- Introduction:American Quarterly in the Digital Sphere
This special issue explores digital humanities as a designation, as an associated constellation of technologies and practices, and as a site of convergence for inter-, multi-, and transdisciplinary scholarship. Propelled by the ever-increasing power of computing and grounded in the ongoing development of a networked new media, digital humanities scholarship has coalesced around a shared set of values: that theory can be engaged through practice, that scholarship should be open and accessible to all, and that collaboration is pivotal in American studies. At the same time, American studies scholars in the digital humanities have reinvigorated the important work of investigating cultural and political formations, excavating power relations, and expanding scholarly inquiry to encompass the everyday as much as the exceptional. With this special issue, we seek to open a new phase of discussion by overtly exploring the connections between critically engaged forms of American studies and the digital humanities.
As American studies scholars have long recognized, disappointment, anger, and agitation can be generative. Work on this special issue began in the spring of 2016, shortly after American Quarterly announced a new initiative to engage more actively with the digital humanities, publishing a section titled "Digital Projects Review." This new initiative was encouraging to the American Studies Association Digital Humanities Caucus (DH Caucus) and other scholars who work at the intersections of American studies and digital humanities. However, the initial manifestation of the "Digital Projects Review" struck many scholars as being out of step with the vibrant and innovative American studies approaches to digital humanities that have emerged over the past two decades.1 This frustration found an outlet on social media, and on the DH Caucus email list, which eventually led the six of us to propose this special issue, "Toward a Critically Engaged Digital Practice: American Studies and the Digital Humanities." The diversity of institutional affiliations, research perspectives, disciplinary backgrounds, and professional roles within our [End Page 361] group of coeditors has enabled a collaboration that, we hope, both reflects and advances the synergies of exciting new work emerging at the intersections of American studies and digital humanities, as highlighted in the following pages.
While the spark that catalyzed this special issue was recent, the archives of American Quarterly show that the intertwined roots of American studies and digital humanities are deep. In June 1999 American Quarterly published an experimental online issue and concurrent print symposium combining "hypertext and American studies scholarship." The project, wrote Roy Rosenzweig in his editor's introduction, "tried to bring together something rather old-fashioned and established—the scholarly journal article—with something new and still emerging—the networked and digital space of the World Wide Web."2 Nearly two decades later, scholars are still wrestling with questions about the relationship between print and online scholarship, and are exploring the possibilities enabled by digital tools, methods, and platforms. Several of the essays in the September 2006 special issue, "Rewiring the 'Nation': The Place of Technology in American Studies," edited by Siva Vaidhyanathan, also speak to issues that are of interest to scholars who work in American studies and digital humanities. Nicole Fleetwood, for example, examines how different technological narratives (e.g., news media, meteorology, and governmental reports) during and after Hurricane Katrina rendered African American residents of New Orleans as disposable, focusing on technological failures and solutions rather than examining human catalysts and responses. "Technology here should be understood as a media process of production and as a discursive tool by which particular narratives are naturalized and certain bodies made vulnerable," Fleetwood argues. "In this context, Hurricane Katrina reveals a different kind of determinism—the stark operations of technology in determining who lives and who dies."3
More recently, Lauren Klein's review essay "American Studies after the Internet" (December 2012) and Lisa Nakamura's "Indigenous Circuits: Navajo Women and the Racialization of Early Electronic Manufacture" (December 2014) both offer models for what a deeper engagement by American Quarterly with digital humanities might look like. Nakamura shows how labor by women of color has...