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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 been crucial to every stage of digital production, from semiconductors in the 1960s to iPhones today. "We must look to locales and bodies not commonly associated with these technologies, in out of the way places, to see how race operates as a key aspect of digital platform production," Nakamura suggests.4 Similarly, Klein notes that "the history of the digital humanities, in both its original and its expanded meanings, is also, necessarily, a history of [End Page 362] gender, labor, empire, and … race."5 These examples from the archives of American Quarterly show that the journal's newest digital initiative builds on a foundation of work at the intersection of American studies and the many adjacent fields this issue brings together. The ASA annual meeting also features exciting new work by members and friends of the DH Caucus. We want this special issue to celebrate, record, and share this insightful creativity.

American Studies + Digital Humanities

Since the mid-1990s the American Studies Association, as well as the larger field of American studies, has pursued the scope of the digital—digital culture, digital studies, digital resources—in its typically multidisciplinary and multimodal way. The groundbreaking American Studies Crossroads Project, initiated in 1993 by Randy Bass of Georgetown University, became not only a site for information exchange and resource sharing but the first virtual home of the ASA itself "at a time when very few other professional organizations had their own website."6 The funding structure of that project led the ASA to create a Crossroads Project Advisory Board and add Bass as an ex officio member of its council, bringing digital concerns into the center of the organization as well as the larger community's awareness at an early date while also training a cohort of rising students in new concerns and methods. Meanwhile, also in 1993, H-Amstdy premiered as one of the first H-Net Listserv lists, moderated by then graduate student Jeff Finlay, and quickly became an early forum for virtual discussion among American studies scholars; it soon became one of the most heavily subscribed H-Net lists.7 While the caucus structure within ASA was first enabled in 1994, it was not until some fifteen years later, near the end of the Crossroads Project, that the DH Caucus itself was formed. By then, humanities computing had blossomed into the newly named field of digital humanities, while—at the same time—scholars from across the spectrum of American studies concerns had begun to explore the impact and promise of digital methods in scholarship and digital developments in American culture. As described in its founding charter of 2009, the DH Caucus sought "to form a unified point of contact for ASA members interested in pursuing digital humanities from within an American studies framework."8

Other developments have also laid the groundwork for an American studies–inflected version of digital humanities to emerge. Digital tools play a major role, with, for example, Rosenzweig's work in the founding of the Center for History and New Media (CHNM), developer of major DH tools [End Page 363] Omeka and Zotero, coupling with the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture's development of Scalar, built on the work of Vectors journal and represented in the American studies community most centrally by Tara McPherson. Interest in popular culture within American studies led to a burgeoning interest in cyberculture studies, spearheaded by then Maryland graduate student David Silver's Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies, founded in 1996. Early digital projects such as the formative Valley of the Shadow project (1992–2007) provided models and inspiration. Other subfields converging on digital humanities in American studies have included media, film, and game studies, visual culture, labor studies, ethnic studies and fields within it, and LGBTQ studies—especially issues surrounding identity, passing, community formation, and social justice. A search of old conference programs from the ASA yields session titles such as "The Global, the Local, and the Virtual: Space, Community, and Politics Online" (1997) and "Is It Real Yet? Examining Virtual Community after Ten Years on the Web" (2004). Later collaborative initiatives to create community around DH have been formative in situating it within American studies, especially HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory, founded 2002) and THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp unconference, founded 2008).9 Yet another major influence has been digital humanities centers, especially the formative Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH, founded 1992) and later Scholar's Lab (University of Virginia, 2007), and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH, founded 1999, at the University of Maryland) as well as CHNM (founded 1994), and the creation of the NEH's Office of Digital Humanities in 2008.

As areas of inquiry in 2018, American studies and digital humanities share several characteristics: both are subject to frequent reflections on, and critiques of, the fields' respective definitions, origin stories, methodologies, and boundaries. Rather than define and police the boundaries of American studies and digital humanities—which thrive precisely because they are complex and not easily disciplined—this special issue is more interested in what it means to bring these fields, methodologies, and communities together toward a critically engaged digital practice. On the one hand, many of the foundational concerns for American studies—critical studies of gender, sexuality, race, class, nation, and disability, as well as interdisciplinarity and praxis—are underrepresented in many digital humanities journals and conferences. A recent example is #transformDH, a hashtag and collective that started at the 2011 ASA conference in Baltimore. As Moya Bailey, Anne Cong-Huyen, Alexis Lothian, and [End Page 364] Amanda Phillips write in describing this collective effort, "by expanding who and what counts as DH, we can model for other academic communities the transformative power of collaborative energy to address the questions of our time."10 #transformDH and related calls for a more expansive, inclusive, social justice oriented digital humanities have slowly broadened the field's range of vision and concerns.

On the other hand, digital humanities allows American studies scholars to expand beyond text as the main form of analysis and argumentation. American studies scholars aim to study the diverse histories and cultures of the United States in local, national, and transnational contexts while interrogating the multidirectional flows of workers, families, ideas, and products across geographic and political boundaries. To do this work in the twenty-first century, American studies scholars must embrace digital media, tools, and methods as subjects of study and modes of inquiry and communication. Scholarship that engages fully with maps, video games, apps, 3-D models, websites, and social media cannot be confined strictly to print journals and books.

Taken together, American studies and digital humanities have the potential to do important, collaborative work. As Barbara Tomlinson and George Lipsitz argued in American Quarterly in 2013,

The future of American studies requires scholars to know the work we want our work to do; to frame our scholarly relations not as competition but as accompaniment; to insist that we infuse our ideas and activism with ethical judgment and wisdom; to clarify the significance of different aspects of our scholarly lives; to acknowledge that our work speaks for us but also for others; and to recognize the dialogic and dialectically related nature of our views of American society. The success of American studies depends not only on what scholars know but also on how we go about knowing.11

Imbued with a sense of urgency and possibility, this special issue features scholars who offer new angles of inquiry into American studies and digital humanities.

Special Issue Structure

This special issue is divided into four sections: essays, digital projects, forums, and a review. The first set of essays offers transformative approaches to digital humanities in alternative models beyond the academy. Alexis Lothian's "From Transformative Works to #transformDH: Digital Humanities as (Critical) Fandom" argues that digital humanities is "best understood as a fandom—and that there is much to learn from attending to processes and practices of scholarly [End Page 365] field formation through lenses developed by fan theorists, practitioners, and scholars." In "Doing Digital Wrongly," Ruth Nicole Brown, Blair Ebony Smith, Jessica L. Robinson, and Porshé R. Garner explore the digital praxis of "a music-making process rooted in Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT), a collective space of organizing with Black girls to celebrate Black girlhood." Bonnie Ruberg's "Queer Indie Video Games as an Alternative Digital Humanities: Counterstrategies for Cultural Critique through Interactive Media" suggests that queer indie video games "can be considered a form of digital humanities practice, and that the game makers who produce them can be seen as performing their own genre of American studies scholarship."

The second cluster of essays examines digital engagements with race, ethnicity, and disability. Christine Yao's "#staywoke: Digital Engagement and Literacies in Antiracist Pedagogy" explores "how the hashtag injunction #staywoke associated with Black Lives Matter challenges digital engagement and literacies in American studies antiracist pedagogy." In "Mapping Access: Digital Humanities, Disability Justice, and Sociospatial Practice," Aimi Hamraie "draws on digital humanities theories of 'thick mapping' and critical disability theories of public citizenship to offer critical accessibility mapping as an alternative to compliance-focused mapping." Maria Cotera's "Nuestro Autohistoria: Toward a Chicana Digital Praxis" examines Chicana por mi Raza Digital Memory Collective, "an undercommons educational project that seeks to recover the history of Chicana feminist formations in the 1960s and 1970s and thereby build new circuits of knowledge that transit inside and outside the academy."

The third and final set of essays focuses on materiality, the virtual, and metadata. It is a happy coincidence that our issue includes two pieces whose subjects include African American author James Baldwin. While one article directly emerges from events that took place in 2014, the other goes in a very different direction, yet both complement each other and bring attention to the diversity of what constitutes digital humanities. In "Black Matters of Value: Archiving James Baldwin's House as a Virtual Writer's Museum," Magdalena Zaborowska proffers an introspective discussion sparked by the partial demolition of his last home, "Chez Baldwin" in St. Paul-de-Vence, France, and her project to preserve it as a virtual museum, musing on our collective failure to preserve the physical archive of Baldwin's life even as his biography and writings emphatically demonstrate "the need to preserve both the intangible and tangible traces of black lives by any means available." Meanwhile, as Melanie Walsh tells us in "Tweets of a Native Son: The Quotation and Recirculation of James Baldwin from Black Power to #BlackLivesMatter," Baldwin's words [End Page 366] took on new life and connotation in the context of tweets that followed the August 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Between them, the essays juxtapose materiality and the virtual in compelling ways: contrasting traditional archival selection practices versus the fire hose of social media collecting, the spaces of lives well lived (or cut short too soon) versus the public but heavily mediated ground on which social media communication occurs. Walsh's analysis of recirculating tweets are, perhaps, a version of the unexpected life traces that Zaborowska urges us to preserve. Zaborowska reminds us, as well, that in an expansive version of DH there is room to argue for the significance of virtual simulation even before a project is completed, and sometimes in ways that privilege argument over full methodological explication. Complementing these two pieces is an essay by Sarah Whitcomb Laiola, "Markup as Behavior toward Risk: Reforming the Metanarratives of Metadata through Susan Howe's Meta-fictive Poetics," which "explores the politics, poetics, and ethics of metadata in response to two frequent critiques of the digital humanities: the incompatibility between humanistic and computational methods of interpretation; and the continued undertheorization of its practices."

The second section of the special issue features overviews of eight online digital projects. These digital projects, which went through the same peer review process as the articles, were intentionally selected to be in different stages of completion. By including some projects that are more polished and complete, some in the intermediate stages, and some in the early stages that show promise, we want to make the point that digital projects challenge the fixity we often ascribed to scholarly texts and are worthy of attention at different points in their development. And since developing a large-scale digital project is resource intensive and beyond the means of many scholars, we want our selection to highlight that important and innovative digital projects can exist at different scales. The issue of scale also extends to the matter of collaboration, which is critical to the success of these projects, and indicated by the number of authors featured in this section.

In "The Paxton Pamphlet War as a Viral Media Event," Will Fenton describes his partnership with the Library Company of Philadelphia and Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make both institutions' holdings related to the 1764 Paxton pamphlet war publicly accessible to researchers. Doran Larson's "Witness in the Era of Mass Incarceration" highlights "an open-source and fully searchable digital platform that makes first-person nonfiction essays by incarcerated people, as well as by prison workers and volunteers, available to [End Page 367] a global public, to policymakers, the families of incarcerated people, and to scholars and students." Erin McElroy's "Countermapping Displacement and Resistance in Alameda County with the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project" explores the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, "a data visualization, data analysis, and digital storytelling collective documenting dispossession and resistance upon gentrifying landscapes." Linda Garcia Merchant's "Chicana Feminism Virtually Remixed" uses Scalar and Omeka to explore a wide array of Chicana and Latina narratives, memories, and cultural productions.

In "DASH-Amerikan: Keeping Up with the Social Media Ecologies of the Kardashians," Jordan Buysse, Alicia Caticha, Alyssa Collins, Justin Greenlee, Sarah McEleney, and Joseph Thompson "survey the media ecologies surrounding the Kardashians and discuss their impact on twenty-first-century notions of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality." Genevieve Carpio's "Toward a Digital Ethnic Studies: Race, Technology, and the Classroom" highlights how undergraduate students engaged with racial formation in online spaces. In "Engaging Community and Spatial Humanities for Postindustrial Heritage: The Keweenaw Time Traveler," Sarah Fayen Scarlett, Don Lafreniere, Daniel J. Trepal, John D. M. Arnold, and Robert Pastel explore "an interactive, online historical atlas" that "combines deep mapping with public history to create a mutually beneficial online tool for researchers and community stakeholders alike." In "Becoming Digital, Becoming Queer," H. N. Lukes and David J. Kim describe a Scalar book/archive/exhibit project on queer spaces and communities in Los Angeles.

The third section of the special issue features four forums: Methods, Forms of Knowledge and Practice, Working through Institutions, and Garfinkel Prize in Digital Humanities. The first, Methods, discusses how computational humanities, spatial analysis, and performance studies should be considered a part of the field's methodological repertoire and features essays by Lauren Tilton, Jen Jack Gieseking, and T. L. Cowan. Essays by Monica Muñoz Martinez, Jessica Marie Johnson, and Jacqueline Wernimont in Forms of Knowledge and Practice explore how often marginalized ways and practices of knowing can transform our modes and forms of knowledge. Working through Institutions features essays by Marisa Parham, Elizabeth Losh, Amanda Phillips, Christina Boyles, Anne Cong-Huyen, Carrie Johnston, and James McGrath that focus on how structural barriers render American studies digital humanities labor and forms of knowledge precarious, and often invisible, while offering ways to reconfigure our institutional structures. The final section features projects selected for the annual Garfinkel Prize in Digital Humanities. Awarded by [End Page 368] the Digital Humanities Caucus, the prize was created in 2016 to recognize exceptional work at the intersection of digital humanities and American studies. Award recipients were asked to expand on the ways in which the project was designed with American studies and digital humanities modes and methods of inquiry. The section begins with the 2016 awardee, "the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project," followed by two honorable mentions, "Early African American Film" and "Island of the Blue Dolphins."

Finally, the fourth section is a digital project review by Jason Heppler of two projects that represent the potential of interactive mapping to render accessible scholarly arguments as well as data that might lead to new research, "Renewing Inequality: Family Displacements through Urban Renewal" and "Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America."

In addition, a digital component to the issue will be available on American Quarterly's "Beyond the Page." The site will aggregate the projects featured in the issue. Users will be able to select and link directly to the digital projects to explore for themselves. We want to thank the University of Richmond Digital Scholarship Lab for building the site and offering long-term access at


By contributing to American Quarterly's increased engagement with the digital sphere, this special issue offers examples of what American studies would resemble if the digital were at its center. This formulation intentionally echoes past ASA presidential addresses by Mary Helen Washington, whose 1997 talk asked what the field would look like if African American studies were at the center, and Shelley Fisher Fishkin, whose 2004 speech considered the implications of centering the transnational rather than the national in American studies.12 Both Washington and Fishkin make it clear that centering those scholars and that scholarship that have been on the margins requires significant institutional change. Washington, for example, describes the "pushing, protesting, and organizing of African American, Chicano/a, and Asian American scholars from 1985 to 1997 [that] has resulted in a sea change in the involvement of scholars of color in ASA.13 The members and friends of the ASA DH Caucus have undertaken similar efforts to make the field more welcoming to scholars doing digital work. Centering the digital in American studies means foregrounding ethical collaboration; engaging with issues of diversity and difference; rethinking distinctions between sources; experimenting with different [End Page 369] modes of scholarly communication within and beyond the traditional print journal article and conference panel structures; and valuing the labor that makes digital tools, projects, and analyses possible. If the range of submissions we received for this special issue is any indication, there are large numbers of scholars who are making innovative connections between American studies and the digital humanities. We hope that this special issue will be generative and look forward to future projects, collaborations, and initiatives that place the digital at the center of American studies.

Lauren Tilton

Lauren Tilton is assistant professor of digital humanities in the Department of Rhetoric & Communication Studies and research fellow in the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond. Her research focuses on twentieth-century US visual culture. She is a codirector of Photogrammar, a digital public humanities project mapping New Deal and World War II documentary expression, and coauthor of Humanities Data in R: Exploring Networks, Geospatial Data, Images, and Texts (Springer, 2015).

Amy E. Earhart

Amy E. Earhart is associate professor of English and affiliated faculty of Africana studies at Texas A&M University. She is the author of Traces of the Old, Uses of the New: The Emergence of Digital Literary Studies (University of Michigan Press, 2015), coeditor of The American Literature Scholar in the Digital Age (University of Michigan Press, 2010), and has published numerous articles and book chapters in venues including the Debates in Digital Humanities series, DHQ, Textual Cultures, and Humanities and the Digital.

Matthew Delmont

Matthew Delmont is professor of history and director of the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University. He is the author of three books: Making Roots: A Nation Captivated (University of California Press, 2016); Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation (University of California Press, 2016); and The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock 'n' Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia (University of California Press, 2012). He is also the author of the digital history project "Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers," which is under contract with Stanford University Press. He is currently working on a book tentatively titled "To Live Half American: African Americans at Home and Abroad during World War II," for which he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Susan Garfinkel

Susan Garfinkel is a research specialist at the Library of Congress, where she especially works with the Library's digital collections. Her research interests center on expressive culture in context, with publication topics ranging from Quaker meeting houses in the Delaware Valley to the history of breast cancer surgery in early America, to elevators in film and fiction, to 3-D printing and the Smithsonian's Lincoln life mask. In 2009 she was a founder of the American Studies Association's Digital Humanities Caucus.

Jesse P. Karlsberg

Jesse P. Karlsberg is senior digital scholarship strategist at Emory University's Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS). His work leverages digital methods to analyze connections between race, place, folklorization, and American music in historical texts. Jesse is editor in chief of Sounding Spirit, a collection of digital editions of vernacular sacred American music copublished by ECDS and the University of North Carolina Press, editor of the open access multimodal journal Atlanta Studies, and editor of Original Sacred Harp: Centennial Edition (Pitts Theology Library, 2015).

Angel David Nieves

Angel David Nieves is associate professor of history and digital humanities at San Diego State University in the Area of Excellence in Digital Humanities and Global Diversity. From 2017 to 2018 he was Presidential Visiting Associate Professor at Yale University in the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program and an affiliate in the Yale DHLab. He recently published An Architecture of Education: African American Women Design the New South with the University of Rochester Press (2018).


1. "In its basic tone and orientation [the section] ignores the scholarly contributions made by a diverse set of thinkers long working at the boundaries of American cultural and historical study in conjunction with digital studies," the DH Caucus's Advisory Committee noted. "In its choice of personnel and projects it ignores the individuals who have worked visibly to create an inclusive, interdisciplinary, and alternative space for the pursuit of Digital Humanities scholarship within the ASA, favoring instead a misplaced and outdated conventionality much at odds with our association's shared ethic" ("DH Caucus Advisory Committee Statement on AQ's Digital Projects Review," April 6, 2016,

2. Roy Rosenzweig, "Forum on Hypertext Scholarship: AQ as Web-Zine: Responses to AQ's Experimental Online Issue," American Quarterly 51.2 (1999): 238.

3. Nicole Fleetwood, "Failing Narratives, Initiating Technologies: Hurricane Katrina and the Production of a Weather Media Event," American Quarterly 58.3 (2006): 768.

4. Lisa Nakamura, "Indigenous Circuits: Navajo Women and the Racialization of Early Electronic Manufacture," American Quarterly 66.4 (2014): 937–38.

5. Lauren Frederica Klein, "American Studies after the Internet," American Quarterly 64.4 (2012): 861–72.

6. Randy Bass, "Crossroads," accessed February 26, 2018,

7. See "H-Amstdy Discussion Logs for July 1993," accessed April 9, 2018,

8. See "Digital Humanities Caucus," American Studies Association, Wayback Machine, accessed April 9, 2018,

9. See "History," HASTAC, accessed April 9, 2018,; "About," THATCamp, accessed April 9, 2018,

10. Moya Bailey, Anne Cong-Huyen, Alexis Lothian, and Amanda Phillips, "Reflections on a Movement: #transformDH, Growing Up," in Debates in Digital Humanities 2016, ed. Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), 77,

11. Barbara Tomlinson and George Lipsitz, "American Studies as Accompaniment," American Quarterly 65.1 (2013): 9.

12. Mary Helen Washington, "'Disturbing the Peace: What Happens to American Studies If You Put African American Studies at the Center?': Presidential Address to the American Studies Association, October 29, 1997," American Quarterly 50.1 (1998): 1–23; Shelley Fisher Fishkin, "'The Transnational Turn in American Studies': Presidential Address to the American Studies Association, November 12, 2004," American Quarterly 57.1 (2005): 17–57.

13. Washington, "Disturbing the Peace," 6.

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