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.

Feminist Infrastructure as Metamorphic Infrastructure

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I’m one of five women on a panel about Feminist Infrastructure at the Digital Humanities annual conference taking place now in Krakow, Poland. Due to other obligations, I’m here in the states, but my virtual presence will be manifest with little movie presentation. Related: not keen that this panel and so many others have been put on a “diversity” track, but happy everyone is there and doing the work.

Creating Feminist Infrastructure in the Digital Humanities

Susan Brown1,2, Tanya Clement3, Laura Mandell4, Deb Verhoeven5, Jacque Wernimont6

1School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph, Canada; 2English and Film Studies; Humanities Computing, University of Alberta, Canada; 3University of Texas at Austin, USA; 4Texas A&M University, USA; 5Deakin University, Australia; 6Arizona State University

Here’s my presentation

And here’s our abstract

This panel considers how gender and digital infrastructures shape each other. It will be a hybrid of the panel- and multiple-paper session with three sectioned themes:

  • Training and pedagogical traditions;
  • Examples of feminist technical infrastructure;
  • Infrastructure, collaboration, and credit.

The panel aims to improve understanding of:

  • 1) the extent to which even something as apparently neutral or apolitical as infrastructure is imbued with gender and other socio-political considerations;
  • 2) the impact of systemic gender and racial discrimination in a range of infrastructural contexts, notwithstanding the extent to which so many DH practitioners work hard to overcome the biases embedded in our cultures and our discourses; and
  • 3) current and prospective strategies for countering those biases.

We will seek to engage the audience throughout this session to include in the panel’s discussions a broad range of perspectives on and positions in relation to infrastructure.

 

 

Computational and Digital Humanities at ASU

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I’m delighted that we are officially now in full swing with our new graduate certificate in Computational and Digital Humanities here at ASU. While I’m the current director, this has been a labor of love for many here at ASU, including fabulous folks like Michael Simeone, Alex Halavais, Jacqueline Hettel, and the amazing administrative staff in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies where the CDH is housed. The CDH has a great partner in the IHR Nexus Lab for Transdisciplinary Informatics and Digital Humanities.

As we put it in our founding documents: The digital revolution has transformed every discipline in the university, including humanities and qualitative social science fields. The graduate certificate in Digital Humanities will provide graduate students with methods and skills central to conducting humanities research that employs both qualitative and quantitative approaches. Specifically, it is designed to provide graduate students in the humanities and social science with cross training in interdisciplinary collaboration, project-based communication skills, and the simultaneous application of quantitative and qualitative research skills.

Students will enter with expertise in their enrolled graduate program and will craft a course of study for the certificate that draws on their existing curriculum in their enrolled graduate program, while also training them in new methods.

Curriculum

15 Credit Hours

  • CDH 501: Digital Humanities: Critical Theory and Methods (3 credit hours)
  • CDH 580: Digital Humanities Lab (3 credit hours)
  • CDH 593: Applied Project (3 credit hours)
  • Electives (6 credit hours total)

Elective Information

  • Students coming from a computational background should select at least one elective that enhances their skills in humanistic inquiry.
  • Students coming from a humanities or arts discipline should select at least one elective that develops computational/technical skills.
  • Students who come from backgrounds other than computer sciences or humanities and the arts will work with their academic advisor to select appropriate elective coursework.

Because many of the courses listed are transdisciplinary, students should consult with the graduate advisor and their CDH faculty when making their elective selections.

While we hope that a great many of our students from across the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and beyond will make the certificate part of their graduate training and scholarship, we also want to stress that it is not necessary to be enrolled in the certificate to take the classes listed above.

For more information, see the Certificate website or email me at jwernimo at asu.

Call for Proposals: Feminist Debates in DH

Colleagues, we invite your contributions to a proposed third volume in the Debates in DH series, which was inaugurated by Matt Gold and is now directed by Gold and Lauren Klein. This series will continue the first volume’s commitment to open access and peer-to-peer review.

In order to propose a piece, please send an abstract and a short (2 page) vita to Jacque Wernimont and Elizabeth Losh at jwernimo (at) asu (dot) edu no later than July 15th 2015. We know this is a fast turn around and we will accept revisions to accepted proposals until 8/15. Please write “Feminist Debates in DH” in the subject.

We invite abstracts that engage with the ideas/themes articulated in our proposal (below); we are open to collaborative and non-traditional authorship models and are committed to a feminist frame that is decolonial, anti-racist, and queer and trans inclusive. As with the initial Debates in DH volume, we welcome pieces in traditional and new media scholarly formats.

From our proposal
“A number of theoretical turns in media and technology studies in recent years have produced a fundamentally different model of computational media that draws the attention of critics to its material, embodied, affective, labor-intensive, and situated character. Rather than present digital culture as the realm of virtual, disembodied, and highly rational interactions predicated on labor-saving technologies and universal design, these critics emphasize how the slick interface of the two-dimensional screen may ultimately mask messy infrastructures and invisible labor.

As Lev Manovich has famously pointed out, the screen both displays and screens out. By following the conventions established by humanities computing in the seventies and emphasizing what could be called “the digitized humanities” rather than a broader and more inclusive “digital humanities” that encompasses every day born digital genres and interrogates the politics in which they are produced, it is possible to reify oppressive cultural norms. In other words, maintaining a focus on remediation of the page could also preserve the filtering mechanisms – the screens – of print culture.”

We are interested in grouping sections that might look like: “Code,” “Program,” “Access/Discipline,” “Archive,” and “Play” in order to provide an arena to facilitate dialogue and promote intersectional inquiry, but we are not limited by those topics.Topics could also include mobile computing, tracking/wearable devices, circuit bending, and other digital interventions that incorporate insights from human-computer interaction, critical making, and values-centered design.

Please keep in mind that following in the tradition of the first Debates in DH, the production time is relatively rapid. Our schedule is as follows and is subject to press schedules:

Accepted Abstracts due: August 15, 2015
Essay Submission Deadline: December 15, 2015
Peer-to-Peer Review: December 2015 and January 2016
Editor’s Review of Peer Review/Summary Letter: End of January
Revisions Due: March 1, 2016
Production-ready Manuscript to Minnesota: April 1, 2016.

Press review and production process
Book and open access publication April 1, 2017

Please remember that at this stage we are soliciting proposals for a volume that will undergo review through both the University of Minnesota Press (including outside peer review) and the peer-to-peer review process. Acceptance of a proposal is not a guarantee of publication – that said, we do have the enthusiastic support of the series editors and are confident in our collective ability to create a volume that is compelling. We look forward to hearing from you!

Addressing Antifeminist Violence Online: Work Narrative

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According to a recent Pew Study, 1 in 4 women have experienced online stalking or sexual harassment. Labeled as “social justice warriors,” prominent journalists, media makers, and bloggers have been harassed and threatened for writing about economic inequality, education, and racism in popular culture. The culture of fear that is being created impacts not just professionals, but more perniciously, young women and men who are developing their habits and protocols for online life. From advanced professionals to adolescents, feminists and women are at risk.

Much of this violence has been perpetrated online, but threats like these can move into offline, “real” life. In October, Sarkeesian canceled a talk at Utah State University after receiving a massacre threat inspired by the 1989 Marc Lepine murder of fourteen women. Many people, including women of color and trans people, have experienced threats, harassment, and the distribution of their location and contact information by people hoping to silence their voices. These violations of privacy and personal safety can morph into physical violence.

Harassment and threats of physical violence drive women offline. Declining numbers of women in computer science professions and degree programs is just one example of a trend that threatens to undermine efforts to reduce barriers for connected learning and digital engagement. In addressing online harassment, this project will safeguard gains made by other organizations and ensure that future efforts to overcome legal, technological, economic, and physical barriers can be sustained. We seek to ensure that women who participate in our connected culture do not have to trade physical and psychological security for access to digital resources and communities. We will be addressing not only issues of gender, but also of race, sexuality, and ability. Consequently, our resources will help with some facets of harassment that LGBT community members face as well.

Response
Our project will develop critical resources to establish and support resilient communities that can limit harm preemptively and respond to harassment effectually when necessary. If we are to stop the flight of women from connected work, education, and entertainment then we must put into place the means to combat out of control harassment. The central focus of this proposal is the development of educational and informational resources that will enable educators and advocates to ensure that connected learning and engagement can proceed even in the face of hostility and harassment. Connected learning breaks down if feminists and women of all ages feel unsafe in digital spaces; we can’t end online harassment, but we can ensure that everyone has the tools necessary to maximize the safety of learners and their data.

We will begin with a private summit in July 2015 to develop our production agenda, assign projects, and further develop collaborative ties amongst our networks. This in-person meeting will ensure even and rapid production of materials and events across the distributed network. We include a private retreat for feminists of color in order to develop resources that acknowledge the ways in which race and gender come together to shape responses that are needed for women to have more safety and autonomy online. Structures of power and privilege organize and inform digital engagement in ways that can obliterate trust; our in person meeting is designed to ensure that we have a cohesive, coherent, intersectional, and ethical approach to addressing anti-feminist violence.

While the content will be collaboratively determined in the summit and will be team designed and produced, we do know that we want content in the following areas/of the following kinds:

  • Understanding how algorithms, social sharing, and information retrieval works
  • Proactive personal data management as a necessary part of digital life
  • Systems for documenting & responding to threats w/minimal impact on the person experiencing the threat
  • Action and safety plans in the event of a threat
  • Best practices for addressing various kinds of threat
  • Key terms glossary for violence online
  • Existing local and national resource links
  • Four video dialogues (Each dialogue will feature two discussants and a moderator and will focus on a keyword. Possible keyword topics for the videos include anti-feminist violence, racist violence, harm reduction, transformative justice, community or collective defense, digital security/privacy, and trolling)

Our content structure is inspired by the nodal structure of FemTechNet, individual and institutional users can deploy our materials to address local needs with robust support structures throughout the year. This allows us to develop a coherent national network to address harassment, while also empowering local groups to tailor their use of our educational materials. In addition, the project team represents participants from diverse geographic locations and professions, thus allowing for broad dissemination of the resources.

We plan to ensure that our digital “product” is in fact a living, constantly developing, responsive resource that will be accessible well beyond the scope of our DML Trust Challenge grant. Additionally, we will host two public online teach-ins in the second half of the year and monthly “open online office hours” to be staffed with experienced scholars and support professionals.

Background
FemTechNet has been a leader in online and distributed education with the highly successful Distributed Online Collaborative Course (DOCC). In addition to extensive presence within accredited institutions, the DOCC includes community courses and self-directed learners who access the resources, materials, tools, and communities online. With these experiences in virtual, blended, and face-to-face classrooms, FemTechNet is uniquely situated to be able to educate and serve online feminist learning communities. We have a well-developed content structure, including high-quality video dialogues, as well as a system for holding teach-ins and open online office hours. Our distributed model of online education also facilitates peer-to-peer connections, thereby strengthening and expanding the level of communal engagement possible with this project.

Addressing Anti-Feminist Violence Online – beginnings

I’m delighted to announce here that the Digital Media and Learning Competition 5: The Trust Challenge has selected FemTechNet’s “Addressing Anti-Feminist Violence Online” for funding.

This was a wonderfully collaborative effort that arose out conversations sparked by both GamerGate and the violences experienced in the summer of 2014 by female public intellectuals like Dr. Sarah Kendzior (which Eric Garland’s Urgent Dispatch from the Seat of White Privilege does a good job of contextualizing as gender based) and Slate.com author Dr. Rebecca Schuman.

Feeling unsure about life as a feminist scholar with a reasonably strong public profile I wrote the following to the FemTechNet community:

“I’ll be honest and say that I find myself feeling pretty uneasy these days. …with this summer’s threats against female scholars, the shooting on the west coast, and the latest wave of anti-feminist threats it strikes me that it might be a good time to talk about the above and what we can all do to help support one another. I’m also concerned about situations where institutions are themselves part of the threat and deeply aware that many feel threatened for a multitude of reasons these days.”

I was both heartened and saddened by the flood of responses from this relatively small community. It was good for me not to be alone in struggle – but it sucked to hear that so many shared my worry. The responses confirmed that the threats I was concerned about are real and also that women of color and transgender and queer folks face even greater risks.

Out of that discussion came our collective commitment to do something to address the harassment and violence that women and feminists are facing online. There are many who have participated in this effort and we are actively working to join in the chorus of voices that support the rights of feminists to work, write, speak, and live. I’ll be writing more in the coming days about our project and the connections that we hope to make with other efforts to address violence online.

For now, we are delighted to be in such good company with the other DML grantees and honored to be able to do this work.

The awards were announced March 10th at SXSWedu.

ASU Project Combats Online Threats Towards Women, Girls

DML Competition Press Release