the interventionists

“To the rescue, many librarians believe computers are the only means to effectively cope with their bulging bookshelves”. 1966. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).

I must admit that I am still belaboring the idea of the field of DH as a (partial) means to subvert the strong focus on research and publishing for tenure to instead promote and enhance teaching & learning. Not to throw CUNY & the Academic Commons under the proverbial bus — it’s great, really! And I find it beneficial on many levels, academically and professionally — but the AC as a collaborative place limited to faculty, staff, and doctoral students is perhaps just redefining self-inclusive nature of academia*. The AC is also still imbedded within an institution where tenure is a reality. Sink or swim. Publish or perish (or my personal favorite, “It does not have to be good, it just has to be published,” which has said to me at least once at CUNY).

With all that said, having a centralized, digital place to provide such support and education to peers/faculty is, or could be, extremely progressive. In Digital Humanities Pedagogy Simon Mahony and Elena Pierazzo write, “what is needed is the development of a group space that exists somewhere between study and social areas” (217). The AC could directly answer to the need for such a group space should it eventually allow for a structure to accommodate it.

Within this process is the need to include the teaching parties by fostering their interest in engaging in digital technology into the classroom. Let’s be honest, part of the problem with academia/tenure is not just publishing fees, the subsequent pay-walls, and the cost of journals to libraries, but it’s also JOB COMPLACENCY. In some ways as students of DH we are being trained as the next generation of instructors who can then be on the front lines to promote and support continued efforts to get research, publishing, and tenure out of the ground and into the cloud(s). In Debates in the Digital Humanities Luke Waltzer writes, “More so than just about any other sub-field, the digital humanities possess the capability to invigorate humanities instruction in higher education and to reassert how the humanities can help us understand and shape the world around us.” DH doesn’t need to stop at humanities. It’s important to have that emphasis there, for the “learning for the sake of learning” and “lifelong learning” aspects of a humanities-driven education may become idioms of the recent past when still yet other disciplines can benefit from the tools DHers employ. For instance, teaching with DH concepts could become a gateway to future STEM interests and Open Access awareness. DH as a gateway drug, perhaps?

I almost wish DH had been instead titled “Interventionists”**. Academia needs a lot of creative intervention before true change can take place. Beginning the process in instruction is an excellent place to start as long as the institution supports the mission completely. That is to say, the process of instruction isn’t as wrapped up in the bottom line as publishing for tenure, and perhaps the trickle down effect of emphasizing digital technologies within traditional analysis can bring change overall.

*I believe this situation was mentioned in one of our first classes, and with good reason for the current design. If the AC is going toward the greater goal of community based digital collaboration, then I would argue that the place would need to evolve away from social media (i.e.: profiles and resumes, friendships, meeting announcements) to a platform that is used in undergraduate coursework and within workshops. A repository to instruct on new technologies and collaborate for pedagogical purposes. I imagine it being used as we are I’m DH praxis, but more widely (even within the GC).

**While the name “The Interventionists” is already taken, the concepts remain in tact to appropriate it for DH here: creative disruption.


Gold, Matthew K., ed. Debates in the digital humanities. U of Minnesota Press, 2012.
Hirsch, Brett D., ed. Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles and Politics. Vol. 3. Open Book Publishers, 2012.

6 thoughts on “the interventionists

  1. Mary Catherine Kinniburgh


    I really love your call for creative disruption, and your observations on how digital humanities tools and methodologies might be uniquely poised to facilitate this process.

    The presence of space in your blog post–digital space in the Academic Commons, classroom space in the university setting–as a necessary prerequisite to teaching highlights the material (and digital, which is built on material) foundations of the university. With space to teach, we can reclaim the educative process in academia and teach our students rather than perpetuate the fetishized system of tenure and research Although both tenure and research have their place and benefits in academic institutions, it seems that creating digital spaces for inclusive, open learning–and I’m talking beyond MOOCs–can allow these value shifts between teaching and research to occur.

    Thinking of the questions raised thus far by HyperCities, I wonder how we could consider “thick mapping” of classrooms both physical and digital as potential sites of resistance in their comingling of social and study activities (as per Mahoney). What can be gained by mapping these spaces for their potential to create knowledge and creative disruption? How do digital tools facilitate this process, or magnify its potential?

    As ever, see you all in discussion,


  2. Liam Sweeney

    Thick mapping classrooms seems right. I keep thinking of a Stephen Ramsay piece, Centers Are People, which seems like a model of scholarship to aspire to. Maybe it (DH) really is a shift toward focusing on a collaborative process, on people, ironically leveraging technology to humanize disciplines in the humanities that have relied on isolating methodologies.

    To that end I had a thought for a fun project. We’re familiar enough with citing sources, providing a path back to the work that informed our own. But that feels very flat now, doesn’t it? Especially with the tendency to publicly document work in real time, aren’t there valuable parts of the research process other than the peer reviewed work?

    I’m wondering about mapping the research process. There are a lot of ways you could do this, but I’m mainly interested in one aspect: people. Who suggested which works to you that transformed your idea of the field, that made all the difference in your article? Can we trace those connections, reveal hubs in the network for certain disciplines? Observe how a theoretical work travels through an academic community? Foster a more public kind of scholarly conversation? I don’t know how that kind of network would be generated or maintained on a large scale, but it occurred to me, if a basic survey was offered at the end of our course, asking for a list of the most interesting or useful scholarship you’d engaged with over the year, and then asking who’d turned you on to it, we might start to see a network form (or we might hope for a network, not get one, and want to work towards it).

    I think there might be something uncomfortable in the honesty of this though. To illustrate, I’ll share that I’ve been pretty uncertain about my data set, and when Prof. Gold asked me what I might be thinking, I mentioned a not very developed idea and asked a not at all specific question about a next step. He suggested I look at Micki’s work. On Quantifying Kissinger I found the first real application of topic modeling I’d encountered. I started exploring the work. Liam -> Matt -> Micki -> Kissenger -> Topic Modeling. For some reason I hesitate to show that process, because why not pretend I’d always known about topic modeling, and about Micki’s work and thereby avoid all the irksome newbness. It puts cards on the table, in a way. But the benefit is that if you’ve been keeping quiet about not having actually seen topic modeling in action, you can identify the person in the room you should be talking to. Because probably such a survey would reveal that other people also have had their notions of topic modeling informed from that work. So then, a hub would be evident.

    Till Soon,

  3. James Mason

    I love this post, and I especially love Liam’s comment. After reading HyperCities I think that a visualization of research could be interesting and useful. Sometimes I get lost on how I’ve come to the place of knowledge and it would be very interesting to have that path rendered visual. Even more useful would be a tool dedicated to visualizing related search terms or search pathing. Wouldn’t it be cool if you were, say, researching on Wikipedia and were able to view a tree of which links the users on that page clicked next, and after that, and after that? It would be interesting to see the popularity of certain research paths, and perhaps even learn about our own individual patterns, the micro rendered macro, so to speak.

  4. Julia Pollack

    I think it is important to think about “JOB COMPLACENCY”. Or maybe all kids of complacency. I can’t help myself i just keep wanting to talk about libraries, but srsly this makes me think about libraries. My experience being a librarian has placed me in institutions and environments where simultaneously the most radical work and the most conservative bean counting work live side by side. Last week Cathy Davidson mentioned that she thought one of our classmates was brave. I really like this idea of bravery in the classroom and the job place and in education in general. What if your research or job performance were rated on bravery?

  5. Jojo Karlin (she/her/hers)

    So many interesting lines of conversation here!

    Kelly, the creative disruption really appeals to me, too. I am just wondering how sustainable these digital disruptions are — with the constant phasing in and out of technologies (I was particularly interested in the workarounds mentioned by Presner in HyperCities, (47), when Google Maps 3 dropped the support of Maps API). I listened in on a webinar Tom Schienfeldt gave Tuesday about funding digital initiatives and he focused on how you maintain these projects after you have received initial funding. If we are talking about dismantling systems to restructure the academy, the question of sustainability has a different bent.

    Regarding the mapping of ideas, Liam! Have you checked out The Writing Studies Tree?
    Ben Miller, Amanda Licastro, and Jill Belli here at CUNY have started “an online, crowdsourced database of academic genealogies within writing studies… an interactive archive for recording and mapping scholarly relationships in Composition and Rhetoric and adjacent disciplines.” It lends some transparency to the networks of conversation that go into academic discourse.

    Looking forward to more conversation soon!

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