New Co-Authored Publication: Postdoctoral Bill of Rights

As part of the Postdoctoral Laborers Group, I was happy to contribute to the discussions, writing, and revision that went into the Postdoctoral Bill of Rights. It’s been great to see the positive reception this document has received on social media, and it’s been particularly gratifying to see the implications of our thoughts resonating with people responsible for creating and supporting postdoctoral positions in the humanities. There’s still lots of work to be done and the life of a postdoc is difficult in many different ways for many of us, but one aim of the Bill of Rights was to document and circulate perspectives held and shared by postdocs across various institutions, to make these concerns manifest, to hopefully make individuals in this positions or thinking about applying for them aware of the professional and institutional realities around them. It was cool to see the document cited as a resource by Digital Humanities Now, and in addition to the contact information included on the Bill itself, I know folks like me are happy to talk more with people who are interested in changing our professional working conditions for the better.

Thanks to Amanda Henrichs for seeing the clear need for this sort of document and for keeping it a priority for the Postdoctoral Laborers Group, and to Hannah Alpert-Abrams for all the work that went into the Bill of Rights and into making the Postdoctoral Laborers Group a group with a clear sense of community, purpose, and momentum. And thanks to fellow group members like Heather Froelich and Kim Martin (among others!). The Bill of Rights was a collaborative document informed by a number of voices and perspectives, and I was glad to be part of this work. It’s been great talking through our shared and varied experiences at conferences like DH 2018 and DLF 2018, on Twitter, and through less-public channels like Slack and email.

If you’re a postdoc in the humanities, or someone whose career trajectory is leading you to consider postdoctoral positions, join us! Our next meeting is May 3rd: see this page to learn how to join our Slack and email channels. And my guess is that a number of members of the group will be in attendance at ACH this July, so hopefully we’ll see some folks IRL soon!

Questions, comments? Feel free to email me at james_mcgrath@brown.edu, or get in touch with me on Twitter @JimMc_Grath.

New Publication: “Mapping Violence: A Case Study on Project Development, Iterative Approaches to Data Collection and Visualization, and Collaborative Work With Undergraduates” (Design for Diversity Toolkit)

You can now read the “case study” I authored on behalf of the Mapping Violence project for the Design for Diversity Learning Toolkit. This piece of writing focuses on an important moment in the project’s lifespan and documents our approach to collaborative and iterative work. It also highlights the many contributions undergraduates have made to Mapping Violence, offering recommendations on how to treat these students as collaborators. I learned a lot from the various speakers and collaborators who attended Design for Diversity events hosted at Northeastern University, and I hope this contribution is of value to readers interested in developing and refining their own digital projects.

Questions, comments? Feel free to email me at james_mcgrath@brown.edu, or get in touch with me on Twitter @JimMc_Grath.

New Publication: “Precarious Labor in the Digital Humanities” (American Quarterly 70.3)

I’m excited to share the news that “Precarious Labor in the Digital Humanities” is now available via the new issue of American Quarterly! It was a great experience co-writing this essay with an amazing team of authors: Christina Boyles, Anne Cong-Huyen, Carrie Johnston, and Amanda Phillips. Readers with institutional or subscriber access to the journal can read the essay here; I’ll update this post with a link when a more publicly-accessible version of the piece and the issue is available (I’m told that will be soon!). 

Our piece is part of a special issue of American Quarterly on American Studies and the Digital Humanities. The Contributors list is full of names I admire in DH and AMST, and I greatly appreciate the work of the issue’s co-editors and their encouragement throughout the process of writing and revising.

Our perspectives on precarious labor come from conversations and writing done as part of the American Studies Association’s DH Caucus. If you’re new to DH or AMST and you’re attending the annual ASA conference in November, I highly recommend checking out the DH Caucus meeting and sponsored session. It’s been a particularly precarious year for me, so I greatly appreciate having folks like the Caucus members in my professional life when I’ve needed guidance, advice, and support.

I’m still not sure if I’ll be at ASA this year, but I’m happy to talk with folks about American Studies and DH via Twitter or email (james_mcgrath@brown.edu).

New Book Chapter: “Our Marathon: The Role of Graduate Student and Library Labor in Making the Boston Bombing Digital Archive”

Our Marathon

Alicia Peaker and I co-wrote “Our Marathon: The Role of Graduate Student and Library Labor in Making the Boston Bombing Digital Archive,” a chapter appearing in the new volume, Digital Humanities, Libraries, and Partnerships: A Critical Examination of Labor, Networks, and Community

You can read a preprint PDF version of our chapter here (thanks, Humanities Commons!). Here’s an excerpt:

In 2010 Matt Kirschenbaum wrote “What is Digital Humanities and What’s it Doing in English Departments?” for the Association for Departments of English (ADE) bulletin, in which he argued that “digital humanities has accumulated a robust professional apparatus that is probably more rooted in English than any other departmental home” [11]. While there were (and there continue to be) skeptics and vocal opponents of digital humanities methodologies in these institutional spaces, his point was that many English departments had already begun to embrace, cultivate, or otherwise contend with the impact of digital tools and contexts on literary studies. But in the case of Our Marathon, many of the questions we received about the institutional context of our project stemmed less from an aversion to digital humanities work and had more to do with the project’s self-identification as an archival initiative and its investments in the curation and preservation of particular kinds of material culture: items left at public memorials, social media activity, and first-person narratives, all of them related to a national tragedy. Why is an English major behaving like an archivist, a metadata specialist, a project manager? What more could they know about the long histories of curation, preservation, and community engagement, topics that may not be covered in English department coursework? How might English departments anticipate student and community investments in initiatives like Our Marathon and be prepared to support such work?

Thanks to editors Robin Kear and Kate Joranson for their feedback on our contribution to this project. And thanks, of course, to Alicia, for being great: it would be cool to co-write and/or collaborate on something again in the future. I look forward to reading the rest of the volume: if you’re interested, some of our co-authors have been putting links to preprint versions of their work on this Google Doc.

Continue reading “New Book Chapter: “Our Marathon: The Role of Graduate Student and Library Labor in Making the Boston Bombing Digital Archive””

“Reappearing Acts”: My Review of Lori Emerson’s Reading Writing Interfaces for Digital Humanities Quarterly

Head over to Digital Humanities Quarterly to read some new writing from me!

Lori Emerson’s Reading Writing Interfaces: From The Digital To The Bookbound (University of Minnesota Press; 2014) was an important book for me during the end of my dissertation-writing work, and I’ve come to use excerpts from the book regularly in courses I’ve taught on Digital Public Humanities and Digital Storytelling here at Brown. I asked if I could review it for Digital Humanities Quarterly so I could share the ways Emerson’s work has made me think differently about digital interfaces: what they promise users, what those promises often do to conceal and limit our imagined uses of technology, and how artists electronic literature have made creative work out of these limitations and conditions.

I had a lot of fun writing this book review, and I look forward to doing more writing in this vein. I’ve struggled for years to develop the “right” voice to use in “academic” writing, and the occasion of a book review for a supportive journal gave me some confidence and imagined leeway to write about popular culture, tell jokes, and reveal my personality a bit. Sometimes I feel like I was a few years too early (or maybe a few departments too removed from American Studies) to feel comfortable while writing stuff like this. I’ve still been doing some writing in more “traditional” academic styles and modes (though some of this work has also been collaborative writing, which has been fun and different in certain ways), but I do prefer this sort of thing. I was appreciative of the kind words people said about my writing on Infinite Jest and ebooks, which is in a similar mode.

Grad Student DH Roundtable in Common-place

I wrote about my experiences doing digital humanities work as a graduate student over at Common-place. Here’s a snippet:

While I’ve heard that the phrase “public humanities” makes some people want to set their hair on fire, I’ve found that the investments many digital humanities practitioners place in public-facing work have been particularly important, and I try to explore the various implications and challenges of doing public humanities work in my courses and in my own projects. My work in Brown’s Public Humanities program at times might begin (and sometimes end) with digital initiatives aimed entirely at non-academic audiences (i.e. audiences who might not be looking to use materials or data for their own academic projects or publications). Or it might entail working with a range of collaborators—librarians, community organizations, undergraduates, archivists—with various ideas about the kinds of intellectual labor they’re invested in, interests that don’t always privilege scholarly monographs or the critical lenses privileged by my graduate training in, say, an English department. These digital projects require skill in project management and development, attention to design choices and interfaces and their impact on user experiences, knowledge of long-term preservation issues, and discussions about various forms of public engagement, among other factors.

Common-place is primarily intended for early American Studies scholars, but I think this piece may be of interest to DH folks doing work outside that particular field as well. The roundtable discussion is made up entirely of recent graduates and current grad students from Northeastern University (all of whom were former NULab fellows as well!), and it documents graduate student experiences at at a moment in the school’s institutional history when its community of digital humanities scholars and researchers (including, of course, Northeastern’s awesome librarians and archivists!) was just starting to materialize. Anyway, it was fun to write: thanks to Liz, Ben, and Abby, as well as Ed Whitley, Kathy Foley, and the good people of Common-place.