Care and Repair

MLA 2016 | Austin, TX | DH Forum

Daniel Anderson
Susan Brown
Caroline Foster
Lauren Klein
Erica Pramer
Lisa Marie Rhody

Care and Repair: Designing Digital Scholarship

Session 508, 2016 Modern Language Association Convention
Saturday, 9 January, 10:15–11:30 am, 203 JW Marriott

Presiding: Jentery Sayers, Univ. of Victoria
Program arranged by the Digital Humanities Forum

Data, Image, and D3: Repairing William Playfair

Lauren Klein (speaking), Caroline Foster, and Erica Pramer, Georgia Inst. of Tech

In her plenary address at the 2014 Digital Humanities conference, Bethany Nowviskie urged the field to consider how "broken world thinking," an approach equal parts ethical, ontological, and methodological, might enrich the practice of the digital humanities. Nowviskie borrows the phrase from information theorist Steven Jackson, who argues for a reparative rather than productivist approach to the study of media and technology, and more specifically, for an increased emphasis on the "moments of breakdown" that might allow us to "see and engage our technologies in new and sometimes surprising ways." In this paper, we take up this call and extend it, elaborating an approach to broken world thinking that is simultaneously informed by examples of historical fabrication in the digital humanities and theories of breakdown and repair from the field of design. More specifically, we take the timeseries charts of William Playfair, the eighteenth-century political economist and data visualization pioneer, and recreate them using D3.js, the popular contemporary data visualization library, gaining valuable purchase on the concepts and methods that contributed to the design of the original charts. But by remaining equally attentive to the disjunctures between the original artifact and our contemporary recreations—that is to say, to our "moments of breakdown"—we are also able to open new perspectives on the affordances of D3. This process of historical recreation, equal parts critical and creative, suggests a generative new point of intersection between the fields of digital humanities and design.

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Capturing Ephemerality: Screens, Inscription, and Digital Scholarship as Performance

Daniel Anderson, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

This presentation explores how digital tools—particularly tools for versioning documents and capturing media—can help address the challenges of performing critique in the humanities. As Rita Felski notes, contemporary models of critique feature “suspicious reading" that engenders distrustful attitudes toward texts and a host of damaging side effects ranging from aggression to a sense of objective superiority to unexamined methodologies that border on the banal. Felski, Judith Butler, Timothy Bewes, and others suggest that alternative approaches can translate into modes of critique that evoke a generous and creative reading subject. The presentation takes up two case studies—a poem and a scholarly article—to further examine the roles of digital tools in such an expanded, generative model of critique. Looking at multiple artifacts from the composing of the scholarly piece and the use of mixed (analog and digital) screens in a “reading” of the poem, the presentation calls for (and enacts) deploying digital tools to develop modes of creative scholarly response.

Building Trust: Designing Digital Projects for the Public through Care and Repair

Lisa Marie Rhody, CUNY Graduate Center

Digital projects change the type of relationship literary scholars in the academy have with their mode of publication as well as their relationship with a range of audiences—students, peers, and publics. In her introduction to Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, Kathleen Fitzpatrick points out that "[w]hat has ceased to function in the . . . academic book is the system surrounding its production and dissemination, the process through which the book comes into being, is distributed, and interacts with its readers." This talk will consider ways in which a new social "system" surrounding the production, dissemination, and engagement of digital humanities scholarship introduces ethical and intellectual tensions around their care and repair. Through specific examples of digital humanities projects, their design and sustained development, I argue that successful digital projects represent a form of cultural public trust and that our ability to sustain the communities that develop and use such projects in the future depends upon our commitment to changing the culture of our scholarly communication. This talk will illustrate ways in which many successful digital projects have already begun to make such changes.

Community Curation Strategies: Orlando 2.0 and the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory

Susan Brown, Univ. of Guelph and Univ. of Alberta

Sustainability remains the elephant in the room with respect to digital scholarly resources. This contribution will reflect on sustainability challenges in relation to a longer-lived large-scale DH project’s past and prospective strategies, situating them against current thinking on the topic. The Orlando Project has just celebrated the 20th anniversary of its inception as an experiment in digital literary history, and is approaching the 10th anniversary of its publication, since which time it has expanded its content by 45%. This has been achieved in the absence of any dedicated funding stream for sustaining project activities following the initial 5 years, and in a context in which publishing revenues cover only a fraction of the costs. This contribution will canvas the various factors and forms of support that have contributed to maintenance of the project, from institutional university support, contributions from the publisher, and forms of grant funding. Given that research grants could not sustain the project, Orlando was fortunate to be able to turn to a Canadian program for funding research infrastructure. This allowed the project both to renew and generalize its back-end production system in order to sustain Orlando alongside other digital projects. This new infrastructure, the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC), will support networked research on scales ranging from the individual to the large team, and will contribute to the sustainability of the projects it houses in various ways. CWRC will allow Orlando to adopt a less centralized model of scholarly production, which demands a new leadership structure and a new kind of relationship with our scholarly community. The presentation will outline this model, describing the challenges of moving from a quite centralized to a community-based model of production, and soliciting feedback on how to sustain such projects within the changing landscapes of digital and feminist literary scholarship.

For more, see:

Notes (taken by Jentery Sayers)

Coming soon. Will be published after the panel.