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The digital and the archive

I’ve spent a lot of time this past week thinking about (digital) archives. This quarter I am taking the first part of a two part class called Women Who Rock Digital Scholarship. Organized as a part of the Women Who Rock Research Project (chaired by Sonnet Retman and Michelle Habell-Pallan), this course will help produce a collection of digital oral histories for the WWRRP.

As preparation for the course, we’ve spent a good deal of time learning how to use digital recording equipment. Initially intimidating to me, I’ve now just become frustrated, for both times I’ve recorded, I haven’t been able to capture any sound! What a tragedy.

At the same time, I’ve been writing a proposal for the NEH Advanced Institute on Spatial Humanities and Deep Maps. Ryan Burns and I applied for this summer institute together, and spent a lot of time thinking about how digital geo-spatial technologies (or the geoweb, in our case), can impact the humanities. We wrote a bit about our experience with Mapping Youth Journeys, and how the students struggled with finding spatial materials. Lacking a substantive digital spatial archive, students had to weave together their own stories using what maps or photos they could find. What would a digital archive have contributed to this exercise? And, alternatively, how do we place the maps that these youth produced? They are not being archived. They are not even being made public. So, while there are now new digital materials in the world, knowledges produced by middle school students, these do not inherently serve as an archive.

On a different note, while the WWRRP isn’t making direct use of digital spatial technologies, it is simultaneously raising questions to me of time, memory, and what we compromise by creating an archive. In our intentional decision to build an archive of oral histories, decisions come into play of power and politics. We as knowledge producers are choosing what goes in the archive, whose stories are told, etc. On the flip side, the seemingly democratic form of youtube or “the digital” (not a true archive, but all of web 2.0)… is, falsely, seen as without politics. When we look back historically on this era, what will the archives we create now say about this time period? And how will that compare to the crowd-sourced, “democratic” web materials that dominate much of popular discourse about Web 2.0?

I find this particularly interesting right now because of my own technological snafus with digital recording material. As the technology is seemingly more accessible, (but still very difficult to master! and expensive!), what experiences get documented, and which ones never do? As many of the older women in our GWSS class explained, they are excited about music and social justice, but are intimidated by the technology. Without understanding the contexts and social implications of technology and the digital age, it is easy to fall into a false trap of thinking the digital to be inherently democratic. But those who do not feel comfortable picking up a camera are not going to document their experience. Equally tricky then, would be politicizing and challenging the academic’s instinct to then go “in” and document those stories for “them”.

A tricky situation, it seems. I have no real claims to make here, but have been mulling these things about in my head for the better part of the week, and felt it time to put them on ‘paper’. (Ah, but again, the digital. Paper is obsolete!)

Spatial Humanities and Proposal Writing

The other day, my colleague Ryan and I finally sat down to discuss our co-proposal for the Spatial Humanities Institute being hosted in Indianapolis this summer. “Spatial Humanities…” we thought. “That sounds right up our alley.”

It turns out that the collective work that we’ve done nearly perfectly fits this Institute’s goals and motivations. We are engaging in geo-spatial technologies that can enhance traditional humanists’ understandings and depth of inquiry. We are both interested in cross disciplinary collaboration, and are committed to public scholarship via information dissemination and knowledge production.

Also, our work on Mapping Youth Journeys, a really amazing research project chaired by our adviser and our department chair, serves as a great example of how spatial technologies can increase the richness of cultural histories, personal narratives, and story telling, particularly with / for / through underserved communities. In my own case, the fact that we were working primarily with youth of color in Seattle’s Central District was an incredibly opportunity to collaborate and collect stories through geo-spatial technologies that would otherwise have been less apparent or vocal.

All in all, following our planning meeting, we both felt so excited about this Institute that we were even starting to scheme the logistics of it! (Can anyone say, “presumptive”??) I went promptly to my new favorite writing spot on campus (Allen Library North, Wing that looks out to Smith Hall, well lit, large tables, and, usually, no one is talking, glass walls on both sides so it is well lit and airy feeling…) and banged out a proposal draft in record time.

I truly hope Ryan and I receive the opportunity to go to this summer Institute. It would be a fabulous chance to meet other faculty and graduate students asking similar questions. Personally, I would get to develop my technical skills and continue to learn more about the technology side of the questions I am interested in. For instance, one of the issues Ryan and I write extensively about in this proposal is to gain a better understanding of the social impacts of geo-spatial technologies. Obviously, Ryan already thinks about this all the time, but it is still fairly new to me.

That said, I think about it more every day, especially in TA-ing an Urban GIS class right now and amidst the current PIPA / SOPA debates and protests. It will be incredibly interesting to see how this all pans out, and if it has any impact on things like the Institute this summer. Hopefully we get the chance to go, and I can report back afterwards!

Until then, hopefully I won’t get too distracted from thesis writing by my new excitement over proposal writing. For instance, I just saw a Call for Papers for a perfect session for me… in Edinburgh…that I know I cannot afford to go to. But, apply anyway? Why not.

A Good Reminder

Today was one of those days that cements in my mind, at least temporarily, why I am lucky to be in graduate school.

It began like any other day in Seattle: woke up to a grey sky, I gave myself extra time in the morning to do the crossword puzzle, because, after all, it is Tuesday, so I had a fighting chance. I made myself breakfast and enjoyed a cup of tea. I contemplated biking or taking the bus, and given the doom and gloom forecast for 8-10 inches of snow, I took the bus. (As an aside, there has been no snow accumulation today, at this point. What a crock). I got to school, had a somewhat frenetic teaching session, and then settled into a routine of meetings, chatting, and dilly-dallying.

And then I met with my adviser about my thesis for the first time in about 2 months, and everything magically got great.

I had feared that this meeting would go poorly. I had rather quickly put together an outline of my thesis, with some of my main literatures and key points. I felt tepid about it, prepared for the worst. I expected a meeting of deep questions, “why this, here?”, “what do you mean by ‘deserving youth’?”, “are you sure you’re citing the right people when you discuss neoliberalization?” But all of this was for naught. We had an incredibly productive and validating meeting. My adviser was (to me, at least) shockingly supportive of the direction I was heading, and impressed by how ‘together’ my thoughts have already become.

So we chatted about deadlines and timelines and goals, and moved onto my upcoming AAG presentation, pausing briefly to discuss funding woes and grant cycles, etc, etc.  Of course there was the requisite talk of cats, cycling and teaching. Always a good break. And then some surprising, though unofficial, good news, to which I will write more freely once it is ‘official’.

All of this is to say that I left my meeting reminded of why I am in graduate school, and why I love being a scholar. All of the doubt and fear I had that I was missing the mark, overlooking some enormous gap, or just plain ‘wrong’, not only evaporated, but was dislodged so entirely that I feel I might go *gasp* a whole week (!) without those thoughts again.

For, not only am I just ‘on the right track’, but apparently the natural steps that I laid out for myself, my natural work cycle and thought progression, my inclination towards scholarship and goal setting and time management and organization… it is all working.

Let me pause for a second, lest it seem I am merely tooting my own horn. That is not what I am writing about. Rather, I need to record the sense of confidence and sincere lack of doubt I have at this moment. These moments are so, so, so very rare in graduate school that I need to have this feeling in writing, so that I can come back to this on the other 360 days when things are just crap; when there is no validation; when I am filled with doubt; when I wonder why I forsook my friends and family across the country to move to grey and expensive Seattle; when finding a healthy balance between work and life is exhausting at best, and impossible at worst; when the graduate student life is demanding without appropriate compensation; when I feel completely isolated from the amazing intellectualism of many of my peers; when I’m not connecting with my students; when I look at my savings account and ::sigh::.

That is to say: this life, while it has its moments, is a difficult one. But I am getting paid (though that is a sore subject in and of itself), I get to teach, I get to meet with two of the most incredible women faculty that I’ve ever met, I get to meet amazing colleagues and friends, I get to present my work at conferences, I get to read all day if I want to, I get to have a perfectly reasonable excuse to go home on a Friday night after happy hour and just knit! So, for those times when all of that good is eclipsed by all of the other tough, crunchy, gritty and anxiety producing ‘stuff’, I hope I can come back to this moment, when I felt so completely sure of myself, and, truly, on top of the world.

A Professional Web Presence!

After many months of scheming and playing with different web tools, I finally have a professional web presence on wordpress! Drawing on inspiration from many of my peers, I hope to update this blog with my reflections as a graduate student at the University of Washington, and as an active, community-loving resident of Seattle! This site will also serve as a place to reference my CV, projects, and interests. Please follow along! I welcome comments and feedback.