[The following is the text (and some fun gifs) from a presentation I gave last week at the Bucknell University Digital Scholarship Conference. Thank you to Bucknell for hosting such a fun, student-centered conference, the Mellon Foundation for providing me with funding to attend the conference (and my entire job), and Ben Daigle for helping me hone my message and feel confident in my presentation!]
I want to start by telling a story from when I was an undergrad. I was in a Literary Theory class and we were reading Lacan, not secondary explanations of Lacan. Actual Lacan. For those of you who haven’t read it, here’s a couple of stereotypical sentences from one of this works, The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious.
“And we will fail to pursue the question further as long as we cling to the illusion that the signifier answers to the function of representing the signified, or better, that the signifier has to answer for its existence in the name of any signification whatever.”
“It is not only with the idea of silencing the nominalist debate with a low blow that I use this example, but rather to show how in fact the signifier enters the signified, namely, in a form which, not being immaterial raises the question of its place in reality. For the blinking gaze of a short sighted person might be justified in wondering whether this was indeed the signifier as he peered closely at the little enamel signs that bore it, a signifier whose signified would in this call receive its final honours from the double and solemn procession from the upper nave.”
So my homework was to read 22 pages of that. I realize that I took both of these out of context, but believe me, it’s hard to understand regardless. I showed up to class early and I asked my friends, did you understand this? Did you get what he was saying? None of them had, so I felt a little better. Still, we frantically Googled anything about the chapter that we could find so that it didn’t seem like we hadn’t read it at all. We went into class and had an amazing discussion about the chapter and what it meant and how it was intentionally written to be kind of confusing because that’s the point he’s making. With the help of the professor, I came away with a much deeper understanding of Lacan than I had by simply Googling. Two years later, I was in a children’s literature course and we read Frindle, which is a children’s book about a boy who calls his pen a frindle and essentially changes the language in his school and then in his town. It’s about who has the power to decide which words are counted as real words. Who gets to make them up? How do they become legitimate? What does the power to determine the validity of a word mean and how is it enforced? It was about Lacan and it illustrated the concept of signifier and signified and the literal and figurative power struggle between them in a little chapter book that I read in like 45 minutes.
Alright, let’s all keep that story in mind while I start talking about digital humanities.
I’m going to talk about my position and trying to learn about digital scholarship, and then I’m going to talk a little bit about the issues I see within digital scholarship from an accessibility standpoint.
First of all, what is a post-bac?
A post-bac is basically a post-doc, only it takes place after getting a bachelor’s degree. This specific position was created because the members of the Digital Collaborations Group at the Five Colleges of Ohio found that a lot of the time when a faculty member undertook a research project, there was usually a student researcher who took on a lot of the technical work and helped the faculty member complete what were usually very interdisciplinary projects. The DCG decided it would be helpful to have a person who was fully dedicated to learning about digital scholarship in order to assist faculty members with their research. In short, it’s my job to research different options and opportunities within the practice that I could help students and faculty incorporate into their pedagogy.
I’ve also been given the opportunity to develop my own research project that incorporates some of the digital scholarship techniques that I’ve been teaching myself and that project is currently underway.
So now you’re next question is probably going to be, so why did they hire me?
Well, I graduated from Denison University in 2016 with a degree in creative writing. Prior to taking this position, I had had a lot of jobs.
- Taekwondo Instructor
- Math Tutor
- Traveling Mattress Salesman/Cashier
- Diner Waitress
- English Department Assistant
- Oral History Research Assistant
- Off-Campus Study Administrative Assistant
- Marketing Consultant
If you’ll notice only one of those is directly related to digital scholarship. So the point I’m making is that I don’t have any background in coding, computer science, web design, math or statistics, or really anything having to do with the digital. I am a millennial, I do remember a time when I had to wait for my mom to get off the phone in order to get on the internet.
But despite my ability to set my grandma’s phone to easy mode or share a youtube video on Facebook, I don’t actually know a whole lot about computers. Surprising, right?
I wouldn’t say this came as a huge surprise to me. I knew I didn’t know what I was doing when it came to coding or anything relating to computers that don’t have a GUI. But the point of this post-bac wasn’t to hire someone who already knew how to do everything related to digital scholarship, it was to hire someone who wanted to continue learning and to leverage the research undertaken by the post-bac to assist with student and faculty projects. Which is awesome. I’m basically being paid to teach myself. And that’s the background that I’m coming with to talk about accessibility in digital humanities.