In 2013, New American Notes Online (NANO) invited the MLab to edit a special issue of their open access journal. We circulated a CFP in May, asking for submissions that addressed how, when, and for whom digital humanities is also public humanities, with a preference for multimodal projects that explored the intersections of technology, computation, critical theory, and social justice.

Various links to the special issue are below, followed by the first two paragraphs of the introduction and the table of contents, which points to each of the seven essays in the issue. Many thanks to Adèle Barclay, Alex Christie, Jana Millar Usiskin, and Katie Tanigawa for editing with me; to NANO founding editor, Sean Scanlan, as well as assistant editors, Rebecca Devers and Ruth Garcia; and to contributors, Rachel Arteaga, Karl Baumann, Benjamin Stokes, François Bar, Ben Caldwell, Nina Belojevic, Sam Byrd, Jimmy Ghaphery, Elise Chenier, Michelle Habell-Pallán, Sonnet Retman, Angelica Macklin, and Elizabeth Alice Honig.

Here is Baumann, Stokes, Bar, and Caldwell’s video for their essay on the Leimert Phone Company.

Digital Humanities, Public Humanities
Published in New American Notes Online 5 (Barclay, Christie, Millar Usiskin, Sayers, and Tanigawa, eds.) in 2014 | introduction written with Alex Christie, Jana Millar Usiskin, and Kathryn Tanigawa | 24,558 words plus image, audio, and video files | open access

Links: introduction (HTML); table of contents (HTML); MLab post (HTML) about the project

“Digital Humanities, Public Humanities”
Alex Christie, Jana Millar Usiskin, Jentery Sayers, and Kathryn Tanigawa

When we circulated the call for this special issue of NANO: New American Notes Online, we prompted practitioners to consider the intersections of digital methods with cultural criticism: to demonstrate how investments in technologies and computation are not necessarily antithetical to investments in critical theory and social justice. Here, we were motivated by recent research in media studies. For instance, Sharon Daniel collaborates with non-profit organizations and disenfranchised groups interested in using digital media to represent themselves. Inspired by Walter Benjamin’s “The Author as Producer,” Daniel writes: “I see myself as a context-provider stretching the concept of artistic creation from making content to making context […] A context-provider does not speak for others, but ‘induces’ others to speak for themselves by providing both the means, or tools, and the context where they can speak and be heard” (154). Among others, Daniel has worked with the HIV Education and Prevention Program of Alameda County (HEPPAC) and with women in California’s correctional facilities to digitally author and disseminate social justice research with media artist, Erik Loyer. Elsewhere, in Debates in the Digital Humanities, Tara McPherson brings media and cultural studies to bear on digital humanities methods, calling for “hybrid practitioners: artists-theorists, programming humanists, activist-scholars, theoretical archivists, critical race coders” (154). Central to McPherson’s remark is the claim that technologies are not merely objects; they are, or at least should be, modes through which persuasive scholarship is made, circulated, stored, and revised (155). Such a position demands a delicate balance of critical distance with immersion, or a willingness to self-reflexively examine technologies and technocultures from the inside—all in order to test the limits of relegating technologies to instruments. In a similar vein, Alexandra Juhasz advocates investigating and even hacking a popular system like YouTube, “respecting its rules and limitations, all the while repurposing its aims, and using its vernacular to engage in its analysis” (149). Skepticism and critiques of technologies, not to mention imagining and building alternatives, are thus enriched through active participation in (rather than a removal from) such systems.

Media studies research by Daniel, McPherson, and Juhasz has deeply influenced the work we do at the Maker Lab in the Humanities, and through this issue of NANO we hope to carve out a space for developing further conversations across computation and culture, with particular attention paid to digital humanities projects that are, perhaps by necessity, also public humanities projects. Four recognizable threads emerged from this overlap of investments, allowing us to better understand by whom, for whom, and under what assumptions public humanities is done digitally and digital humanities is done publicly. In the following paragraphs, we touch briefly on each of these threads: 1. the how and where of scholarly practices, 2. how digital collections are constructed and rendered public, 3. the multiple modalities of public scholarship, and 4. the importance of embodied knowledge to scholarly work. From our perspective, these four threads intertwine in the best possible ways.

(Read more of this introduction over at NANO.)

Table of Contents
The “Digital Humanities, Public Humanities” special issue of New American Notes Online contains seven essays plus the introduction. The essays combine text with images, audio, and video.

  • “Spar: Digital Humanities, Access, and Uptake in Rural Southwest Washington State,” by Rachel Artega (open access)
  • “Circuit Bending Videogame Consoles as a Form of Applied Media Studies,” by Nina Belojevic (open access)
  • “Art History and Access: The catalogue raisonné as Collaborative Research Site,” by Elizabeth Alice Honig (open access)
  • “Notes on Women Who Rock: Making Scenes, Building Communities: Participatory Research, Community Engagement, and Archival Practice,” by Michelle Habell-Pallán, Sonnet Retman, and Angelica Macklin (open access)
  • “Oral History and Open Access: Fulfilling the Promise of Democratizing Knowledge,” by Elise Chenier (open access)
  • “The Leimert Phone Company,” by Karl Baumann, Benjamin Stokes, François Bar, and Ben Caldwell (open access)
  • “A Sound Project on Richmond’s Oral History: Social Justice, Art, and/or Manipulation,” by Sam Byrd and Jimmy Ghaphery (open access)

Featured image from Nina Belojevic’s essay, “Circuit Bending Videogame Consoles as a Form of Applied Media Studies,” edited in Photoshop. Video from Karl Baumann, Benjamin Stokes, François Bar, and Ben Caldwell’s essay, “The Leimert Phone Company.” Both used with permission. This page was created on 2 August 2019 and last updated on 7 July 2021.