The following short talk—an initial thinking-through and provocation from my recent reading—was presented at HASTAC 2014 in Lima, Peru, as part of the “Political Platforms: Software, Social Justice, and Designing for Change” panel, which included Beatrice Choi, Anne Cong-Huyen, Amanda Philips, and Tara McPherson (discussant).
Yesterday afternoon I co-taught a class with my friend and colleague Jillana Enteen, Senior Lecturer in Gender & Sexuality Studies. I’ve not done much teaching in my 34+ years, but working with faculty to conceive and construct courses—from syllabus development to assignment creation—is one of the parts of my job I’ve increasingly come to greatly enjoy. Jillana and I have worked very closely together developing this course, as it springs from a longer-term research project I’ve also been a part of, researching the historical visual representations of Thai medical tourism and transnational theories of sexuality online. Through this project and into the current course Jillana and her collaborators, and now also her students, have archived websites, tracked changes, visualized data, poured over transcripts, and more.
In the past 2+ years in my position as a digital scholarship librarian, I’ve been concerned with a variety of issues of privacy in online networked environments. Lately, that concern has been focused on the particular case of online pedagogical methods in undergraduate humanities education. It seems that barely a week goes by where I do not stumble upon a post extolling the virtues of Twitter-based pedagogy (and then promptly mute another course hashtag), or a syllabus in which undergraduates are asked to perform “public humanities” online. And while I assume most instructors are considering the ethical implications of their networked pedagogical activities, the frequency in which I come across posts on student privacy pale in comparison to the ones in which “being public” seems to simply be the default brand of “innovative” pedagogy.
“But technology is never neutral and I’m starting to see pause and critique as part of my charge, too.”
This opening quote is from Robin Camille Davis, Emerging Technologies & Distance Services Librarian at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at CUNY. An “Emerging Technologies Librarian” is one of several digital librarian positions that have come into existence over the last decade or so in academic libraries, including Digital Services Librarian, Digital Humanities Librarian, Digital Scholarship Librarian, and others. All of these positions, more or less, are tasked with confronting a vast ecosystem of digital tools and methods for a variety of purposes from doing library outreach via popular social media platforms to collaborating with scholars working with obscure digital research tools. It’s a drastically difficult task, especially for positions that rarely have much further support outside of their own singular job description. And, yet, it’s an eminently vital task, as digital technologies proliferate and penetrate, privacy concerns are obscured and eroded, tech discourse dominates everything from our daily lives to popular politics, and as disciplines in the humanities struggle to discuss, engage, use, and critique digital tools.