“Designing the Humanities” – Tara McPherson

2016-12-06 DCRL Semester theme: Design and Repair, Winter Semester 2016/2017


Venue: Freiraum Lüneburg Salzstr. 1 / 21335 Lüneburg

For over a dozen years, the Vectors lab has experimented with digital scholarship through its online publication, Vectors, and through Scalar, a multimedia authoring platform. The history of this software lab intersects a much longer tale about computation in the humanities, as well as tensions about the role of theory in related projects. Alan Liu has argued that “while digital humanists develop tools, data, and metadata critically…rarely do they extend their critique to the full register of society, economics, politics, or culture.”  The difficulty of centering theory and politics in the longer arc of the computational humanities rings true for many familiar with the field.

This talk considers debates around the role of cultural theory within the digital humanities and addresses Gary Hall’s claim that the goals of critical theory and of quantitative or computational analysis may be irreconcilable.  I ask what it might mean to design digital tools and applications that emerge from contextual concerns of cultural theory and, in particular, from a feminist concern for difference. This path leads back to the Vectors lab and its ongoing efforts at the intersection of theory and praxis.

Tara McPherson is Associate Professor of Critical Studies at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. She is a core faculty member of the IMAP program, USC’s innovative practice based-Ph.D., and also an affiliated faculty member in the American Studies and Ethnicity Department. Her scholarship engages the cultural dimensions of media, including the intersection of gender, race, affect and place. She has a particular interest in digital media. Here, her research focuses on the digital humanities, early software histories, gender, and race, as well as upon the development of new tools and paradigms for digital publishing, learning, and authorship.

She is author of the award-winning Reconstructing Dixie: Race, Gender and Nostalgia in the Imagined South (Duke UP: 2003), co-editor of Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture (Duke UP: 2003) and of Transmedia Frictions: The Digital, The Arts + the Humanities (California, 2014), and editor of Digital Youth, Innovation and the Unexpected, part of the MacArthur Foundation series on Digital Media and Learning (MIT Press, 2008.) Her monograph about her lab’s work and research process, Feminist in a Software Lab, will be published by Harvard University Press in spring 2017. She is the Founding Editor of Vectors, www.vectorsjournal.org , a multimedia peer-reviewed journal affiliated with the Open Humanities Press, and a founding editor of the MacArthur-supported International Journal of Learning and Media. She is the lead PI on the authoring platform, Scalar, and for the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, scalar.usc.edu . Her research has been funded by the Mellon, Ford, Annenberg, and MacArthur Foundations, as well as by the NEH.