Tuesday, April 08, 2014

DH without the DH

Today I did not tag any content with metadata.  Today I did not write any code. Today I did not work on my Scalar project. Today the plugins for Neatline did not get installed.

Today was the Day of DH, except it seems that I didn't do anything recognizably associated with digital humanities work, even though the entire day -- like almost every day -- was devoted to the digital humanities.

Which is to say that a lot of DH isn't coding or hacking or tagging or building.  A lot of DH is just about regular typing.  A lot of DH is writing e-mail, instructions, reports, and even text messages. It's about filling out Doodle polls, filling in spreadsheets, and filling in names in Google hangouts.

Some of the day was defined by the Academic Scholarly Print Industrial Complex (otherwise known as ASPIC).  I am working on finishing an article for an open-access online journal, which I promised to the wonderful Annette Vee, but the whole process of working with a stack of library books is basically the same as the one I follow for a print publication.

Of course, a lot of the day was doing digital humanities work that one can't write about on a blog.  It's about serving on committees that handle the business of people getting hired or people getting reviewed.  It's about the strange set of knowledge domains that prove to be useful to the institution that are gained from being part of the DH community for over a decade: digital archives, open access publishing, information literacy, multimodal scholarship, rich media production, and hands-on experiential learning.  It's about the need for campuses to have people to assess if they have the right people and enough people too.  It's about the Weberian bureaucracy of files, files, and more files, which are conveniently accessible online but differ little from their paper counterparts.

Yet, like most days at UC San Diego's Sixth College, it was an interesting day.  As soon as I came into the office, I sat down to do a Skype interview with Pia Mancini of the Net Party in Argentina for DML Central.  Purists would say that her work with Democracy OS isn't really a DH project.  After all the NEH Office of Digital Humanities prohibits work with a political agenda.  But I tend to argue that the continuum between politics and culture includes blended areas, and hacktivism and the humanities are not so separate.

Then there was the teaching I did today.  In an upcoming volume edited by David Theo Goldberg and Patrik Svensson, I argue that teaching is often a marginalized activity in the digital humanities.  Right now I am teaching an exciting FemTechNet course with the amazing Lisa Cartwright, in collaboration with many people who have built scholarly databases and digital collections.  It was true that much of the day's communication with students entailed educating them about their Blogger IDs and Twitter hashtags for the course.  But the bulk of our dedicated face-to-face class time involved chalkboards, raised hands, and a presentation by a performance artist.

Future projects mostly require coordinating with other people.  It turns out that the most important tool for executing our Innovative Learning Technology Initiative Grant will probably be the humble calendar.

Jacque Wernimont and I are also planning to teach a Digital Humanities Summer Institute course together, but we weren't debugging code in Processing or tinkering with our Arduinos, which are the activities slated for June.  Today we were handling more mundane tasks, such as slimming down the size of our course-pack PDF.

As usual, not every effort to coordinate was successful.  Today Jessica Pressman and I had to cancel a planning meeting.  We have an upcoming DHSoCal event slated for April 18th to prepare for, but she had an ASPIC obligation too.

On Twitter, Ian Bogost quipped that "Digital Humanities is the process of creating infrastructure in which to discuss the concept of 'digital humanities."'  Given the nature of DH work, that might be a fair assessment.  If only there were time for conceptual speculation and discussion in my typical day.  If we do it, we have to spend twice as much time scheduling it first.



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