Helping Digital Humanities Researchers from Minority Populations Navigate Tenure and Promotion
Kathryn Cole Wymer
My current research explores ephemerality and loss in digital humanities projects. Specifically of interest is how the advancement of technology can sometimes make project sustainability exceedingly difficult. Previous scholars have invested time, energy, and resources into CD-ROMs, for instance, only to find ten years later that the technology no longer works on current laptops. Online platforms can change even more rapidly. The ACH Guidelines for Assessment of Digital Scholarship in Tenure and Promotion recommend that scholars engaging in digital work “demonstrate long-term sustainability” for a project. However, it is clear that the guidelines suggest that other factors can come into play, including peer review and widespread adoption over a period of time.
As a tenured professor at an HBCU, I have been thinking about the disparate impact of these issues on minority researchers wishing to engage in digital humanities projects. Minority scholars often report the feeling that they must work harder to prove their worth in academic contexts, noting trends of bias in student evaluations and other performance-related reviews. How might attempting to navigate the additional hurdle of proving the worth of (possibly fleeting) electronic projects limit the participation of early career researchers from minority populations? What strategies can we implement to encourage such scholars? I’d like to use this session to raise these issues and to start a discussion.
Distributed Blackishness: The Uses of Black American Poets Among Candidates of the 2020 U.S. Democratic Primaries
“Distributed Blackishness” archives and reads instances of abortive social-media campaigns by candidates for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. presidency in 2020 as using what I’ll call “Blackishness” to create non-Black outgroup affiliations between mostly white candidates and mostly non-Black voters. By “Blackishness,” I refer to the combination of “bookishness” as described by Jessica Pressman—the fetishization of ‘the book’ in an age of the digital media that would threaten its existence—and Blackness as an affiliating signal or rhetorical posture (think: Bill Clinton, “the first black president,” playing saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show). These candidates’ social-media campaigns draw from the authority of Black literary celebrities while sublimating their Blackness into a fungible outgroup-identifier in order to solicit mostly non-Black votes from the American left. As an outgrowth of Pressman’s bookishness, I also read these authorial figures’ literariness as authenticating these campaigns against the threats of the inauthentic and banal digital, while still invoking class associations among those educated enough to recognize the names and authority of these literary figures. Invocations of Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, Phillis Wheatley Peters, and Langston Hughes by candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren constitute appropriations from Black ‘signifyin’ methods in social-media movements like #BlackLivesMatter and necessitate a turn to Black posthumanism to unpack how white institutions such as U.S. electoralism distribute Black expression and Blackness online to satisfy mostly white prerogatives.