#DHDiversity: A Searchable Archive and a Quick Comment from Afar

The Digital Humanities 2016 conference is taking place in Kraków, Poland, between Sunday 11 July and Saturday 16 July 2016. #DH2016 is the conference official hashtag.

Today from 11:30am to 1:00pm local time the panel titled “Quality Matters: Diversity and the Digital Humanities in 2016” was chaired by Amy Earhart and included presentations by Alex Gil, Roopika Risam, Barbara Bordalejo, Isabel Galina, Lorna Hughes, and Melissa Terras.

After the lunch break second Diversity panel, titled “Boundary Land: Diversity as a defining feature of the Digital Humanities”, took place from 2:30 to 4:00 pm. It was chaired by Isabel Galina RussellBarbara Bordalejo, Padmini Murray Ray, Gimena del Rio and Elena González-Blanco.

These sessions were discussed on Twitter with the additional #dhdiversity hashtag (as with hashtags so far, case not sensitive).

As I’ve been doing since 2010 I have been following the backchannel closely and collecting some of the Twitter data around the conference.

If you are interested I have already shared an archive of #dh2016 tweets from Sunday 10, Monday 11 and Tuesday 12 July 2016. This dataset is likely to require deduplication, refining etc. https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.3484817.v1.

I have also been collecting, separately, tweets tagged with #dhdiversity. I have shared a live searchable archive of all #dhdiversity tweets, enabled by Martin Hawksey’s TAGS, here: http://goo.gl/P1i7Ii.

Screenshots of #dhdiversity archive visualisations taken as the second panel was ongoing show a lively activity:

#DHDiversity as of 2016-07-13 at 14.58.45 GMT.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 15.16.30

The stream of #dhdiversity tweets reflects important points regarding ‘diversity’ and representation that many of us in fields interconnected with the digital humanities have been raising for a while, informally with colleagues but also in committees and Special Interest Groups, in blog posts and tweets, in listservs, articles and conference presentations.

I wanted to add a quick personal note here. First of all I wanted to say that my own personal experience within digital humanities has been that of an inclusive, open-minded, respectful field. I think it is a field/set of scholarly communities that consciously reflects on the ethical, political, economic, intellectual challenges of representation and diversity. As in most other areas of public life, however, minorities remain clearly minorities, being the exception rather than the rule. In many cases, ‘minorities’ are not minorities: it just depends on who is doing the gazing.

I would like to add that I am also aware that my own experience won’t be that of other colleagues. (I am male, and relatively pale for a Mexican -or the idea that non-Mexicans may have of all Mexicans- and I live and work in London, UK, and I am aware of the set of privileges that this has granted me, explicitly or implicitly). For more context, please bear in mind I have been mostly ‘periphereal’ to DH. I have had a great interest in the topics, approaches, methodologies and debates within the field since I was a PhD student (and maybe earlier; I am completely indebted to Isabel Galina for introducing me to digital scholarship in the humanities in 2001). In my professional life I have taught about DH and have employed some ‘light’ DH methods in my own work, I have served in ADHO/ACH committees and contributed to DH projects, but the thing is I would not say I am “a digital humanist”. At least not yet. My current role does not mention the term nor do I have any funding with the term DH in it. (Some colleagues might be exhausted of the question “what does it take to call yourself a digital humanist?”; I find it still interesting, but that’s a question for another time).

I have no idea if who I am in terms of ethnicity and English language ability has played a role in my inability to be more fully immersed in DH, and I have no idea if I would be now employed in DH if I were not who I am (e.g. in this case if I were not a Spanish native speaker originally from Mexico City). I know that I understand well the structural conditions that I have faced, and that often I have wished I had had more time, more peace of mind, and yes, considerably more money to play my game better, or more effectively, or just less anxiously and less guided by pressing material needs.

Secondly I wanted to say that many of us non-white scholars who are not English native speakers do not want to become tokens. This is my case but I know that other colleagues would also agree. Just because we are considered ‘minorities’ in some contexts it does not mean we have to de facto become identified and labeled, primarily, as such. If our presence is important for example in steering committees it is because we can make an important contribution because our backgrounds, skillsets, political and scholarly experiences might be different and that difference is what life is like. Fields without difference cannot become stronger, more effective, more ethical, more representative of the world beyond the privileged circumscribed environs of developed-world academia. Why should non-white scholars have to make an extra effort to ‘prove their worth’?  Why should non-whiteness, non-Anglo-ness be the reason to stand-out as an academic?

I have served in committees and I would hate to think the only reason I was invited to contribute is because my name is non-anglo. Academics without Hispanic names do teach in Spanish and Latin American departments, produce academic outputs about Spanish and Hispanic cultures: why do we then expect non-anglo scholars to work on non-Anglo topics? Why are we still surprised to see non-anglo academics in international DH conferences? (I think I know some of the answers to these questions, but I am asking rhetorically). Having a non-anglo name does not mean we are de facto experts in diversity, widening participation and equality. Just because we are non-white scholars that does not mean our only contribution to committees for example can be about diversity. Real diversity would mean that non-white scholars are seen as  merely scholars and that those scholars do not feel like they are exceptional.  What I am trying to say is that the equality many of us around digital humanities and other fields in today’s scholarly circles are working hard to build has to go beyond tokenism and well beyond good intentions. I don’t want my colleagues to make pledges to be kind to us and take us into consideration. At the same time there are several strategies we can implement to ensure there is less exclusion. Revealing unconscious bias, making conferences multilingual and more affordable, denouncing conflicts of interest, offering more substantial grants etc. are some of the steps that can have and already have positive effects.

‘Minority’ scholars are scholars like everyone else. Sometimes our ‘difference’ may mean we have faced obstacles, challenges that perhaps other more privileged colleagues could only imagine. But it may also not be the case. Just because we are ‘here’ speaking out in a particular language and vocabulary in specific networks marks us down as relatively privileged. I agree with colleagues like Padmini Murray that this implies a responsibility. We come from non-anglo backgrounds and we have managed to learn to speak and to be, sometimes, heard. Becoming a minority  needs to be seen, by the way, as a positive experience: one of the only times you can really become aware of your privilege. This does not mean we can fully ever represent others though. We can speak for ourselves and we hope that our experiences and our work can empower others and show that it can be done even though it is not always easy and even though no one will ever have the same experience even when they share similar backgrounds, or ethnicities, or nationalities, or degrees.

So I feel empowered and uplifted by the Diversity panels at the conference. I am grateful to my colleagues who continuously work towards ensuring greater inclusivity and diversity within it. I know ‘Diversity’ means different things to different people and here I am merely refering to diversity of ethnic and national backgrounds. I am also fully aware that the terms ‘Diversity’, ‘Inclusivity’ etc. are contentious, and like most buzzwords they can mean very little or nothing. In my case I would like to stress that as a non-white, no-anglo scholar I believe my ethnicity, my native language, my cultural background matter because they made me who I am, but at the same time I don’t want that to be necessarily what defines me in the eyes of other colleagues.

When I think of non-‘PoC’ colleagues I am not thinking all they time about their ethnicity or their native language. I am fully aware that there is no such thing as not seeing race, etc. but at the same time I have often hoped we can develop cultures where both recognition of difference and appreciation of people in spite of  what may make us different is possible. Diversity is important not necessarily because of what makes us  different. In the words of  Jo Cox, “we have far more in common than that which divides us”. In the words of my colleague Natalia Pérez, “there is nothing in us, essentially, that makes us a minority. It is the majority and colonial gaze that turns us into minorities.”

N.B. I have written this very quickly so typos may remain and syntax is likely to be wonky. Thank you for reading.