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Digital Humanities Caucus

American Studies and Digital Humanities 2012 Roundtable

What Can the Digital Humanities Bring to American Studies, and Vice Versa?

As an extension of our caucus-sponsored roundtable session on American Studies and Digital Humanities at the 2012 annual meeting in San Juan (see abstract below), we have created an online forum to extend the discussion in time and in reach.

We will be posting versions of our planned remarks and/or related comments before the conference, with follow-up after the event. We invite the insights of DH-engaged colleagues from within and beyond the American Studies community via comments on our posts.

For this Forum, we are using the caucus-based blog software provided on the American Studies Association Web site. The DH Caucus blog starts below the fold on our caucus Web page. Since the blog changes over time, we have also collected a list of the roundtable postings here:

Please join the conversation!

(Join us in person if you can: Friday, November 16, 8 am, Rm. 202A)


Session Participants:

Chair: Susan Garfinkel (Library of Congress (DC))
Panelist: Natalia Cecire (Yale University (CT))
Panelist: Alex Gil (University of Virginia (VA))
Panelist: Matthew K. Gold (City University of New York, Graduate School (NY))
Panelist: Kathleen Fitzpatrick (Modern Language Association (NY))
Panelist: Lauren Klein (Georgia Institute of Technology (GA))
Panelist: Miriam Posner (University of California, Los Angeles (CA))


The digital humanities—as a term, and as an associated constellation of tools and practices—has recently surfaced as a site of convergence for interdisciplinary scholarship in the United States and beyond. Propelled by the ever increasing power of computing and grounded in the ongoing development of a networked new media, digital humanities scholarship has coalesced around a shared set of values: that theory can be engaged through practice; that scholarship should be open and accessible to all; and that, as Bethany Nowviskie has argued, “the best new work is the work of many hands.” At the same time, American studies scholars have renewed the important work of investigating cultural and political formations, excavating power relations, and expanding scholarly inquiry to encompass the everyday as much as the exceptional.

Yet despite apparent similarities, conversations linking American studies’ tradition of interdisciplinary richness to the emerging field of the digital humanities are still in early stages. Essays by Tara McPherson, Lisa Nakamura, and Wendy HK Chun, among others, have begun to shown how these two sets of critical stances do not stand opposed, but are in fact very much intertwined—and might more productively inform each other if not for the rigid institutional boundaries and departmental structures that presently circumscribe scholarly work. With this roundtable, we seek to open a new phase of the discussion, by overtly exploring the potential for connections between American studies and the digital humanities in the context of an ASA annual conference.

This roundtable thus brings together a group of scholars whose collocated work in American studies and digital humanities bridges theory and practice, spans disciplines and institutions, and in each case incorporates aspects of social, political, and cultural critique—including the critique of current academic practice. Participants include cultural and public historians, film scholars, and literary critics; their research interests range from eighteenth-century culinary practices to twentieth-century Caribbean publishing networks to the future of scholarly communication; they are employed in a range of positions within and beyond the academy that more or less comfortably accommodate their inter- and extra-disciplinary work.

Taking up the call of the 2012 “Meeting Theme” to think deeply—across disciplines and institutions, time periods and territories—about the “conceptual and methodological demands of a truly transnational American Studies,” our panelists will explore the ways in which the digital humanities and American studies can mutually enhance one another’s core objectives. What might the conceptual schemas, methodologies, and goals associated with the digital humanities do to enrich American studies scholarship? What, in turn, might the critical frameworks, scholarly approaches, and foci of attention arising from American studies bring to the digital humanities? Short statements by each panelist will be followed by open discussion, and supplemented by written remarks posted for comment on the Digital Humanities Caucus section of the ASA’s Web site. With this session we hope to address—and to extend—the question posed by McPherson at last year’s ASA: “Why are the digital humanities so white? But also why isn’t American Studies more digital?”