Some Reflections on HASTAC 2017: The Possible Worlds of Digital Humanities

This is a long long overdue post… Having the HASTAC and ASA conferences back-to-back weekends this year was more than a little chaotic, but it also meant that I had a chance to be part of a series of thoughtful, engaged conversations with people working on amazing and varied projects- on technology, critical university studies, feminist pedagogy, race and the digital humanities, and more. Even now, over a month after both conferences, I find myself returning to the threads of those conversations to think through how I might integrate the ideas and practices I learned from attending panels and speaking to other faculty and students into my scholarly work.

For the time being, this post will be about HASTAC 2017, not least because it was my first time attending and also the first time I’ve ever been to a conference that welcomed such a range of experimental panels. You would think because I’d been in bi-weekly virtual meetings with the local organizers in Orlando, Bruce Janz and Amy Giroux, for months in advance that I would have a better sense of what to anticipate, but I really didn’t… This just goes to show that for all of the things the digital enables, it cannot capture the feeling of what it means to be together in a shared space, in real-time.

I could not imagine what the HASTAC Scholars UnConference, spearheaded by Futures Initiative Fellow, Kalle Westerling, would look like, the energy the students would bring into the room over lively and intense talks about managing multiple social media profiles, blogging, Twitter, and the demands and anxieties around professionalization. I could not imagine a more inspirational opening plenary where topics from empowering students and local communities and doing justice through the archives we curate, to Afrofuturism and redistributing resources to the global south were discussed. I could not imagine the kinds of conversations that spilled over from panels into casual conversations- about the ethics of citation, the challenges and possibilities of collaborative research and writing, the importance of peer mentorship and community, how digital technologies can be used to make information more accessible, and so on and on. And, while I wasn’t physically in the room for Cathy N. Davidson’s keynote conversation with Julie Thompson Klein (due to an unfortunate misreading of the conference schedule on my part), I followed the lively Twitter feed and heard from so many people afterwards how important and necessary this dialogue on The New Education and its possible worlds was–and is–for our times.

At HASTAC 2017 I also had the pleasure of chairing the panel “Building a Feminist Future: On (Digital) Pedagogical Praxis.” This session, organized by Emily EstenMelissa MeadeDanica SavonickWhitney Sperrazza, and Heather Suzanne Woods, emphasized the importance of a collective thinking and doing together. The facilitators modeled and encouraged participants to practice engaged pedagogy to contemplate what it means to actually build a feminist future. It was a joy to be part of this conversation. Even as someone who feels out of her element in the digital humanities world, I was welcomed in by their call to focus on teaching and the methods we use in the classroom.

An Illustration of a Feminist Classroom

One Illustration of a Feminist Classroom

During the panel, we invited our audience to be active participants (#femprax was our motto)- together we drew out our ideas of what a feminist classroom should look like (markers and poster paper were provided), participated in listening dyads, shared exercises and assignments, and talked in breakout sessions on topics ranging from “Online Teaching” to “Making Groupwork Work” and “Teaching to Transgress in Difficult Times.” You can check out our “Feminist Pedagogy Toolkit & Resources” Google Doc for more details about what we discussed during the session, including a list of activities and materials you can integrate into your own teaching.

As we move into the holiday season and toward the end of this year, my hope is to hold on to the energy I felt at HASTAC 2017, the willingness to push boundaries and contemplate possibilities for other, better worlds, as an inspiration and imperative during these sleepy, winter months. I want to think long and hard and deep about how to integrate technology more creatively into my teaching and research in ways that open up access, build networks, and demand equity, while never forgetting the flesh and blood users, the lived realities behind the screen.

Thanks again to Bruce, Amy, the Florida Digital Humanities Consortium, and the many other hands that helped make this conference possible. I am so grateful that I was able to be there this year and I can’t wait for HASTAC 2019: “Decolonizing Technologies, Reprogramming Education.”

Best wishes to all and looking forward to what 2018 brings!

P.S. If you’re looking for more on the impact of #HASTAC17, check out this post written by Cherishe Cumma, a Leadership Liaison in our CUNY Undergraduate Leadership Program, on her experiences at the conference.   

Featured Photo by NASA on Unsplash.