“Vox Populi” Part II. Who Are ‘We’ in the Digital Humanities?


I shared my post from yesterday on the Humanist situation via email to A list for participants in the ADHO DH Global Outlook Community (GO::DH) (<globaloutlookdh-l@uleth.ca>) on 14 August 2020, 11:17 am BST, with the subject line “Of relevance to DH as a subject of enquiry”. I thought it had a natural home there, given the limited readership of my blog and my Twitter account.

In my inbox it’s hard to tell if it was distributed to the Global Outlook list. After sending it I did not receive a message saying whether my message would be held for moderation. I’d have expected my email to appear directly in my inbox, automatically redistributed from the <globaloutlookdh-l@uleth.ca> email account and the [globaloutlookDH-l] tag in the subject line. When it didn’t then I figured the list is moderated. As I type this, my message hasn’t arrived yet. Who knows, it might have just disappeared into the ether. But did it?

It has now been confirmed by colleagues members of the GO::DH list that it was indeed distributed. The way the list is set up makes it really hard to know if a message was distributed or not. I am glad it was, but I remain a bit confused.

On 15 August 2020, 00:34 am BST my inbox received a message from said account with the [globaloutlookDH-l] tag and the “Humanist: moderation and censorship” subject line from Barbara Bordalejo. Without specific mention to my post or message, Barbara’s email concludes with

As leaders of GO::DH, we stand in support of the voices that challenge racism and any other kind of discrimination and we encourage a space in which engaged critical discourses gain more visibility in the fight against systemic oppression.


Needless to say I can’t but welcome the letter and spirit of this message, but I remain baffled as to why the email was not sent in response to mine- and did not even refer to it.

Whether it is at Humanist or at GO::DH or any other list, it is time “we” interrogate critically who “we” mean by “we”. There is a need for a radical transformation of how we do leadership in academia- why not let the community speak freely before statements are made in an official capacity from “the leadership”? Why not reply to a member’s previous email directly, as one does in email threads? This point I make is not about “me me me”, nor is it driven by some sense of overinflated importance. It’s merely about the nature of dialogue, about the symbolic violence in not naming (had there been a cascade of emails sent to GO::DH I’d have understood, but apparently my email was the first one to address the Humanist issue in the list). I would have felt the same about the message of any other colleague.

It’s of particular importance that the statement from the leadership really comes without previous consultation with the list membership- no doubt it is very likely it would have been welcome and embraced, but once again, why not ask first? Why not hear and recognise perspectives before stating/mandating the view from the top? Perhaps we need a switch from traditional models of leadership, hierarchical and top-down (like many of our information architectures) to a more horizontal, open-ended one, like that of coaching- ask questions, let the members think it through and work it out?

Since according to colleagues my email was indeed distributed to the GO::DH list (with me being unaware for technical reasons), I am puzzled as to why there was no reply (increasing my sense that it had not been distributed and therefore held on moderation) or why it was not mentioned at all in Barbara’s email (increasing my feeling that I was again being ignored if not silenced).

One of the things I feel about this whole situation now is a general sense of lack of respect. I am not saying this lack of respect is intentional or coming from specific individuals- my experience is that this lack of respect is embedded in academic structures and the technologies we create, choose and embrace to perpetuate them.

As I said on my email to the GO::DH list, my blog does not allow comments given systematic trolling and spamming received in the past, but I’m on Twitter where feedback can be shared, and my hope was that my post could receive feedback and prompt conversation on the list if the membership considered it relevant after receiving and reading the message and original post.

As all this happened I learn about this project on “Respect and Digital Technology” [PDF]. I encourage anyone who may identify as being marginalised or poorly treated via technology to give it a look.


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