can learn from decolonial and indigenous approaches to cybersecurity. We’ll be learning more about long histories of both “cyber” and ideas of security/privacy/encryption. We’ll think about the ontologies at work in cybersecurity work and how they might be imagined otherwise.

We’ll report out and we’ve got a larger, open event in the works as well. If you happen to be in the Phoenix metro area and  interested in these topics, Brad and Quinn will also be talking at an open lunch event in the Nexus Lab on the ASU Tempe campus on Feb 10th (more info shortly).

Remediation, Activation, and Entanglement in Performative (Digital) Archives – MLA2017

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Let’s begin with a definition of terms:

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Barad’s ideas regarding entanglement and what they mean for how we approach history and memory has been really important to my work on digital editions, archives, and collections

In this piece (which was a presentation) I’m going to do something a little bit strange and perform a fairly critical reading of a digital book project that I directed and helped to create: Performing Archives: Edward S. Curtis and the “vanishing race.” Elsewhere I’ve argued that digital edition or collection creation is a critical design process – one that entails ethical concerns and is an active and ongoing process. It is – as the yoking together of remediation, activation, and entanglement suggests – both a matter of form and content, theory and practice. In the case of this particular project there are rather complicated histories in that we largely used existing digital assets, along with new ones created from a special collections holding, and created new digital contextual content of several different types.

Here is an additional bit regarding the critical frame for my critique:

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Performing Archives: Edward S. Curtis + the “vanishing race” (http://scalar.usc.edu/works/performingarchive/index)

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  • Funded by a Mellon planning grant focused on consortial digital humanities
  • 3 month pilot project during the summer 2013
  • Idea for topic arose in concert with conversations about primary material use for the Scripps College Core I course
  • We wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to work with existing digital resources to build a robust pilot project that enabled curricular integration and undergraduate research. Our curricular integration entailed working with seventeen faculty teaching a first-year seminar at Scripps College to create a resource that leveraged local special collections and engaged students in a critical conversation about race, technology, and historical identity formation. The Scripps faculty selected an unusual special collections resource: one of fewer than three hundred existing complete sets of the twenty-volume The North American Indian, by Curtis. The digital humanities planning grant team agreed that the Curtis materials and their use in the Scripps course constituted an excellent opportunity to address all of our goals.
  • Authored in Scalar, which is a multimodal authoring and publishing platform established by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture at USC
  • The book includes an article-length piece by artist/scholar Ken Gonzales-Day, a set of data visualization experiments by digital scholar David S. Kim and team, a scholarly essay on the media histories of Curtis’ images by media scholar Heather Blackmore, several short thematic mediations by faculty and two student researchers at the Claremont Colleges, and a detailed primer on working with tribes and tribal assets by the LIS scholar Ulia Gossart
  • It includes new recordings of the disintegrating wax recordings made by Curtis, along with nearly 2,500 visual media assets and their metadata.

While technically still open for development, including by communities of readers within and outside of Claremont, project is now in a quiet phase

The project was an occasion to work on some technical innovation for Scalar – Honeydew Interface (aka Scalar 2.0)…

They crafted what was then a new experimental interface designed to maximize engagement with a large set of visual resources. We were the first with the gallery-like view, which allows us to see the thousands of images of The North American Indian in new ways.

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David Kim and I wrote about the project for the Archives Journal and highlighted the ways that we were thinking of our digital book as something that simultaneously publishes an archive and allows authors and readers to “perform archive” or enact “liveness” with the materials therein.

In particular, we were bringing the insights of feminist theory and critical race and ethnic studies to reorient the issues of archival agency, as well as consider the ways in which recent paradigm shifts in the archival practice with respect to Native American materials can contribute to the discussion in the digital humanities about issues of cultural representation and its relationships to scholarly design.

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We can see this in action in Curtis’ work. As Ken Gonzales-Day reminds us in his exhibit for the book Visualizing the “Vanishing Race”: The Photogravures of Edward S. Curtis, the photographer often staged the images that he published.

Various props, like wigs or breastplates, move through multiple photographs and across tribal lines. As a work of “salvage ethnography,” The North American Indian was a production staged to argue that western tribes were in fact vanishing and that they needed to be documented for the edification of those who would remain in their place.

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The archive of visual, sonic, and material culture compiled by and on behalf of Curtis was an attempt to perform an idea about Native American being, in the sense of performing his idea of what “Indianness” was. That performance continues to fundamentally shape white America’s sense of the historical place of tribal culture and practices.

Within digital humanities work, archives are regularly theorized and problematized in relation to Jacques Derrida’s “Archive Fever.” Very often the focus turns to creating pathways to wider access, establishing more inclusive canons, enhancing the search capacities of database, and anticipating the preservation challenges of our rapidly accumulating contemporary “digital cultural legacy.”

While such work broadly prioritizes the issues of scale and scalability of digital archives, we thought it was important to also recognize what “more and better” does not fully capture: the opportunity to reimagine different and differentiated archival models and practices that digital media and a performativity critique of the archive offer.

So we understood this project as something other than an essentializing access project. Thinking of “performance as critical discourse allows for focusing attention on data, not only as accumulation of cultural material, but also as a source to how data lives and operates within a culture by its actions.” Thus, performance helped us reorient away from thinking of the data that we were creating and aggregating as something upon which other forces would act and toward the idea that the data was already acting—crafting “indianness” as near absence.

Curtis’s salvage ethnography produced the sense that a remarkable array of cultures and individuals could be reduced to a history of disappearance. This required us to confront the ways that the data continued to act, both in the contexts from which we drew our materials and in the context of our digital book. Julie Louise Bacon observes that “archives express the link between ‘poesis’ as ‘the act of (history) making,’ and ‘techne’ as ‘the systemization, or industrial treatment of that act.’”

If we take the claim that our content and form – our data and technologies were always already enacting certain ideologies and subject formations seriously, then we needed to be aware of the ways in which the technologies of the archive were integral to the staging of those performances.

This means that full account of the remediations at work here would entail considering the visual and textual technologies of Curtis’s initial publication, the digital technologies that formed the basis of subsequent special collections publication at the Library of Congress and Northwestern University, and our Scalar book, as well as the media transformations that were part of the storage and sharing of the audio recordings and material culture items that we included.

We were also thinking about social networks and asking ourselves whose voices were under-represented in Curtis’ work and its reception history.

Understanding that we could not contact the more than 100 tribes represented in the North American Indian and forge meaningful relationships in our 3 month pilot, we instead undertook a study of what it would take to do such work.

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We were thinking about how to engage with the issues around intellectual property rights and tribal rights – asking ourselves “who has the rights and what do we do when a “rights” framework doesn’t work for all implicated?” These are important questions that aren’t asked often enough in research – digital or analog.

So I’ve been thinking critically about activation – As Karen Barad notes, memory is not a matter of the past, but recreates the past each time it is invoked. So in this case what did we invoke? What networks were we activating? Did we really “decenter” Curtis as we’d aimed?

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The large green section is the media content of the digital book – more than 2,500 assets by Curtis himself. The tiny little sliver there is one of our scholarly interventions. So, in short, no we didn’t decenter him in terms of the volume of materials (and as literary scholars we know that volume, repetition, duration matter to meaning).

However useful and interesting our essays, data viz, and photographic essays might be, they are overwhelmed in some ways by Curtis’ legacy, which we ourselves had done the work of importing. Unfortunately, we largely activated memories of oppression and settler knowledge systems.

What’s more, as the list of collaborating authors and archives suggests, we organized people working in and around centers of institutional privilege. While we were able to work more horizontally within the university systems, what we activated was an essentially privileged non-native network. Similarly, with our partner institutions we almost entirely activated networks of the state with all of their privileges and past transgressions.

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Stuart Hall and Tuhiwai Smith both talk about the remarkable resilience of the western knowledge infrastructure, including archives, to assimilate/appropriate radical critique without fundamentally changing knowledge structures (46 Decolonizing Methodologies). And it seems to me that in effect, in its current state the Curtis project is a really excellent example of small and incremental difference on the top of essentially the same repressive and violent structures.

Part of Barad’s point about entanglement is that it requires us to be attentive to what gets excluded as well as what comes to matter. As noted earlier, ““monocultures produce…silences…absences.” So for me this requires that I do more to attend to the native artists who have directly engaged with Curtis’ legacy and who are not (yet) represented in the site, do more to get outside of the monoculture of white american histories.

Art by Marla Allison, Cara Romero, Virgil Oriiz, Will Wilson, Zig Jackson, and Wendy Redstar

Barad is writing here in the below about how we understand and engage the past:

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So changing the past – even when that engagement hasn’t really changed much, as I think is true in this case – is never without costs, or responsibility. The production of this digital book engages in the work of invoking a particular past and that comes both with costs and responsibilities.

This is not just an theoretical issue – the book is getting used. Since January 2016 it’s had 30,000 page views, roughly 9,000 users, with roughly 20% returning (bots excluded although there are a few caveats there). Another of my projects, Eugenic Rubicon, has had about a tenth of that volume of engagement over the same period, for comparison.

I’ve not done deep analytic tracking on the site, in part because I’m generally not a fan of such tracking, so I can’t say much about who or why people are using the book. Given my own critique of the project as it stands now and the fact that it’s getting at least some usage, I find myself at a bit of juncture – a spot where I feel pretty keenly the responsibility of entanglement and activation. I’m also cognizant that there is likely to be an uptick in interest in Curtis in 2018 which is his 150 birthyear.

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I’ve been thinking seriously about what should happen next. I initially felt that this project was closed for all intents and purposes, but the opportunities of talks like this and the interest in the book have me thinking about the ways I might address my own entanglement and responsibility. This has included taking the project down entirely, as well as reconfiguring it to make good on the promises of engagement and decentering. I’d welcome any thoughts/ideas you all might have. Thank you.

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Weaving Bigger Networks: on Joining HASTAC Leadership

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I am a terrible keeper of happy, exciting secrets. The recent ASA meeting was particularly tricky given that so many of the people that I adore and who have helped to build HASTAC were there. I wanted to tell everyone how excited I am for the future of HASTAC and it’s new partnership with ASU. I wanted to talk about how we can continue to advance the work people are already doing creating and sustaining communities of inquiry, critique, and care. I wanted to share time imaging and planning our ongoing work to transform higher ed and to highlight the long-standing relationships (good and bad) between sciences and humanities and arts. But I had to wait.

Until today. It’s with great pleasure that I share that HASTAC has chosen ASU as its new institutional partner and that I’ll be working with Cathy Davidson to Co-Direct HASTAC.

In our proposal, we noted that at ASU we measure our success by whom we include and how they succeed. Our new HASTAC-ASU partnership is similarly guided by an absolute commitment to inclusivity and community-defined outcomes, meaning that we plan to listen carefully to the needs and interests of the HASTAC community in developing programming.

We want to guide and support HASTAC with a shared commitment to issues of sustainability and justice as the country and world undergo rapid change in demography, culture, technology, and, of course, education. HASTAC in 2025 will be an even more vibrant social community that brings together scholars, students, and their communities to envision and create their own unlimited possibilities.

I have the extraordinary good fortune to work with people who are both amazing individuals and committed collaborators. This includes the incomparable Michael Simeone who brought the HASTAC annual conference to ASU last year and who has long been a central part of the HASTAC community. Michael has been a pioneer on the ASU campus for digital collaborative research and laid the foundations that made this possible. We continue to have the wonderful support of ASU administration, including CLAS Dean of Humanities, George Justice, former and current Institute for Humanities Directors, Sally Kitch, and Cora Fox, and school directors like Sha Xin Wei (Arts Media and Engineering), Aaron Baker (English), and Matthew Garcia (SHPRS). Last but not least are the amazing women here at ASU who make taking on wicked problems wicked fun: Jessica Rajko (Dance), Marisa Duarte (Social Transformation), Nadya Bliss (Director, Global Security Initiative),  and Jamie Winterton (Director of Strategy, GSI).

As the new HASTAC partner, ASU will be drawing on both our amazing local staff (IHR, GSI, English shout out!) and the fantastic people who make HASTAC a space for transformational work.There is a lot of work ahead of us and I am deeply honored to be doing it with both the HASTAC and ASU communities.

Directing a New Nexus Lab Experiment

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When I first arrived at ASU, I spent a bit of time in the Nexus Lab – talking with Michael Simeone, working with a few students who were doing some encoding, and giving a few presentations. One of those presentations as part of the Research Advancement series, was where I met my current collaborator, Jessica Rajko. From that first meeting we’ve developed our #VibrantLives work and have gone on to show it together in Canada, the U.S., and she’s shown it in Amsterdam. We’ve worked sniffing real time data and parsing and sonifying archival data. We’ve done research using both our various disciplinary languages and we’ve worked to bring the body to the fore – focusing on embodied knowing rather than language at times. This work eventually led to the two of us founding of the HSCollab together and we’ve since brought in new collaborators from across ASU and the Phoenix metro area. In many ways, my work today is a product of that talk hosted in the Nexus Lab and I am extraordinarily grateful to Michael for hosting an event that changed my career.

It’s in the context of that gratitude and generous collaboration that I now step into the role of the Interim Director for Nexus. Michael launched Nexus just three years ago and has done amazing things with it in a short time. He recently accepted his new position with ASU Libraries as Director of Data Science and Analytics. Lucky for me, he’s just a stone’s throw away from the Lab and we’ll be working together far into the future, I imagine.

As someone whose work has been transformed by the Nexus Lab’s vision for transdisciplinary collaboration, I plan to keep this kind of open, multi-disciplinary, creative engagement at the heart of what the Lab does in the next year. Along with Michael, I am working to bring a major initiative here to ASU and will be able to say more about that later this fall (I hope!). In the shorter term, I’ll be reaching out to our communities to see what has worked in the past and what people are hoping for in the future. My time as Interim Director coincides with a major review of work within the Institute for Humanities Research (which hosts Nexus), meaning that there are opportunities to shape our future programming based on evolving interests and needs. This may include continuing to develop a regional DH network. It likely will also mean focusing on the amazing strengths of ASU’s faculty and students who are doing work on the Tempe, West, Poly, and Downtown campuses.

slide1Much of the work I will be doing as Interim Director will expand on the community building that we’ve been doing as part of HSCollab, which now also includes the formidable and fabulous Marisa Duarte. Our monthly “Possibility Lunches” are already tackling issues around the Internet of Things and Decolonial Approaches to Technologies.

In the spring of 2017 HSCollab, GSI, and Nexus Lab will be hosting a Cyber+DH event with partners from Columbia U and UCLA. As with Collab, Nexus will be working to think about data, information, and technologies from a variety of perspectives, including those grounded in arts or creative research practices. There will be crocheting alongside our coding and dancing together with data. I’m excited by this new experiment and hope to see many of you around Nexus in the future!

 

Doing not Being a Book

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NB: This is the written work and slide images from a talk I gave as part of the fabulous Yale Book History Seminar this weekend. Thank you to the amazing organizers for a really wonderful event. We were given provocations/prompts and asked to speak for about 20 mins. I think the most compelling part is the first section and the final paragraph :). Someday, when the book is done, I’ll work this up into something a bit more formal. Our first question for a panel on the Afterlives of the Book, asked “what are the affordances of (book-like) materials, and how might scholars, archivists, and students work with them most effectively?” I felt I needed to grapple with premise of a death/afterlife before getting to affordances…

Part of the challenge of the pronouncements about the “death of X” is that they tend to be sweeping statements that ignore questions about users/readers, contexts, and economic and infrastructural dependencies. I was so delighted to hear Joseph bring up the entropy and innovation that readers introduce to book history.

Confronted with the idea of the death of the book, I might first ask “dead for whom? In what contexts?” Is the book dead for literature classes at small liberal arts colleges? No. Is the book dead for historical surveys in large public institutions? No, but it has changed. Is the book dead for beach or mountain or home reading on vacation? No. Is the book dead for those who are working to reduce non-essential expenditures? Maybe, but that might not be new. I could go on and on in this vein, but I suspect you understand that my point here is that an analysis of media technology is always wrapped up in understanding the material and social conditions of its use. Much to my delight books are a stubborn genre of media technology.

I’m a feminist literary historian who focuses on technologies of commemoration and imagination, so I tend to make my first move one of looking back. While I’m sensitive to radical shifts and breaks, I favor continuities as a political and epistemological gesture. I’m committed to the weaving work that we can do as scholars to make dependencies and relationships visible. So in response to this set of questions, my first impulse was to look back and to think again about what book history and studies of technology can tell us about this idea of the death of the book.

If we take the metaphorslide02 of death seriously, we have to think about the lifecycle of the book. Did it have a birth? Certainly we can look at the rise of the print industry, but as any medievalist or early modernist will tell you, the codex was not an exclusively print technology. While Gutenberg’s printing press pushed reproduction to a new scale in the fifteenth century, the press, moveable type, and all the rest was not the “birth” of the book. It was the birth of print perhaps, but this included an array of media formats, many of which were unbound. So the birth of the codex has to have happened at some other time.

The long slow shift from the scroll to the codex is usually dated from the first to the fourth or fifth century C.E. but this raises interesting definitional problems. Late antique media forms included both the papyrus or parchment roll or scroll, and metal, wood, and wax tablets – some of which were strung together in what are described as diptychs, triptychs, or polyptychs. Paul Needham’s Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 suggests that the term “codex” originally referred to a set of wooden tablets bound together in this fashion and dates the oldest surviving example (a Greek/Phoenician alphabet) from 800 B.C.E.[1]

So I’m not so sure that we can point at a single book as the first, and we can’t necessarily do that for the codex either. We can say that we have an oldest surviving example that is more than 2800 years old, but that is about it. I take this longish detour in part to make it clear how difficult it would be to locate the “birth of the book” if we take a book to be something like a bound collection of writing. If we can’t locate a birth, it’s going to be hard to determine a death. This difficulty suggests that thinking about the birth/death of a thing called the book might not be the best approach.

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Johanna Drucker suggests as much when she observes that ebook designers would do well to ask “how a book does….rather than what a book is.”[2] Like Drucker I tend to favor understanding media technologies as a set of formal constraints on the field of possible uses and tend to approach ‘meaning’ as something created in a dynamic process that we generally refer to as ‘reading.’ Drucker describes her approach as “the program of the codex, ” where ‘program’ refers to the set of activities that arise in response to or in engagement with formal structures. [3] I understand reading as a performative event (Drucker also describes it as book as a “performative space for the production of reading”[4]) – one where a media’s formal features and content are part of a process of co-dependent meaning/use creation that includes the reader/user and her contexts.

Drucker suggests that we think of the codex not as it appears, but as it works as a “dynamic knowledge system, organized and structured to allow various routes of access”[5] Drawing on Roger Chartier’s and Malcolm Parkes’ excellent work on histories of the book and reading, Drucker encourages us to think about the typographic and paratextual elements that shifted the “program” of the codex from one of linear, monastic reading and prayer toward scholastic argumentation between the 12th and 14th centuries.[6] We might be able to point to a complex network of formal features and practices that inaugurated uses of book technology in the late medieval period in the way we might think of it today in scholarly or legal settings. But do we have the death of this kind of reading performance today? I don’t think so (I’d also note that scholastic argumentation is hardly the only mode of reading past or present).

Ok, so I don’t think anything like the death of the book can be pronounced because I don’t think there is a thing called “the book” that was born and could die.

It might be possible to follow the “programs” of the book and how they have enabled different processes and performances and this is worth doing. But it’s not what you’ve asked me to do here, so I’ll transition to thinking about the affordances of our current digital media technologies and their relations to this nexus of activity signaled by our colloquial reference to “the book.”

So what can we say about the affordances of digital “dynamic knowledge systems” that (like books) are “organized and structured to allow various routes of access”? A lot, I imagine. Again, I think a great deal of our understanding of the affordances of media depends on understanding the systems of which they are part and on understanding reading as a performative and generative act. For the sake of this discussion, let’s limit the possibilities to thinking about how digital knowledge systems can be of use for academic performances – both critical and creative.

Jonathan Sawday talks about “correction and improvement” as affordances of early modern print – a kind of stable or fixed text could be released, which would then allow for improvement in subsequent editions or with new innovation.[7] According to this argument, the fixed text was a way to freeze knowledge or a design or a memory in one form such that it could then be intentionally altered (rather than spending a bunch of time and energy on ensuring its accuracy).

This is a feature that I think we see even more strongly in digital environments; once published to the web or in some other digital format, electronic documslide04ents can be continually reconfigured – both form and content can change. This means that the “program” of the text, to use Drucker’s term, can be repeatedly altered thereby producing new readings, new performances. Additionally, with tools like version control such as we see in wikis or on github we can track changes rather rapidly, which anyone working on a critical edition can attest is long and slow process in print.[8] In the case of a publication like Wikipedia or if you prefer a more scholarly example the Devonshire Manuscript Social Edition you have an interface that offers the entire history of revision and it makes iteration of the text legible in ways that would be quite cumbersome in a traditional codex.[9]slide05

 

The Devonshire Social Edition is a great example as well of the increased sociality that Drucker points to as an affordance of digital media.Talk pages and collaborative writing/editing are affordances of the digital to be sure. Version tracking will get you an entire history of the text rather easily. That said, I’ve done a lot of work in wiki environments and it is my experience that the average reader doesn’t know about version tracking or the talk pages. This is, in part, a design problem – how might one imagine an interface that provides access to the depth of information that is captured in discussions about the production of a text, along with the various iterations of the text, and allow for ease of use? It’s a little bit like trying to read a heavily revised manuscript in multiple hands for “just” the content.

Adding in layers of complexity changes how we understand “the text” and that is both productive and potentially frustrating. To take another popular example, shared real-time authoring/editing of a google docs document is fabulous for collaborative work but I wouldn’t want to have to read an essay in six colors with a range of comments and changes tracked as well. There is an interesting signal in the fact that many people hide the very mechanisms that allow for collaborative work when it comes time to publish.

The Debates in Digital Humanities online editions, edited by Matt Gold and Lauren Klein, Slide06.jpghave taken a more integrated approach to making traces of reading visible in electronic space, bringing the social element of information sharing and reading into interface rather elegantly.

The kind of highlighting and commenting that is enacted therein is not new, as anyone who has ever checked out a marked up library book can attest, but it is considered a feature rather than damage in the digital context and it can unfold both synchronously and asynchronously. While I do think that increased sociality around reading, writing, and working with texts is great, I also want to point to the dangers of sociality. As the Devonshire group found, trolls can find even the most academic of projects and civility in digital spaces is no more and is perhaps even less guaranteed than it is in face-to-face interactions.

Not only does collaborative writing and editing mean that we have social networks developed and developing around digital texts, it also points to an important way in which the digital can organize labor differently than the print shop or scriptorium. Sawday argues that early modern “print as a set of technologies brought people closer together” by virtue of working in a print shop.[10] In my experience, the affordances of digital co-authorship can be quite profound.

slide07 I’ve co-written several pieces now using google docs with as many as four other authors spread over two different continents and four different time zones. The labor of production in these cases has been quite distributed and that has allowed the FemTechNet group to work as a collective and to work rather quickly despite significant distances between us. This is a real affordance. Similarly, co-authoring was possible in the past with asynchronous sharing of manuscripts or drafts, but with digital co-authoring we can leverage both synchronous and asynchronous work cycles. This is really important when juggling an array of obligations and trying to squeeze in short bursts of writing (read: great for authors with kids and lives). At the same time, I want to acknowledge that we all lament the spaces that separate us, we often wish to be together for long stretches of time, and there is a palpable sense of joy and relief when we are co-located. Distributed authoring is an affordance, but it is one that helps to solve problems that are created by our geographic distance, heavy workloads, and relative isolation as feminist scholars.

If social editions and collaborative authoring interfaces create a greater degree of sociality, make iteration visible, and track the history of the formation of a text, they still remain rather stubbornly like our modern scholarly book with tables of contents, chapter headings, footnotes and the like. They are largely text-bound programs. In a more radical opening up of possibilities we might look at examples of multimedia authoring and think about the affordances evident there and I think Jessica M Johnson’s work in/with Tumblr and on blogs is exemplary.

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https://diasporahypertext.com/

Part of what is so great about Johnson’s work for questions about the history of the book is that she explicitly names her triptych of sites Codex and there’s a real push here for us to think about the ways in which this is book-work.

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Here is Johnson’s description of Codex:

“Each volume is housed on Tumblr, a social media platform in which waves of reblogs, shares, and remediation occur as posts are published and distributed among friends and followers. More than fluid, such dispersal defies the linear and stratified logic suggesting something of the communal and polyamorous reproduction of knowledge reminiscent of the cacophony of cosmologies crashing together as Africans moved among plantations societies. As a result, there is no linear here. The only logic is ritual.”

Johnson’s use of the form articulates both a political and epistemological stance – her sites enact a kind of sociality that goes far beyond what we might imagine for co-authoring in text. Her communities are represented at the bottom of the screen as shares, reuses, and like. They can operate synchronously and asynchronously, like shared authoring. Where they different from co-authoring is this: the form preserves a kind of agency and authorship embedded in the bricolage of shared posts that is fundamentally different from the merged voices of collaborative writing.

This is an instance where we see the remix and reuse that is often held up as an affordance of digital production come to the fore. Further, Johnson’s use of Tumblr is motivated by a commitment to forms that enact reproducibility – both as a citation politics (reproducing content) but also as a statement regarding access – Tumblr is widely used outside of academia and in her use generates a knowledge system that explodes the traditional boundaries of scholarly work. If, as Sawday suggests, print was a mechanism of repeatability, we can say that certain digital platforms are mechanisms of reproducibility, with the difference residing partly in the ability of reader/users to engage the media itself as creators as well.[11]

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A different but equally compelling example is Whitney Trettien and Fran McDonald’s forthcoming (November) digital journal thresholds http://openthresholds.org/   (disclosure: I’m on the board), which opens with the following statement: “To read and to write is to become entangled; to allow oneself to be snagged upon or enmeshed amidst a profusion of other texts and ideas. Born of these twin entanglements, criticism is necessarily an act of collaboration between an author and a churning mass of other things.”

As Trettien and McDonald note, their interface “bears witness to the dynamic processes that constitute reading and writing by way of a split-screen digital architecture.” The goal here is to bring the gathering and collecting that many of us do as scholars and artists literally into the frame. In addition to a short essay on the left side, the right side of the screen gathers multimedia fragments to create a reading performance that must take place in the spaces in between. The thresholds interface freezes a bricolage of materials and disrupts a readers ability to perform readings dependent on the fiction of a fully formed authorial idea or stable, finished text. Instead it captures entanglement in a formal structure and eschews the directional or informational apparatus of the footnote. Johnson’s use of Tumblr enables her to aggregate and formally present the waves of remediation that hold a community together. thresholds, in contrast, aggregates materials with which the author is engaged

Again thinking about how media work rather than what they are, we might think of digital media tools like Google docs, Tumblr, and the split screen interface as weaving appliances – technologies for creating and disseminating either tightly woven (as in the google docs example) or quilted (as in Tumblr or thresholds) information. For me this is a useful metaphor, but I want to signal that it misses the different tempslide11oralities and socialities of digital creation and the iterative nature of the ever-editable program of digital publishing.

We might think through whether or not digital iteration is akin to the Odyssey’s Penelope weaving and unweaving her shroud and what that kind of unmaking and remaking means for our creative and readerly performances.

Prompt 2:  In what ways have researchers, administrators, libraries, universities, and cultural institutions historically responded to news of the book’s demise? How can scholars engage seriously with claims regarding the declining attention spans of “digital natives,” or with the waxing and waning fortunes of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and flipped classrooms? How, if at all, should the book’s supposed decline inform the mission of higher education and its role in public discourse?

Response: A survey of the many ways that people in higher ed and cultural institutions have responded to the supposed death of the book would take more time than I have here. That said, there are some familiar tropes including that of the “digital native,” the lament for the lost good old days of long form reading, critiques of popular culture as fluff or distraction, and a lot of handwringing about the kinds of technologies that we should have in our classrooms and homes – whether they be books or phones that play Pokemon Go. We could read all of this as symptomatic of one or another cultural anxiety and generational shift. I’ll be brief and say that I think hysteria is misplaced and dismissal of students is a terrible pedagogical approach.

Wendy Chun does a fabulous job talking about the ways that the purported speed of new media are part of the rhetoric of new media itself – this idea that we’re always struggling to catch up and that none of this has ever been experienced before is part of the market cycle of planned obsolescence and the very idea of “the new.”[12] I think it is precisely the job of higher education and cultural institutions to help people make sense of socio-cultural-technical changes. Rather than lament or panic, I think we do well do offer our attempts to historicize, contextualize, and render the differential impacts of socio-technical change legible. Corporations are moving rapidly to encourage a consumer who uses rather than creates and I think we have a social imperative to intervene. I also think  – and I’m drawing on Johnson’s work again here – that we have a social justice imperative to push against the “strategic amnesia of digital culture” and the claims to totalizing knowledge through computational prosthetics.[13] This is actually one of my major interests – remaining productively skeptical of the total knowledge project that has been critical to the rise of first the book as “ an extra-somatic information store,’ a prosthetic memory tool which works as an ‘artificial substitute for a function that was previously performed in the body” and then, later, the rise of computational and digital tools to achieve the same ends. [14] The drive to complete or total knowledge is at odds with a feminist commitment to situated knowledge and I think the fantasy of mastery does a lot of real damage both on the ground and in our imaginaries, particularly to those whose bodies are no longer considered valid sites of knowing – people of color, but women in particular, and queer and gender non-conforming persons.

I will also say that “entanglement,” which came up in the example of thresholds is an important word for me, both in terms of understanding how media operate over time (entanglement of past and present) and with respect to my own ethical obligations as a scholar (how I become entangled with knowledge systems and the people they impact).[15] Part of our important intervention should be helping people to understand how media like the book and related digital knowledge systems operate and how they formalize and enable/disable memory and creative practices. Jussi Parrika observes that “media cultures as sedimented and layered, a fold of time and materiality where the past might be suddenly discovered anew and the new technologies slide12grow obsolete increasingly fast.” (see Chun). Part of this is about understanding the heterogeneity of our media landscapes and uses: “new media remediates old media…but old media never left us.
They are continuously remediated, resurfacing, finding new uses, contexts, adaptations….zombie-media: living deads, that found an afterlife in new contexts, new hands, new screens and machines.” (NB: I could say a lot about the metaphor of zombies here but will save that for another time).

 

Prompt 3: What is the future of humanities scholarship in the age of the book’s transformation? What critical opportunities are provided by the new forms of research publication and peer review that now exist alongside the printed monograph or journal? And how can these developments contribute to the ongoing process of interrogating and expanding traditional scholarly canons, enabling new kinds of work on gender, race, ethnicity, and migration in particular?

I’m going to keep this very short since I spent a good deal of time pointing to examples earlier that I think address some of the questions posed here. I will say that digital media tools can make it possible to do better in terms of citational politics – Johnson’s publications are excellent at making clear who she is in conversation with and why. Digital media also afford opportunities to make visible that our study of words and books as knowledge systems is always entangled with our understandings and uses of other media forms as work from both Johnson and Trettien/McDonald testify. I’ve done a fair amount of publishing using the Scalar platform and I have found that the ability to bring an array of materials together can be quite powerful for reaching different audiences, including what we might think of as “the general public.”[16] At the same time, both of my projects in Scalar have raised really thorny and urgent issues for me around cultural appropriation, centering of marginalized voices, the politics of access and reuse, and ethical questions for digital archives. I think there is a great deal of potential for reaching more audiences and in different ways. The power of the non-linear or fluid knowledge system is non-trivial and deserves continued attention. I think there are opportunities for performing with very different kinds of digital “programs” to go back to Drucker’s term. At the same time, I think there is a real risk of harm and of further entrenchment of social and economic divides. This is where I think entanglement as an articulation of an ethical commitment is useful – I am entangled with those whose words and images I leverage in digital publication and in that entanglement we are all transformed and we are all responsible.

[1] 4, also cited in Jeremy Norman’s History of Information http://www.historyofinformation.com/narrative/roll-to-codex.php

[2] Drucker 170

[3] Drucker 168

[4] Drucker 168

[5] Drucker 173

[6] Drucker 170-1

[7] Jonathan Sawday “print had the effect of freezing design at one stage of its evolution, which made it easier to transmit technical knowledge “Improvement, the process by which a design or idea could be reworked so that it became more efficient, or redesigned entirely and applied to an entirely different task, paradoxically rested on that quality of fixity that seemed so unique to print (as opposed to handwritten).” Engines of the Imagination (Routledge 2007) 79

[8] Interested in tracking changes? Check out Matthew Kirschenbaum’s book Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (Harvard 2015).

[9] https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/The_Devonshire_Manuscript

[10] Engines 80

[11] Engines 83

[12] see both her Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media (MIT 2016) and Programming Visions (MIT 2011) for more on the speed of new media.

[13] Jussi Parikka What is Media Archeology? (Polity 2012) 161

[14] Engines 113

[15] for more on entanglement in (new) media environments see Parrika, Karen Barad Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Duke UP 2007), and Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska Life After New Media (MIT 2012)

[16] scalar.usc.edu/works/the-eugenic-rubicon/ and http://scalar.usc.edu/works/performingarchive/index