British Library Reading Room, British Museum

Week 3: Archives, Identities, and Metadata


Earhart, Amy. “Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon.” Debates in the Digital Humanities (2012): 309-318. Online.

Wernimont, Jacqueline. “Whence Feminism? Assessing Feminist Interventions in Digital Literary Archives.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 7.1 (2013).

Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Susan Leigh Star. “Chapter 9: Categorical Work and Boundary Infrastructures: Enriching Theories of Classification.” Sorting things out: Classification and its consequences. MIT press, 2000. 285-326.

Explore, with particular attention to how identity is framed/accessed/searched:

Hawkins, Ann. “Disabling Labelling.” (pecha kucha: 6.5 minutes)

A Celebration of Women Writers.

Women Writers Online (access through Library)

Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present. (through Library)

The Real Faces of White Australia. Sherratt, Tim.

Recommended background reading (optional):

Brown, Susan, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy. “Sorting Things In: Feminist knowledge representation and changing modes of scholarly production.” Women’s Studies International Forum. Vol. 29. No. 3. Pergamon, 2006.

Garrett, Jeffrey. “KWIC and Dirty? Human cognition and the claims of full-text searching.” Journal of Electronic Publishing 9.1 (2006).


8 thoughts on “Week 3: Archives, Identities, and Metadata

  1. My thoughts on Earhart’s article: Three points of interest struck me when I first read this article: the act of colonization, the diversity in digital recovery projects (perhaps a lack thereof?), and sustainability of these aforementioned recovery projects through the use of coding language. In regards to colonization, the Internet was described in this article as “uncolonized and free”, which I found to be an interesting choice of words. The Internet consists of a space that is not quite tangible, it can even be depicted as infinite, which illustrates how much territory is open for others to dominate and “colonize”. There are different niches that have been developed on the Internet and that will continue to be created for as long as the Internet exists. These characteristics offer an exciting and novel experience and this idea of a space that allows for a free flow of information and lack of authoritarian figures, especially those associated with the government and police, can form a kind of utopia for us, a “free for all” if you will. Now I think there are many ways where we could contradict this concept of “freedom”, however I wanted to point to a question regarding the diversity, especially in regards to digital recovery projects, in terms of if there is so much more access (by those with different social backgrounds and with this continuous creation of niches/spaces for everyone to express themselves freely) that is achieved through this space, then why is there not more variety in voices, subjects, etc.? For instance, why do some digital recovery projects, such as Asian American literature, survive longer/are still running versus those in other minority groups, such as Chicano/Latino literature? Is there a lack of interest in particular areas? Is it based on budgeting issues? Is there a lack of access that is occurring here? This article lists a variety of issues that digital recovery projects face, however it does mention a possible solution or explanation that can contribute to this problem. Sustainability of a website can be determined through its accessibility in language. XML, for instance, is considered a worldwide computer language (I always get confused about whether I should call it a coding language or a markup language, I don’t quite fully understand the difference between the two). This idea of an accessible language reminds me of a discussion that occurred in another class (regarding Film Adaptation) in terms of this dream for a common language where there would be one singular language that everyone could understand and communicate with each other, no matter their social background. I believe that XML represents this concept for the online world and could perhaps attribute to the success of some digital recovery projects in comparison to others (this is a contradictory belief on my part considering I was a bit confused and found that learning XML myself was not going to be an easy feat).

    My thoughts on Bowker & Star’s article: There are two ideas that stood out to me in this article that has either made me more curious and further question what was being said or enlightened me in a topic that I wasn’t aware of at first. The first occurrence revolved around the concept of boundary objects (“those objects that both inhabit several communities of practice and satisfy the informational requirements of each of them” 297). Naturally I would begin to question: what are some boundary objects that exist between the humanities and computer science/computing? We now have what is called Digital Humanities, therefore it makes sense that I would connect these two subjects together and attempt to think about this concept in relation to the course. The first thing that popped to my head was analysis (both in terms of text and data analysis), although I struggle to think of more concepts which I feel would be an abundant amount considering the formation of this field of study. This article has also made me look at cyborgs in a different way. When I think of cyborg, I think half human and half machine and that’s pretty much it. But cyborgs, as I interpreted in this part of the article, can extend to address the ambiguity that surrounds representation, especially in terms of mixed race people. There was a comment about how an archaic way of thinking, in terms of what a mixed race person is, was that a mixed person didn’t fully fit into one category, for example Asian or white, but was discarded into a “residual” pile that nobody knew what to do with. The cyborg can illuminate this disparity through its own representation of a hybrid being and contradicts this idea of a “pure” idea or representation of a people.

    Side note: The term “cyborg fashion” was mentioned in the previous article which reminded me of this store I visited in London (Cyberdog, which is situated in Camden Lock/Camden town). No one is allowed to take pictures or video while in the store (guess you’ll have to go there to get the full experience!). They played techno music, had dancers in their cyborg gear (with really cool computer-esque makeup and bright coloured hair), and the only source of lights were these weirdly shaped neon lights. It was such a cool and new experience for me! I made a reference to it in a tweet as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. @jackattack329, Your concluding sentences about the possibilities of XML as a “common language” reminded me of Donna Haraway’s “dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia… It means both building and destroying machines, identities, categories, relationships [etc.].”
      While Haraway’s writing in some instances can be rather poetic/left to multiple interpretations, I think it’s definitely applicable in this context. She desires a “language” which can also acknowledge difference, which is absolutely essential to building towards this utopic, decentralized digital world. I was excited to see the example Earhart used regarding alternative TEI tags, because I think this might be the physical manifestation of Haraway’s desire. I would like to learn more about how TEI or other markup language can evolve. What are the boundaries that exist within this language? And might code impact language enough to open new ways of theorization and communication that can contain all of the multiplicities and “messy fluidities” of cultural studies?


  2. I found the “Disabling Labeling” talk on the Pecha Kucha site really interesting, both for the content and for the way it was presented. At first I wondered why I couldn’t just read a transcript of it rather than listening to it and looking at pictures, since I tend to learn better from reading. But as I listened, I started to appreciate the way in which the images illustrated Hawkins’ points, and allowed her to be more concise. When she mentioned that there is a difference between the way people react to the words “refugee” and “migrant,” I momentarily wondered why she wasn’t going into more detail. But then I realized that that part of the talk was accompanied with a picture of people holding up a sign reading “refugees welcome,” presumably showing that “refugee” is the one to which people react more positively, and allowing her to continue to her next point without stopping to explain.

    I thought she made a really good case for the use of gender neutral pronouns to refer to everyone, in the multitude of cases in which someone’s gender isn’t at all relevant. While I have been frustrated by the lack of a good gender neutral pronoun in English before (I’ll use “they” if I have to, but it sounds wrong), I had only considered how that lexical gap affects people who aren’t sure of their gender identity, or who don’t identify within the gender binary at all. I hadn’t thought about how it might be good to just have a gender neutral pronoun for everyone, in order to encourage a breaking down of that binary and the expectations that come with it.

    I found an interesting related point in Bowker and Leigh’s chapter, which mentions “the loosening of these traditionally tightly coupled threads [age and gender]” (315) in the characters people play in Multi User Dungeons or MUDs. I believe those MUDs were sort of a text-based version of the kind of MMO games like World of Warcraft that we have now, in the early days of the internet. And since that’s something that’s particularly interesting to me, I wish they had gone into more detail about it—I’d love to read a study about people who feel comfortable taking on a different gender identity in an online game, and what effect the ease of doing that may have had and continue to have on society’s understanding of gender.

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    1. I thought this was a good example of a Pecha Kucha (a format we’ll be using for project presentations later in the semester) working with fairly sophisticated concepts in plain language. Running an argument simultaneously through both verbal and visual languages is a real art.


  3. Earhart’s article highlighted for me the tension between “ideal” (free, unfettered, diverse, inclusionary information) and “practical” (what works / tools / collections warrant the time and dollars to be recovered, developed preserved – based on what is most attractive to funders and future students / researchers). I have seen this play out in my role as librarian, when advising individuals on what is practical from a technical sense, and at the larger scale in assisting in the decision around what services and technology to provide at an institutional level.

    I also found myself musing over historic instances of the scenario of the introduction of a new technology – internet in this case (paper, printing press, cheaper writing utensils, typewriters, computers) and how each of these represented possibility to “start over, and allow those on the periphery to have their say, or be recorded.

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  4. I think one of the subtexts of Earhart’s analysis is that, ironically, as web technologies developed to support more complex representations of cultural artefacts, for instance through SGML and later XML, the bar for DIY or smaller projects got higher and higher.


  5. About Amy Earheart’s article :

    The article puts emphasis on the paradox of online database when we think of it as a medium for a greater accessiblilty to works out of the canon. On the one hand, it can make every humanist feel deeply enthusiastic because digitalization of literary texts represents a promising tool for scholarly work and research. Digital databases become expandable libraries ad infinitum, allowing recovering of texts, and more importantly their increasing accessibility, moving ‘high culture’ away from its pedestal. High culture could be thus replaces by a new kind of ‘cyberculture’ of diveristy produced by collaborative working groups – a networking system replacing the existant vertical system. Yet, on the other hand, the article highlights that digital projects do not always exploit data to the advantage of literary productions from ‘marginalised’ groups (indigenous, people of colour, women writers, LGBTQ writers…). From what I understood, the author recalls that the main digital texts projects are then often only used to perpetuate the diffusion of traditional canonical works (“Without careful and systematic analysis of our digital canons, we not only reproduce antiquated understandings of the canon but also reify them through our technological imprimatur”) . She finally argues that Digital Humanists should take in account Critical Studies in order to create a ‘new canon’ and reverse the reading/searching tendance currently working in the academia.

    About Bowke and Star’s chapter :

    The chapter manages to draw a very clear overview of issues arisen by processes of categorization and classifications, even though such concepts are complex and definitely abstract. I really appreciated the way the authors show that such mental activities have very practical and concrete impacts on individuals and societies.
    Although the article manipulates philosophical, semiotical and theoretical ideas, it underlines the importance of ‘situated knowledge’. The awareness of the existence of different contexts is telling when we think about online contents, since information is always transmitted faster and diffused more widely, while the context in which it was produced is often (always ?) blurry. Keeping in mind the multiciplity of contexts is thus primordial, without yet falling into total relativism

    Categorizing work is one of the first tools to make order out (to sort things out) of the mess of fluxes of information ; thus I guess we cannot reflect upon the internet for example without thinking of categories in parallel. Hyper-connected online platforms indeed allow uninterrupted flows of content, and categorization is one of the only ways to basically make them readable. Yet categories, when applied to ‘people and things’, are never neutral tools, they are not like strandard Ikea drawers we used to tidy up a room – even though to go further we can also argue that the most basic Ikea storage units are not neutral neither. I think we all know they do have consequences both ivl and irl.

    Categories and ‘memberships’ are very helpful to think about online spheres of interaction, which are almost always constituted of communities (cf you always have to sign up to have access to a webiste). Those are more or less open to other communities or the ‘real’/non virtual life. For example mainstream social networks are definitely open to new members, while being an active member of a speciliased forum or a MMORPG usually requires a lot of time and dedication to the community.

    Comparisions and examples used in the article were very insightful ; for example the one between membership/feeling at home (“Think of the experience of being at home, and how one settles down and relaxes when surrounded by utterly familiar objects; think of how demented one feels in the process of moving house. ») I think this can be applied to websites in general. If a given user does not feel ‘at home’ when he opens a webpage, the feeling of rejection is almost automatic – and it also works in the opposite direction ; here I’m especially thinking about ‘internet wholes’ where you feel so at home that you can scroll for one hour without being aware of it. Platforms with permanently fed threads of content are good examples (Reddit, Pinterest, Tumblr…), but the question is : why the content displayed there is naturalized to you, if it concerns things that are always new, ever-changing ? The beginning of my eventual answer would be that this is because first of all you were asked to chose categories (or tags) by which you feel especially concerned. What you see is then constructed by categories you chose to take in account, and they are what make you stick to this website.

    Categorization is inherent to online platforms and communities, which always draw new categories that we cannot find IRL. And categories are highly transposable and reproducible on websites for example ; they can be binary, especially in terms of choices given to users (red/green thumb ; authorized/blocked ; follower/followed, like/comment, sign up/sign in…) or not binary when we talk about general structures (home/actuality/about/contact ; women/men/apparel/accessories/shoes).

    Maybe the main hope associated with use of digital tools is that they make users realize that they can create, shift and modulate categories, which are separated and different that the ones they already know. The other side of the coin is that creating strong memberships can have unexpected and serious consequences (cf the use of social network by terrorists organizations).

    Like the authors I also believe that thinking the ‘ordinary’ or the ‘normal’ is a fundamental step to take on the path to think other categories (ab-normal, deviant, marginalized ones). Once we know that every category is the result of constructions and produced in defferent contexts, we can see more clearly why some are rejected or made invisible.

    The concept of ‘boundary objetcs’ (“Boundary objects are those objects that both inhabit several communities of practice and satisfy the informational requirements of each of them. ») appears so useful. I think that queer culture for exemple is one of them, in the sense it crosses many categories – social, sexual, gendered, national-political, etc – without losing its identity.

    Sorry, I just realise that I totally over-commented this article ! but I was enthusiastic while reading it. I had the feeling that classification and naturalization are processes that are entries-concepts to understand Digital Humanities, its concerns and its possibilties.

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