Can DH Answer Our Questions? Using Digital Humanities to Address the Concerns of Feminist Historians
In previous decades, the canon of historical scholarship has been radically challenged. Movements in academe in the 1970s and 80s urged historians to consider the position of non-white and non-male actors in their scholarship, and the discipline was fundamentally altered by new theoretical contributions. Increasingly, historians looked to identity and experience. Subjects and methodologies were simultaneously altered in ways that radically transformed the academy.
As Digital Humanities grows stronger in influence and popularity, we may be facing a similar methodological revolution. DH tools have begun to take root in concrete ways; DH dissertation projects are becoming more popular, as are online research tools, communities, and discussion forums. As this work continues to become more foundational to the discipline, it (like critical race theory and feminism) alters our methodologies substantially. The question this panel is concerned with, though, is simple – can Digital Humanities scholarship continue to honor the radical and valuable changes that activist scholarship has accomplished? Does DH support feminist research methodologies? Historians have become attuned to identity and its nuances, to power and its structures. Are DH tools a help or a hindrance in asking these (still) critical questions?
The presenters at this panel are all fundamentally concerned with these issues. Reflecting on her work on women who ran for office prior to 1920, Wendy Chmielewski questions the gendered aspects of digital research and presentation. Does digital research help scholars craft better or more complex questions about our historical subjects or create a different historiography? As a digitized medium becomes standard, questions of methodology, funding, and presentation are of the utmost importance. Tamika Richeson’s presentation will explore a DH project she has been working on that uses Omeka and Neatline to look at over 450 arrests of black women in Washington D.C. from 1830-1867. Tamika is concerned with placing these arrests in a larger digital narrative – one which can help historians access the lives of lower class black women in a way that traditional methodologies cannot. Similarly, Kathryn Falvo examines the lives of traveling Quaker women in the nineteenth century by using another mapping tool, ArchGIS. By tracing these women’s lives through their movements, we can better understand the role of female ministers within the Society of Friends and their lived experience as ministers. Here, too, mapping technologies facilitate an understanding of lived experience that more traditional methodologies cannot accommodate. Roundtable chair Monica L. Mercado also considers these questions in her work as Director of the Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women's Education at Bryn Mawr College, linking the work of scholars, students, and archivists.
Can DH methods accommodate the questions that feminist historians seek to answer? This is a pressing question, and one that concerns us as DH tools increasingly become the norm in the academy. In this roundtable, we hope to get feedback on how to use DH tools to foster feminist research. As DH becomes the new hegemony of the academy, it is a skill we will need to learn.