Digital Humanities

dh week one: net-working #en4709

Week 1 of DH went well, but we had to cut it short because of events for BSU Community Appreciation Day. It’s hard to pay attention to The Cure in class when the local radio station is blasting pop music the quad.

As a way of getting started in DH practices, I assigned this activity for week two

Twitter Essay
– Sign up with twitter.
– Follow @mcmcorgan.
– Locate and follow others in this course.
– Compose a Twitter essay of exactly 140 characters using #en4709 enacting what a student of digital humanities does. Don’t waste a character. (Borrowed nearly verbatim from Jesse Stommel at Hybrid Pedagogy).

But, in my haste, I forgot to include a strategy for finding each other on Twitter. Here it is:

How? Send a tweet including #en4709. Any tweet at all – but include #en4709. That will make us all findable. Search for #en4709. When you locate someone, follow them. Also, view who they follow and who is following them. Others in this class may be on their list.

What’s the rationale here?
The idea is to bootstrap us, as a class, into DH practices. Locating each other and forming a network makes a sensible starting point, as working in and as a network is one of the central practices (and values) of DH. Spiro mentions it, but it’s clear net-work is present from the beginnings with V Bush, Ted Nelson, Doug Englebart all working towards it. The first challenge is to find the network itself, then to find others of like mind. I specified the network – Twitter – but didn’t provide a way of finding each other by way of that network.

As students in humanities studies, we find other students and professors of like minds and interests. A physical campus with buildings housing departments gives us a physical space to find those people – as does the campus itself, and the local community. Coffee shops, restaurants, bars are all places to find others in our disciplines. Ditto disciplines and departments as organizational structures: They function as strong links. If students can locate the strong links, they can follow links from there, and create links between themselves, to extend the network, and providing new (weak) links to bring in new information. As students, we do this physically, by hanging around, asking around, looking lost and bored. New faculty do it by going to mixers that the university organizes. (And, yes, this is an argument for the persistence of physical campuses.)

Online, it’s still a matter of finding the strong links. Me, in this case. If every student in the class finds me on Twitter and follows me, then they can find and follow everyone else in the class by looking at who else is following me. That can be just as nerve-wracking – or exciting – as sitting around in the corner of the union, hoping someone will recognize you, or you someone else. The alternative way of finding each other – by way of weak links (send a tweet with a designated hash tag) – helps. That’s how participants at conferences find each other. It’s a practice the DH crowd has developed over the past six years of Twitter.

By my forgetting to include it, I brought the need for and practice of findability to the surface.

I’m not talking about ‘community’ in any “community appreciation” way here. I’m focusing on making connections between nodes that need to be connected somehow in order to get things done. To get the information to create a network, students have to locate professors that are on the fringe but have information they need, and they have to locate and test out connections with other students they have no interest in being friends with. This is why FB, with all its timelines and updating and stress on images, makes a poor platform for this kind of net-working. It’s not a matter of keeping friend and study networks separate – that can be done on any platform. Twitter works for creating non-committal pathways that can be followed or ignored, as the need arises.

Spiro, Lisa. “This Is Why We Fight”: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities. Debates in the Digital Humanities. University Press of Minnesota.