- The Digital Humanities, American Studies, and the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project
In an era in which digital web mapping and data visualization projects have taken over the media and the twenty-four-hour news cycle, in which "gentrification" has become a buzzword used to describe urban mutations across the planet without nuance, what does it mean to be an anticapitalist, antiracist, and feminist digital cartography collective working outside the formal boundaries of academe, the nonprofit industrial complex, and the media? Further, in times in which technocapitalism rampantly incites new forms of racialized dispossession on a growing array of technoscapes, what does it mean to use technology to provide data, tools, narratives, and analytics to counter gentrifying tides? These are but some of the many questions that we at the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP)—a data visualization, data analysis, and digital storytelling collective that documents dispossession and resistance on gentrifying landscapes—are tasked with daily, some of which I begin to unpack in this forum on the intersections of American studies and digital humanities (DH). Specifically, I explore not only how American studies and DH frame the AEMP's methodologies, but also how these fields differentiate us within an ever-growing constellation of digital mapping practices.
The AEMP emerged in San Francisco during a moment now referred to as the dawn of the tech boom 2.0, or the moment following the late-1990s dot com boom and the 2008 foreclosure crisis, as Silicon Valley and San Francisco technology corporations began constituting new forms of wealth throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.1 This boom, which many date as beginning in 2011, also inspired an array of real estate speculators, developers, and politicians to collectively launch a massive surge of evictions, rental increases, and market-rate and luxury development construction.2 The AEMP was conceived of in 2013, when a few housing activists, myself included, thought that it might strengthen the San Francisco and Oakland housing justice movement to produce maps of evictions, and to conduct analysis to determine top evictors. Some of us also were part of direct-action collectives, and hoped to use AEMP's data to coordinate actions against serial evictors, venture capitalists, [End Page 701] and imbrications of speculative real estate and technocapitalist infrastructure. Our earliest maps documented where evictions transpired in San Francisco, and produced analysis of serial eviction and speculation, uncovering actors behind complex networks of investment and limited liability companies.3 Additionally, we correlated eviction concentrations with proximity to "tech bus stops," the depots of private transportation infrastructure used by Silicon Valley technology corporations.4 We also analyzed the racial, class, and gender dynamics of displacement, finding that disproportionate numbers of poor and working-class communities of color, female-headed households, and people with disabilities face displacement in the Bay Area.5
Soon after the germination of our project, the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition formed, and then the Bay Area–wide Regional Tenants Organizing Network—coalitions that we are active in. Recently we have formed new partnerships in Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Contra Costa, and San Francisco Counties, and have even opened chapters in Los Angeles and New York City, always working alongside (rather than for) an array of partners. Based entirely on volunteer efforts, our internal structure facilitates horizontality, internal leadership growth, skill sharing, and anticapitalist politics. In addition to producing maps and analysis of real estate–driven displacement, we have grown to also produce narrative-based work. From our oral history project to our interactive murals and projections, from community power mapping to interactive video and projection work, the scope of our project is ever expanding yet always backed by our entanglement in activist spaces and solidarities. As we produce our work with numerous partners and within coalitions, our pieces live within overlapping and diverse networks and spaces, from those of tenant organizing and direct-action collectives to those of policy and academe. While AEMP members have written more about the evolution of the project's work elsewhere,6 in what follows I address how our project builds off American studies and DH frameworks, informing approaches to technological critique and praxis, thinking beyond liberalism, and digital...