Burning Down the Tent: New Futures for Social Justice and Digital Humanities

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Among the enduring metaphors of digital humanities is the “big tent” open to all whose research broaches the intersection between the digital and the humanistic. This space is conceptualized as a convivial and innovative one where the messy complexities of interdisciplinarity, theory, and method can be negotiated in new and productive ways. However, the stark realities of digital humanities suggest otherwise. In spite of its rhetoric, digital humanities reproduces prevailing dynamics of institutional, epistemological, and cultural power. Yet, it also offers hope for challenging them. Addressing these concerns, this talk offers a look at the state of social justice in the digital humanities. It focuses on practices and models that both embrace and complicate the core values of digital humanities. I examine the gains that have been made and where there is work to be done, particularly in the areas of disciplinarity, labor, and diversity. Using our digital initiatives at Salem State University as a case study, this talk illustrates the key practices necessary for building digital humanities communities and institutional centers that place social justice at the core of their missions. In doing so, I suggest how we might burn down the tent and, in its place, imagine new futures for digital humanities.

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Spencer D. C. Keralis

Dr. Spencer D. C. Keralis is Founder and Executive Director of Digital Frontiers. His writing has appeared in Book HistoryAmerican Periodicals, and the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) report The Problem of Data.

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Roopika Risam

Roopika Risam

Roopika Risam is an assistant professor of English and English education at Salem State University. Her research examines intersections between postcolonial and African diaspora literatures and cultures, and the role of digital humanities in mediating between them.

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