Activism in the Humanities: Digital Projects for Public Engagement (MLA 2018)

A roundtable on activism through digital humanities projects, featuring a discussion on topics including: how to engage local communities through digital projects, how to shift from academic work to social and political advocacy, how to introduce issues-oriented and community-oriented projects to students, and how to bring together technology with activist work.  

Panelists include:

  • Jacqueline Arias, Jersey Art Exchange
  • Jim Casey, Princeton University
  • Alex Gil, Columbia University
  • Purdom Linblad, Univ. of Maryland
  • Sarah Lynn Patterson, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Laila Shereen Sakr, UC Santa Barbara
  • Dennis Yi Tenen, Columbia University
  • Jacqueline Wernimont, Arizona State University

Moderator: Mark Sample, Davidson College

Discussion Questions

Coming soon!

Participant Bios

Jacqueline Arias (Jersey Art Exchange) is the founder of the Jersey Art Exchange (JAX), a community arts space in an underserved area of Jersey City that provides a contemporary gallery for new media artists and a Media Arts & Technology Center for teens. Currently, the teen members are working with Youth Radio of NPR to create an interactive online map of their community, documenting the history, the long-time residents and the changing demographic. Through photography, podcasts, short videos and 360 technology the teen members are creating digital stories and documenting gentrification in their neighborhood. 

Jim Casey (Princeton University) is a co-founder of the Colored Conventions Project. He has helped orchestrate Transcribe Minutes, an initiative that invites members of the Black communities and historic churches that hosted the Colored Conventions in the 1800s to participate in preserving their own histories today. With many collaborators, he works to provide access to the longer history of Black activism through social media, special events, and partnerships with advocacy groups.

Alex Gil (Columbia University) focuses on the intersection of the labor of memory, social justice and black decolonial praxis. He has actively organized and contributed to communities around the world and in New York City, both within and without the academy, working to leverage technology and the humanities in their own efforts. An important focus has been the use of computing fundamentals to provide an entry into the “masters’ tools.” Collaborations range from the protection of vulnerable archives of Urdu poetry in Pakistan to the teaching of computing fundamentals to young inmates at Rikers Island in RikersBot. In this presentation, he joins his colleague Dennis Tenen to talk about the latter.

Purdom Linblad (University of Maryland) is broadly interested in the implicit and explicit impact digital humanities can have for social, cultural, and environmental justice. Applying principles from Feminist Interface Design, Linblad and her Scholars’ Lab colleague Jeremy Boggs have explored how research design and public documentation shape user experience and make theoretical framings transparent. 

Sarah Lynn Patterson (University of Massachusetts, Amherstexamines intellectual cultures that sustained Black political activism through the lens of Black women’s reform literature and educational advocacy, 1850-1910. Sarah is co-founder and a National Faculty Director for the award-winning Colored Conventions Project (ColoredConventions.org), where she helped to build partnerships with national teaching and archival partners that produce innovative exhibits, energetically promote gender-inclusive, interdisciplinary research and offer public readers access to rare, traditionally scattered material artifacts of historic, Black-led campaigns for social justice. She is co-editing the forthcoming volume, Colored Conventions in the 19th Century and the Digital Age.

Laila Shereen Sakr (University of California, Santa Barbara) is a maker and thinker known for creating the R-Shief media system and the cyborg VJ Um Amel. She is Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara. Her website is: http://vjumamel.com.

Mark Sample (Davidson College) is the founding director of the Digital Studies program at Davidson College, where his teaching and research focuses on new media and algorithmic culture. He is particularly interested in the way that digital narratives and videogames can both reify existing social structures and critique them. His examination of torture in videogames appeared in Game Studies, while his reading of criminality in the code of Sim City appeared in Digital  Humanities Quarterly. His call for digital activists to create what he calls “bots of conviction” has received widespread attention in the media and creative coding community.

Dennis Yi Tenen (Columbia University) works at the intersection of people, texts, and technology. He is one of the co-founders of Columbia’s Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities. His recent projects include a Twitter bot developed in conjunction with young people at Rikers Correctional Facility and Architectures of Knowledge: Mumbai, a workshop on free archives and pirate libraries. He is the author of Plain Text: The Poetics of Computation (Stanford UP, 2017).

Jacqueline Wernimont (Arizona State University) is an anti-racist, feminist scholar working toward greater justice in digital cultures. She writes about long histories of media and technology – particularly those that count and commemorate – and entanglements with archives and historiographic ways of knowing. She is a network weaver across humanities, arts, and sciences. This work includes co-Directing HASTAC and ASU’s Human Security Collaboratory. She also runs Nexus: A digital research co-op and is a fellow of the Global Security Institute.

Panel Organizers: Cheryl Ball (West Virginia University), Rachel Buurma (Swarthmore College), Lauren Klein (Georgia Tech), and Mark Sample (Davidson College), on behalf of the MLA’s forum on Digital Humanities.