MacPherson, Feminist in a Software Lab

I’d like to start out by highlighting something that I found central to MacPherson’s entire framework. We didn’t cover this in class (and I didn’t bring it up, as I was supposed to cover the 2nd half of the book), but she lays out an alternative “origin story” for the digital humanities, one rooted in multimodal projects. I found this to be really compelling, first because MacPherson acknowledges that DH is a complex “field” which has emerged from several directions at once (versus a strict English–>DH narrative), and second because it allows us to centralize critical creativity:

An alternative origin story for the digital humanities might begin not with experiments in text markup but instead with various engagements with the expressive audiovisual capacities of electronic screen culture…rather than plumb the possibilities of text, [early] collaborations investigated how artists might contribute to technological development while also producing new technologically rich aesthetic experiences.

It is important that this is the point from which MacPherson begins her most recent book, Feminist in a Software Lab, because the affordances of multimedia projects like those promoted in Vectors, and of multimedia platforms such as Scalar, coordinate form with content. Ultimately, Elle’s question about the separation of creative and critical work on Tuesday allowed us to see what MacPherson is doing in this book more clearly: by arguing for new types of projects, she is allowing for the modes of communication (linguistic, visual, aural, spatial, etc.) to influence, react to, and complement one another, even as she argues for the same types of moves in content.

It strikes me that “fuzzy cuts” might work on both the critical and creative level within DH projects, depending on how we envision multimodal projects. With Chan’s historicizing of the pottery trade in Peru, Duarte’s heuristic of “reframing,” and finally MacPherson’s emphasis on the cut, one notices a general trend of eschewing altogether the laser-focused work of traditional academia, which “brackets” to maintain disciplinary borders and strict specialization. Instead, MacPherson draws on a historicizing practice at the same time that she complicates linguistic dominance in the academy. The result are Vectors projects–and ultimately Scalar–which seek to revolutionize how we think of form as well as content in the humanities. This is a particularly useful way to answer the call from Gallon and others to “humanize” the humanities, giving relationality its critical due as well as opening up all avenues for creative human expression.  As I mentioned in class, I believe that it is important to allow creative concerns to be part of the initial research question and early process, instead of just part of the output. Perhaps we might think of the process as creative, instead of just the product.

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