This is a lightly edited version of the keynote address I was honored to give at the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference at the University of Pennsylvania on July 22, 2015. Thank you to the organizing committee for inviting me!
My sincere thanks, too, to Lauren Klein and Roderic Crooks for their advice and feedback on this talk. I’d also like to acknowledge the huge intellectual debt I owe to David Kim and Johanna Drucker, with whom I’ve argued, negotiated, and formulated a lot of these ideas, mostly in the context of teaching together. David’s important dissertation, Archives, Models, and Methods for Critical Approaches to Identities: Representing Race and Ethnicity in the Digital Humanities (UCLA, 2015), takes on many of these issues at much greater length.
I gave the title of this talk to Dot Porter some time ago in a fit of ambition, and it’s seemed wildly hubristic to me ever since. But it’s something I care a lot about, and so tonight I’d like to outline some ideas about how digital humanities might critically investigate structures of power, like race and gender.
We are doing some of that now, as evidenced by some of the work at this conference, but I don’t think we’re doing it with the energy or the creativity that we might. I’ll argue that to truly engage in this kind of work would be so much more difficult and fascinating than we’re currently talking about for the future of DH; in fact, it would require dismantling and rebuilding much of the organizing logic, like the data models or databases, that underlies most our work.
So I’ll start by saying a little about where I think we are with digital humanities now, and also about some new directions, with respect to these structures of power, that I’d like to see the field go.
We’re at a really interesting moment, as everyone always says during periods of contention. In some ways, it’s a frustrating time, but in other ways, it represents some meaningful opportunity. The field of digital humanities is growing and institutionalizing, as evidenced by this very conference, and beginning to find a good number of adherents. DH gets occasional mainstream press coverage, and there’s at least the perception, if not the reality, that opportunities and funds are available to digital humanities scholars in a pretty remarkable way.