- Forum Introduction
Scholarship at the intersection of two capacious modes of inquiry—American studies and digital humanities—results in a range of opportunities and challenges. Methodological experimentation enables distinctive avenues of research but can be difficult to access and support. Forms of knowledge facilitated by digital technologies offer new ways of knowing but can be expensive to create and illegible with respect to current assessment structures. Such conditions are further complicated by institutional investments in digital humanities and by the very technologies that render its modes of inquiry feasible, both of which can be at odds with American studies commitments. Such concerns precede and exceed these pages. The forum presented here is designed to contribute to these ongoing conversations and debates.
The essays that follow are organized into four sections: Methods, Forms of Knowledge and Practice, Working through Institutions, and Garfinkel Prize in Digital Humanities. Because digital humanities is an expansive term encompassing a plethora of approaches, Methods discusses how particular digital humanities approaches are being applied in American studies. Authors Lauren Tilton, Jen Jack Gieseking, and T. L. Cowan address computational humanities, spatial analysis, and performance studies, respectively. For those more familiar with digital humanities with a capital D and capital H (DH)—the larger institutional configuration made up of institutional structures such as academic associations, conferences, and journals—a noticeable absence is text analysis, a computational approach to parsing textual documents. We intentionally omit text analysis because DH has been dominated by and critiqued for a continuing overemphasis on this method. Our selection of approaches is an argument for a more expansive digital humanities methodological repertoire from which American studies can draw and repurpose.
The second section—Forms of Knowledge and Practice—explores how different ways of knowing and organizing knowledge undergird American studies digital humanities methods and forms. Two of the essays, by Jessica Marie Johnson and Jacqueline Wernimont, ask us to consider how marginalized [End Page 629] means of knowing and practices can transform our field. Black femme digital practice offers a way to use dominant technologies to formulate, convey, and remake subjectivities and modes of knowing, while a playful and poetic digital humanities suggests we engage in this kind of work with care, openness, and vulnerability. The third piece, by Monica Muñoz Martinez, offers a case study about the power of digital public humanities to reveal silenced histories, specifically of racial violence, for publics to acknowledge and confront. Such radical resistance and new methodologies, Wernimont argues, are a kind of intellectual work too often invisible to our institutions. Each essay challenges us to grapple with how decentering dominant modes of knowing and organizing knowledge can construct new ways of knowing facilitated by the digital humanities.
Working through Institutions focuses on the challenges of supporting and assessing American studies digital humanities inquiry through higher education structures. Interdisciplinary work often happens at the interstices of academic departments or institutional divisions such as a school, library, and instructional technology services. They may well provoke challenges to rigid, disciplinary assessment and promotion structures. As a result, the labor and scholarship in American studies digital humanities are often precarious and invisible to the institution. The authors in this section, Marisa Parham, Elizabeth Losh, and Amanda Phillips, Christina Boyles, Anne Cong-Huyen, Carrie Johnston, and James McGrath, examine this dynamic and offer ways to approach "mentoring" and assessment so that we can reconfigure our labor practices and build more equitable institutions.
The final section features projects selected for the annual Garfinkel Prize in Digital Humanities, awarded by the American Studies Association Digital Humanities Caucus. In light of the dearth of mechanisms for recognizing innovative scholarship in forms other than books and articles, the prize was created in 2016 to highlight exceptional work at the intersection of digital humanities and American studies. Project leaders of the 2016 prize winner, Erin McElroy's Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, and the 2016 and 2017 honorable mentions, Miriam Posner and Marika Cifor's Early African American Race Film and Sara L. Schwebel's Island of the Blue Dolphins, explain how their collaborative projects...