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Opening the ‘black box’ of digital cultural heritage processes: feminist digital humanities and critical heritage studies

Lucy Stagg22 February 2021

Published on behalf of Hannah Smyth. This post introduces a book chapter co-authored by myself, Julianne Nyhan, and Andrew Flinn. It was published as part of the Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in Digital Humanities in August 2020 and edited by Kristen Schuster and Stuart Dunn (Kings College London). This edited volume seeks to address collaboration and inter-/intra-disciplinarity in DH through different perspectives on method (Dunn and Schuster, 2020). Our contribution – ‘Opening the “black box” of digital cultural heritage processes: feminist digital humanities and critical heritage studies’ – is placed within the theme: remediation and transmission. We the authors are members of the international research consortium ‘Critical Heritage and the Future of Europe’ (CHEurope) and its sub-group on Digital Heritage. It is in this context that each of our perspectives and research interests came together in the chapter.

The aim of the review chapter is to highlight the resonances between Feminist Digital Humanities and Critical Heritage Studies (CHS), and to trouble the ways in which ‘method’ is instrumentalised in transformative research agendas. A clear relationship exists between digital humanities and digital cultural heritage more broadly, perhaps the most facile and wide-ranging of examples being the digitisation of heritage texts and materials. Despite this affinity, our approach also stemmed from the observation that there has been comparatively little recognition of (digital) heritage as a socially constructed phenomenon – the raison d’être of CHS – within DH (Lutz, 2017).

Intersectional feminist DH is, however, at the frontier of a flourishing critique of techno-social inequities, exemplified by recent publications such as Bodies of Information (Losh and Wernimont 2018), Algorithms of Oppression (Noble, 2018) and Data Feminism (D’Ignazio and Klein 2019). We therefore sought in this chapter to bridge these two scholarly movements that are challenging the oppressive subjectivities and epistemologies of their respective fields – predominantly white, masculine, heteronormative, Eurocentric – and their far-reaching implications.

Firstly, we introduce the state of cultural critique in the field of DH since the turn of the century that foregrounds gender (as well as race, class and sexuality) as a mode of analysis. This covers, inter alia: feminist technology studies; algorithmic, digital resource, and interface critique; digital archives; computational analysis techniques; the gender politics of certain kinds of ‘expertise’ in DH; and representation in the field.

Next we turn to ‘gender and heritage’, a perspective with a long and dispersed history at the margins (Reading, 2015;Wilson, 2018) and which is now carving out its own place in the rights-based, dissonant, and transformative worldview that is the purview of CHS. If CHS calls into question the heritage that ‘privileges old, grand, prestigious, expert approved sites, buildings and artefacts that sustain Western narratives of nation, class and science’(ACHS, 2012) feminist CHS further shatters the notion that heritage is somehow un-gendered and without consequence for how we perceive ourselves and others in the world.

Digitality has heralded novel questions, and less novel continuities, in the heritage field and which are all too familiar to the feminist DH scholars whose work underpins this chapter. Feminist DH and gender CHS share a concern with the false and learned assumptions about objectivity and neutrality, and the way that power and social roles are performed, valued and devalued through technology and heritage. We therefore thirdly suggest digital heritage as a critical bridging point between these areas of shared concern.

Lastly, and underpinning our contribution to this volume on methods is a provocation to reflect upon research approaches and methods themselves whose normative ontologies may (re)produce dynamics of power, inequity, and othering. Many taken-for-granted methodologies have their origins in, for example, colonial attitudes and practices. Digital tools and approaches (indeed professional paradigms) are more often extractive or, by their codifying nature, limit ‘authorised’ types of knowledge and interpretation. Might we reconfigure such methods for transformative ends or seek alternatives?

The final space of this chapter is given to a reflection on oral history (at its core in the feminist and social justice tradition) as an example of method that traverses both feminist DH and CHS and with which, we suggest, it is conceptually allied. Previous oral history work carried out by Julianne and Andrew has uncovered hidden and gendered histories of the digital humanities itself, and the feminised labour behind the pioneering work of Fr. Robert Busa’s Index Thomisticus (Nyhan and Flinn, 2016; Nyhan, Forthcoming). Looking to the future, digital oral history presents us with many possibilities (and challenges) as yet unrealised to bring computational methods of analysis and a feminist DH lens to bear upon the spoken record of the past.

The chapter is freely available to download as a pdf from the UCLDH website

References:

D’Ignazio, Catherine, and Lauren Klein. Data Feminism. MIT Press, 2019.

Grahn, Wera, and Ross J Wilson, eds. Gender and Heritage: Performance, Place and Politics. London and New York: Routledge, 2018.

‘2012 Manifesto.’ Association of Critical Heritage Studies. Accessed August 1, 2018. http://www.criticalheritagestudies.org/history/.

Losh, Elizabeth, and Jaqueline Wernimont, eds. Bodies of Information: Intersectional Feminism and Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018.

Lutz, S. ‘{D1G1TAL HER1TAGE}. From cultural to digital heritage,’ Hamburger Journal für Kulturanthropologie, 2018 (7) 3–23.

Noble, Safiya Umoja. Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. New York: New York University Press, 2018.

Nyhan, Julianne and Andrew Flinn. Computation and the Humanities: Towards an Oral History of Digital Humanities. Springer Series on Cultural Computing. Springer International Publishing, 2016.

Nyhan, Julianne. Forthcoming. Hidden and Devalued Labour in the Digital Humanities: On the           Index Thomisticus Project 1954-67. Routledge.

Reading, Anna. ‘Making Feminist Heritage Work: Gender and Heritage.’ In Handbook of Contemporary Heritage Research, edited by Emma Waterton and Steve Watson, 397–413. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Smyth, Hannah, Julianne Nyhan, and Andrew Flinn. ‘Opening the “black box” of digital cultural heritage processes: feminist digital humanities and critical heritage studies.’ In Routledge International Handbook of Research Methods in Digital Humanities, edited by. Kristen Schuster and Stuart Dunn, 295–308. Routledge, 2020.

Grab a discount on ‘One Origin of Digital Humanities’

Lucy Stagg22 January 2021

Following a highly successful book launch on 20th January, we are pleased to be able to offer everyone a 20% discount off the book, One Origin of Digital Humanities: Fr Roberto Busa S.J. in His Own Words, edited by Julianne Nyhan and Marco Passarotti ( Springer 2020).

Roberto Busa S.J. is often described as one of the founders of the field now known as Digital Humanities, but many of his writings are difficult to access. One Origin of Digital Humanities: Fr Roberto Busa S.J. in His Own Words draws on extensive archival research to select and contextualise previously out of print or inaccessible writings of Busa, translated into English for the first time.

Use the following token on Springer.com for 20% off: Aqgemj8rWgBNJNm / Valid Jan 20, 2021 – Feb 17, 2021

20% discount flyer 'One origin of DH'

20% discount flyer ‘One origin of DH’

Computation and the Humanities download highs

Julianne Nyhan8 November 2019

UCLDH Deputy Director Julianne Nyhan and Andrew Flinn’s open access book Computation and the Humanities: towards an oral history of Digital Humanities has been achieving high download rates.

As of November 2019, Computation and the Humanities has been downloaded some 116,205 times and counting! According to the most up-to-date information from the book’s publisher, Springer, the book was in the top 25% most downloaded of their texts of 2018. Also, its download rates were almost triple the discipline download average rates for 2018. It looks like the book is becoming a vital reference for scholars of cultural and computing history, digital humanities and cultural heritage alike. It also features in a number of university syllabi (Open Syllabus).

Computation and the Humanities: Towards an Oral History of Digital Humanities presents the first rigorous oral history account of the history and development of digital humanities. No longer a fledgling discipline, recently a marked interest in the historiography of digital humanities can be noticed. More nuanced understandings of the history of its intellectual agenda, influences, the development of its methods over the past 70 years and its place within the humanities more generally, are starting to emerge. Nyhan and Flinn’s book is an important contribution to this scholarship.

Computation and the Humanities features a series of fourteen oral history interviews that Nyhan conducted with sixteen well- and also lesser-know pioneers of the Digital Humanities. Those interviewed include Susan Hockey, John Burrows and Michael Sperberg-McQueen, whose memories are “essential to charting the often disputed and disputatious histories of the establishment of new disciplines” (Computation and the Humanities, 22). In the oral history interviews included in this book, and the four more analytical chapters that are also included in it, Nyhan and Flinn insightfully unpick the complex foundations, motivations and intellectual roots of Digital Humanities.

This book is open access under a CC BY-NC 2.5 license. Please grab yourself a copy of it if you have not done so already!

Do also note that the interviews included in Computation and the Humanities can be read alongside a further selection of open access oral history interviews that were published in Digital Humanities Quarterly in 2012

Cover image of Nyhan and Flinn's Computation and the Humanities

Cover image of Nyhan and Flinn’s Computation and the Humanities

Recent publications on imaging techniques from UCLDH team member Dr Kathryn Piquette

Lucy Stagg4 February 2019

UCLDH team member Dr Kathryn Piquette has had several works published recently, including:

Dr. Kathryn Piquette undertaking Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI)

Dr. Kathryn Piquette undertaking Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI)

Melissa Terras Launches Two Open Access Books on Academia in Children’s Literature

Rudolf Ammann26 October 2018

Melissa Terras

Earlier this week: Melissa Terras presents her work at the Cambridge University Press Bookshop in Cambridge. (Photo credit: Anne Welsh)

UCLDH’s co-founder and former director Melissa Terras launched two open-access books of hers during this year’s Open Access Week: Picture-Book Professors: Academia and Children’s Literature from Cambridge University Press and The Professor in Children’s Literature: An Anthology from Fincham Press.

In the research presented, Melissa studies the representation of academics in juvenile literature from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. She lays out her findings in an academic monograph [free PDF] and supplements this work with an anthology of selected out-of-copyright works [free PDF].

Melissa’s research has been covered by Times Higher Education [subscription required] and The Guardian.

In a post today Melissa notes on open access book publishing in the humanities:

We are at a juncture where the sands are shifting: the major funders and government bodies are moving towards requirements for open access monographs. We don’t have a choice; we have to embrace these requirements, but there is a lot of work yet to be done about who will pay the costs for production. I believe that most universities could afford to absorb the costs of open access monograph production, much in the same way that they pay for lab costs or scientific equipment: it should be viewed as a centrally borne cost necessary for creating and sharing academic knowledge. It shouldn’t happen that individuals are asked to pay these costs themselves, as that is untenable. I can see people are concerned about how their personal costs will be met — and it is up to universities and presses to grapple with this. The danger is the open access premium: that only those who can afford to publish in open access will reap the benefits of having their work made accessible to a wide audience, and we have to keep our eyes open to that, as the academy needs diverse voices (as Picture-Book Professors and The Professor in Children’s Literature say!)

Книга “Defining Digital Humanities. A Reader” вышла на русском языке

Melissa M Terras17 November 2017

Melissa Terras, Julianne Nyhan, Edward Vanhoutte, and Inna Kizhner are pleased to announce the launch of the Russian edition of their book “Defining Digital Humanities“, published by Siberian Federal University Press. The Russian edition is a translation of the English edition and the text is freely available in Open Access (CC-BY), allowing anyone to take, share, download, reuse, and remix, in any way – as long as there is attribution. Please do circulate to colleagues who may be interested in the Russian edition of this book!

Гуманитарные науки проходят через период значительных изменений, когда объективность научных исследований, необходимость поддерживать выводы анализом данных становятся важной частью работы ученого. Цифровые гуманитарные науки делают важный вклад в развитие этих изменений. Важным этапом на пути становления цифровых гуманитарных наук в России стал перевод книги “Defining Digital Humanities. A Reader” под редакцией Мелиссы Террас, Джулианны Найхан и Эдварда Ванхута. Книга вышла в Издательстве Сибирского федерального университета и будет полезна ученым и преподавателям для оценки разных точек зрения на новое направление. Полный текст книги доступен для образовательных и научных целей, а также для некоммерческого распространения (лицензия Creative Commons BY – NC) по ссылке http://lib3.sfu-kras.ru/ft/LIB2/ELIB/b71/free/i-531505996.pdf

The Editors and Translators of the Russian edition of Defining Digital Humanities, at the launch at Siberian Federal University in September 2017.

The Editors and Translators of the Russian edition of Defining Digital Humanities, at the launch at Siberian Federal University in September 2017.

New publications: ‘Computation and the Humanities’ and ‘Digitally reconstructing the Great Parchment Book’

Lucy Stagg17 November 2017

UCLDH are happy to announce two recent publications.

Computation and the Humanities book cover

Computation and the Humanities book cover

We have an open access version of the book Computation and the Humanities: Towards an Oral History of Digital Humanities, by Julianne Nyhan and Andrew Flinn, published by Springer as part of the Springer Series on Cultural Computing book series (SSCC). 

We also have an article on Digitally reconstructing the Great Parchment Book: 3D recovery of fire-damaged historical documents published in Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, Volume 32, Issue 4, 1 December 2017, Pages 887–917.

Related to this, the Great Parchment Book blog recently announced:

an open access set of 326 XML documents containing encoded transcriptions of the individual folios of the Great Parchment Book is now available via UCL Discovery.

Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL)

Simon Mahony1 January 2016

Banner for the International Book Fair (FIL) Guadalajara

International Book Fair (FIL) Guadalajara banner

2015 was the year of Mexico in the UK and the UK in Mexico. As part of this the British Council organised a series of events including several at the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) (26/11/2015 – 09/12/2015) which is the largest literary festival and most important publishing gathering in Latin America. I was invited to take part in the Academic Programme and speak at the XIX International Meeting of Educational Research organised by the Department of Educational Studies of the University of Guadalajara. I was introduced to warm Mexican hospitality and well looked after by the representatives of the British Council and also by the convenor of the Academic Programme and Head of the Department of Educational Studies, Dr. Antonio Ponce Rojo who runs a Master’s programme there.

British Council poster

British Council poster: Museums without walls

My planned talk, ‘Reflections on knowledge production within the framework of UK academic institutions’, was part of the panel ‘The Challenges of Knowledge Production in Modern Societies’ and I volunteered for a second on the following day to fill in for another speaker from the UK who had been unable to attend through illness and hastily put together ‘Digital Humanities Pedagogy: digital culture and education’ for the panel on technology in education. The second session also saw the launch of a British Council bilingual publication ‘Education Systems in Mexico and UK’ and I was very pleased to meet and to get signed copies from the two authors Lena Milosevic (British Council) and Sonia Reynaga Obregon (Universidad de Guadalajara). There will be a publication forthcoming with the talks presented at the various panels in the Academic Programme.

Among the publications I was highlighting, it was after all a book fair, was the new publication by DIS colleagues Rebecca Lyons and Samantha Rayner, ‘The Academic Book of the Future’, which featured as the finale of my first talk on knowledge production. This allowed some product placement (see photo) and for me to offer the two copies generously donated by the editors to the University library (thus ensuring them an international and trans-continental ‘impact factor’) along with some other volumes also generously donated by Ashgate publishers.

Academic panel at FIL

Academic panel at FIL (note the books on display)

The FIL itself was definitely impressive and certainly lived up to its reputation as the biggest book fair in the world after the one held at Frankfurt: so many books and so many publishers.

 

Coming soon: A Practical Guide to the Digital Humanities

Rudolf Ammann9 February 2011

Today it was learned that UCLDH’s Claire Warwick, Melissa Terras and Julianne Nyhan are editing a new book, A Practical Guide to the Digital Humanities:

A cutting-edge and comprehensive introduction to this vibrant and increasingly important global field drawing together a broad spectrum of disciplines. Each chapter interweaves the expert commentary of leading academics, analysis of current research and practice and several exciting international case studies, exploring the possibilities and challenges that occur when culture and digital technologies intersect.

The book, published by Facet, is scheduled to appear in November 2011. This blog is reliably informed that the book hasn’t been written yet and that it will have a dedicated website with additional material.