"Time for a Thaw: Visibility, Exclusion, and Futures of Digital Humanities"
“The degree to which American society has embraced and absorbed computer technologies is astonishing. The degree to which the changes provoked by computers leave prevailing inequalities is troubling.”
–– Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society (1990)
Issues of authority, authoritative, and authoritarian, issues of access, meditation, and remediation, and issues of visibility and exclusion will be central to my presentation and exchange with the audience. At a time when feminist, critical race, sexuality, and class critical inquiries have had such a profound effect (and for decades) in the humanities, the configurations of mainstream, NEH-funded digital humanities are often similar to the politics of exclusion and occlusion we have worked so long to transform so that one emerging feminist scholar imagines that queer worlds must be built in the “digital margins”? What are the consequences of such frozen social orders when they are made to seem objective features of intellectual life? Of course merely noting the pervasive problem is not enough, and in this presentation I will pursue some answers for transforming the digital humanities so that innovations are sociological and not only technical. I will ground my critical observations and innovative suggestions by looking at several digital Dickinsons, including the Harvard Emily Dickinson Online (EDA), for which I serve on the Advisory Board. Currently the EDA, which takes as its foundational texts Harvard’s own variorum of Dickinson poems, features no editorial innovation and little innovation as a digital archive. These examples will be used to recommend ways in which methods generated by feminist criticism and theory, critical race studies, sexuality studies and queer theory, and class studies can advance and otherwise improve the work of digital humanities, scholarly editing, computer science, information studies, library science, and humanities computing. The frozen social relations of old orders can and should be thawed in order to enable real sociological innovations, new kinds of synergies for knowledge production.
Far ahead of the curve on the possibilities of digitally-born critical inquiries, Martha Nell Smith has been leading the way toward a new age of textual scholarship. After beginning the Dickinson Electronic Archives in 1997 and serving as the founding director for the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities in 1999, Smith became a luminary in the world of digital humanities. Her latest contribution to Dickinson digital scholarship, Emily Dickinson's Corresponsdences: A Born-Digital Textual Inquiry (University of Virginia Rotunda Press, 2008) is a collaboration with Lara Vetter. This new collection gives scholars unprecedented access to an incredible body of writings by Emily and Susan Dickinson, allowing users to search by date, genre, manuscript features, and full text.
Smith's international reputation as a top Dickinson scholar is founded on her seminal print publications. With books such as Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson's Intimate Letters to Susan Dickinson (Paris Press, 1998), Comic Power in Emily Dickinson (Texas, 1993), Rowing in Eden (Texas, 1992), and, most recently with Mary Loeffelholz, Blackwell's Companion to Emily Dickinson, Smith has established herself as a much sought-after expert in her field. Her commitment to the classrooms wins equal praise from students and colleagues, leading to her appointment as a Distinguished Scholar-Teacher at the University of Maryland.