Connecting Community

Posted in: digital humanities  praxis 
Crossposted to the Scholars' Lab blog.

Praxis is wrapping up its unit on community building within digital humanities. The opening segment of the year is meant to welcome the students into the lab, get them thinking about how this space might be different than what they’re used to, and illustrate how alternative spaces like these enable different kinds of work to take place. This section of the year has the following activating questions:

What constitutes a community in DH? how will we design one together? how do DHers articulate these practices in public? how do you publish on DH community? how do you find your way into these communities as individuals just starting out?

And this cohort specifically engaged in the following questions:

Who are we? who are we not? who is in the room? who is not? what assumptions does the room make? what is the nature of our community? how will we build and maintain and generous and equitable environment? what are our hopes and dreams? our daily practices? how do I intersect with the group as an individual? how does the group intersect with the world outside? how do I? how are communities formed and reformed? how can we create a community mindful of our own biases and the systems of power in which we swim?

The cohort explored these topics by writing a group charter (a statement of values that they want to put into practice together) and designing plans for self-study based on various presentations from the lab community. The goal is for them to examine how the various communities within the lab and the field more generally intersect and how they might find their own particular way of intervening.

We’re about to move on to a new unit on teaching and learning, but I wanted to offer a few words on how things all fit together. We cover a variety of topics throughout the year:

  • Communities
  • Teaching and learning
  • Research infrastructure
  • Practice (under which I’m broadly including our technical curriculum)

Of course, it’s impossible to separate any one of these segments from the others. We might visualize their interconnectedness like this (pardon my handwriting).

diagram showing the topics communities, teaching and learning, infrastructure in a triangle, with practice in the middle of it. Arrows shows how all of the topics are interconnected.

So, as we shift out of focusing on community and towards the other units this year I wanted to offer a few questions one might ask to help activate community considerations in the other forthcoming topics.

  • Teaching and learning

    What assumptions do our pedagogies make about who is in the room? how do our physical learning spaces include or exclude? what are small community-building practices we can implement each day to create the collective we want? how might we draft community agreements like charters with our students? do our syllabi fulfill the same purpose? if not, why is that? what are the thousand small acts of teaching and learning that we engage in everyday, and how do those invite or push away students and collaborators?

  • Research infrastructure

    Take any given solo-authored research activity–what is the large, unstated community of collaborators behind that work? how might we most generously credit all those involved in digital projects? how does the institutional position of digital work affect its nature and who is allowed to participate in it? what audience do we imagine for our work? how might any given research activity cultivate a specific community that will live beyond it? what kinds of values documents–MOUs, charters, etc.–can we offer to help intentionally shape our research practices?

  • Practice

    How do the technical choices we make reinforce or undercut systemic power imbalances? how can we make our technical practice as inclusive as possible? what daily practices might we implement to turn solitary activities into collective ones (paired programming, code review, etc.)? how do our past histories with digital methods inform, strengthen, or frustrate our efforts to put them into practice today? how are those past histories shaped by politics, systemic power imbalances, identity, and more? how can we pay forward our successes to others and learn from our failures?

All parts of our work are informed by the communities at the center–or periphery–of them. And that community-building is not a one-off activity–it is the result of hundreds of small practices. Questions like these can help us to center and intentionally cultivate group identity and the audiences for our work.

Much more to say, but I’ll leave it there since each of these topics will get their own post later on.