DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly
Volume 13 Number 2
2019 13.2  |  XMLPDFPrint

Introduction: Questioning Collaboration, Labor, and Visibility in Digital Humanities Research

Tarez Samra Graban <tgraban_at_fsu_dot_edu>, Florida State University
Paul Marty <marty_at_fsu_dot_edu>, Florida State University
Allen Romano <aromano_at_fsu_dot_edu>, Florida State University


An introduction to the Special Issue on “Invisible Work in Digital Humanities” where the authors address a 2016 symposium on the issue, interrogate critical factors which effect the invisibility of work, and offer a potential framework to move forward.

Two Days in Tallahassee: Articulating New Grounds for a Recurring Set of Problems

Beginning in 2015, a group of colleagues in the humanities, information sciences, and libraries at Florida State University met sporadically to talk about their projects, plans, and roadblocks, helping one another ask and answer a range of questions, from critical to technical, without inhibition or judgment. We needed this group, for the immediate and quotidian challenges for faculty pressed with meeting wide-ranging institutional duties, working within balkanized departments, and managing projects without explicit digital humanities programming, had masked a significant yet invisible roadblock to getting our projects done. The absence of a sustainable infrastructure — intellectual, physical, temporal, and human — emerged more than once as the underlying problem, a form of institutional invisibility always acting against our interests and activities in the digital humanities.
Six months later, “invisibility” emerged again during a meeting of the Digital Scholars Reading & Discussion Group, where we were all in attendance, this time to consider discussions from the prior year surrounding the boycott of academia.edu, various instances of cybercolonialism, and building repository environments — all topics that texturized the need for large public research universities like our own to understand and practice the digital humanities as a way of critically questioning our working philosophies. It became clear that “invisibility” was not a simple matter of demanding more recognition in a particular context, but rather a key term in our university ecosystem, and a problem of vital significance for the sustainability of DH.
In November 2016, we hosted the first symposium in our region on “Invisible Work in the Digital Humanities (IWDH)”, based on an awareness of the challenges that resource-straitened campuses face as they struggle to build and maintain the collaborative infrastructures necessary to sustain DH work as a humanistic endeavor [Voss 2015] [Shirazi 2014] [Wernimont 2013]. Fifty attendees from colleges, universities, libraries, and/or DH centers in Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia — along with three keynote speakers from across the United States — convened at Florida State University on November 17-18, 2016 to talk, listen, reflect, apply, and begin taking action toward starting or sustaining healthier DH partnerships on their own campuses or in their own locales. The resulting two-day symposium helped us identify the unspoken assumptions that surround collaboration by exploring questions about diverging expectations, unequal labor, and invisible work. Our first keynote, Mark Algee-Hewitt, Assistant Professor of English and co-Associate Research Director of the Stanford Literary Lab, challenged the group to consider its underlying assumptions about collaboration. Our second keynote, Cheryl Ball, then Associate Professor of digital publishing studies at West Virginia University, presented alternative notions of un/equal labor by examining the rigors of online peer-review through a disciplinary lens. Finally, our third keynote, Roxanne Shirazi, dissertation and digital research librarian at the CUNY Graduate Center, interrogated visibility as a guiding concept for achieving equitable work, asking us instead to adapt a documentary impulse. The Symposium organizers, along with a cadre of volunteer graduate students, librarians, and faculty, moderated and took notes during the various small-group and large-group sessions each day.
Our goal in designing and conducting this Symposium was to explore the hypothesis that Digital Humanities projects involving content specialists and scholars working with digital experts and technologists, frequently proceed under the assumption that the collaborators share common goals; yet this is not always true. For example, in a typical project between a professor of history and a university digital scholarship center, does the digital scholarship center simply provide a service, or are they considered equal partners in the work? Do both partners necessarily share common expectations or goals, or do they have conflicting desires that could influence the outcomes of the project? The historian might be focused on building an online repository, and the impact of such a repository on the field, how others might add to it, and how to materialize several years’ worth of research that would otherwise go unmeasured, while the digital scholarship center might be thinking about recycling the resulting code for use in other projects, contributing to broader digital scholarly efforts beyond that single project. On the surface, none of these goals is inherently contradictory, but in practice, subtle differences emerge that may influence (or stymie) these partnerships when they go unnoticed.
Articulating these issues for DH scholars, researchers, and professionals is critical for identifying and thinking carefully about the invisible work underlying their projects, yet it seemed to be a topic that received little explicit attention in our curriculum, our journals, and our seminars, outside of discussions of student labor. Over those two days in Tallahassee, several common factors emerged, pointing to what we now recognize as a predictable set of institutional, disciplinary, and epistemic tensions that helped guide the creation of this special issue:
While Symposium participants represented a range of institutional types, we consider these challenges primarily in the face of innovating — and then sustaining critical innovation in — the digital humanities on public research-intensive and -extensive campuses, when those campuses operate under a dual deficit of resources and knowledge, delivered through austerity measures determined by their states.

Critical Factors in In/Visibility

The conversations that occurred over these two days demonstrated to us that our experiences with in/visibility prior to the Symposium had been determined by its use as a binary construct, if not a standpoint. (See, for example [Losh 2016] [McGrail 2016] [Fitzpatrick 2012] [Spiro 2013] [Nowviskie 2011]. While not all of these discussions are motivated by explicit complaints about in/visibility, their recurrence points to visibility as a fundamental intertext in the enactment of digital humanities as a discipline, and moreover as a problem of identification to scale.) Our desire to identify alternative standpoints through the Symposium resulted in the discovery of four paradoxes we face frequently in our work:

How do we achieve internal validation without promoting utopian visions of DH?

One of the essential questions that emerged for us was, To whom is this work in/visible? Much of the work that takes place in DH projects is invisible to multiple levels of authority, both external to the academy (i.e., the public, state legislatures) and internal (i.e., Department Chairs, Deans, Provosts). This occurs on all scales and even to varying degrees in para-institutional publications, for example, in the coverage of “labor” as a critical topic in discussions in Hybrid Pedagogy, as well as a special issue of First Monday dedicated to “Feminist Perspectives on Digital Labor”. Clearly there are ample institutional practices, ossified academic hierarchies, and individual ways of thinking within different academic roles and communities that contribute to making work that is perfectly valuable seem perfectly invisible, and we must work against such visible flattening. As Kathleen Fitzpatrick writes, “We in the humanities often resist opening our work to these publics, fearing the consequences of such openness…keeping our conversations private, might protect us from public criticism, but it can’t protect us from public apathy, a condition that is, in the current economy, far more dangerous”  [Fitzpatrick 2012].
However, we risk creating a kind of circularity to our discussion if we always (or only) privilege invisibilities or labor practices that can be solved by external validation, such as not knowing when enough recognition is enough, not knowing whether there is enough credit and compensation to go around, or now knowing how much of that compensation is in the hands of people, institutions, or systems that are “not us.” Moreover, if we are concerned only with making invisible work visible to external validators, we risk invalidating humanities research entirely, in moves analogous to saying that the humanities matter only in terms of helping STEM students become more well-rounded. We learned through the Symposium that perhaps increasing transparency in DH projects requires a decoupling of transparency from external validation, a recoupling of transparency with internally validated assumptions, and then moving beyond notions of validation as credit.
The problem of invisibility is at its core a problem of validation, where the goal of visibility exists principally to make it easier to validate the internal work of the DH participants. Even then, having decoupled transparency from external validation, we must not, a priori, take any of our activities as an unalloyed good. In a utopian vision of DH, one might imagine that if we all received credit for our work, and if institutions recognized and supported all the parties who worked on a DH project, then all would be well. Indeed, there is much to be said and done to advance those goals. But among other general concerns, saying that “all DH work is by nature collaborative and thus democratically realized” may undercut some good work that needs to be singly authored or individually completed.
Similarly, we may not all want the same things, the same rewards, or the same types of credit. The utopian vision of DH as an ideally collaborative and public activity makes some activities resistant to necessary criticism and questioning. Thus, another reality that emerged during the Symposium was the affirmation that not all DH projects need a lot of hands; often what they need is more time — a commodity for which we can and should collaboratively argue even when our projects have disparate goals. While such fractures in the utopian vision of DH may seem threatening, we argue that they are a useful interpretive lever which can expose the complexities of invisibility in practice. For example, Cheryl Ball’s presentation on the evolution of the open-access platform for the journal Kairos gave us options for imagining how to translate that kind of work into rigorous evaluation tools/measures, adaptable to other local or institutional contexts, for defining scalable levels of involvement, and for accounting for different levels of contribution on our reporting mechanisms, such as curriculum vitae. In other words, Ball argued, we have much to gain by observing the processes of activist collectives such as Kairos journal that serve open-access communities while also preserving the values and ethics of particular scholarly groups or disciplines. While the volunteering and mentoring models underscoring Kairos journal were already reflected in the disciplinary ideals of Rhetoric and Writing Studies, other disciplines may support epistemologies or value systems that give us various opportunities for acting visibly in DH — and thus, for transforming how we think about transparency — by promoting shifts in perspective in other areas of the university (e.g., research, service, and infrastructure), and by scaffolding our DH projects so that they necessarily involve short- and long-term training.
While Symposium discussions reflected the fact that material and technical access are recurring problems across United States institutions, we acknowledge that internal validation isn’t always (or exclusively) obtained through idyllic notions of access, unless and until we can enable the transformative nature of access as an internal goal. Doing so requires thinking innovatively about how to commodify our processes and not merely our projects or products for outside groups. Transformed notions of access would open up spaces for rewriting involvement, for responding humanistically to the market forces driving our universities, and for carving out institutional positionings for our work that supersede the material advantages often associated (correctly or incorrectly) with DH initiatives. Transforming the nature of access also involves increasing transparency of motives and goals, affirming the differences among them, and defining our working communities beyond the question of who has principal control over certain kinds of credit.

How do we achieve a collaborative vocabulary for DH without letting the “Digital Humanities” limit us?

Another essential question that emerged for us through the Symposium was, How much are our problems of visibility caused by our moniker? As expected, the variety of people, professions, and perspectives represented at the symposium highlighted the multiplicity of definitions of Digital Humanities under which we function. In some respects, “big tent” metaphors have served the scholarly community well, establishing a supra-discipline and welcoming all comers [Watrall 2016] [Ridge 2014] [Reid 2013]. However, the big-tent paradigm may prevent campuses like ours from being able to conceive of the uniquely collaborative nature of the DH Laboratory both as a collective and as a group of individuals. Moreover, implying the desire to name the digital humanities as if it were a coherent shibboleth, rather than a set of extant and contrasting methodologies, creates a stultifying vision of what DH could or should be, diverting our attention from how DH can promote transformative notions of access in the immediate and near future [Battles 2016]. While definitions of DH have, often with good reason, sought to situate DH in contrast to existing methods, it is equally important to emphasize the continuity of humanistic modes of interrogation.
Thus, we take as a starting point the assertion that DH work is first and foremost work in the humanistic tradition — the selfsame tradition that may enable us to resist being defined by what we are not. It is a question of humanistic thinking to ask what we value preserving, documenting, and doing the work. It is also a question of humanistic method to ask corresponding questions about practice. In contrast, defining DH work by what it is not (i.e., the “traditional” print-based humanities, the completion of singly-authored work) or what it aspires to be (i.e., “empirical” or “data-driven”, following several lab-based sciences) has the unfortunate consequence of locking us into well-worn modes of thinking about both methods and practice. In that particular fantasy of the field, traditional humanities disciplines might be typecast as the lone scholar toiling in the library, and collaboration becomes a counterbalancing virtue of DH work [Ridge 2014] [Anderson 2016]. In contrast, the science/lab model of the hard sciences, including conventions of generous co-authoring, would become a similarly typecast hero-subject [Keralis 2016] [Nowviskie 2011]. Instead, we hope to complicate this binarism altogether, so as to separate out recognizable ideals from harmful truisms.
Mark Algee-Hewitt’s presentation on the nuances of the digital humanities collective afforded us different perspectives between and among the roles we typically name in our project teams, by articulating connections between our humanities economy within the institution and the larger digital economy we share with other institutions. Recommending “collaborative individualism” over “mere individuals collaborating”, Algee-Hewitt drew on his experiences in the Stanford Literary Lab to illuminate the terministic constraints with certain professional roles when they fall under the DH moniker, and to share his observations about who might be more focused on output as a standalone product, and whose contributions to the projects are often overlooked or take divergent forms that are undervalued in an academic context. What emerged from his keynote presentation was this triad of intellectual conditions: the need for individual goals to be brought to bear on a common set of problems; the need to determine the points at which the individual nature of specifically humanities research becomes at odds with the cooperation that is necessary for most DH projects; and the knowledge of how to respond when that is the case.
If the Symposium exposed anything to its participants, it exposed the elusivity of some of our familiar working terms. Without a shared vocabulary in place, we could not always make progress towards practical solutions in the space of our conversations over two days. In addition to the nuances of “in/visibility”, we found we needed more neutrality in other terms, including “service” and “sole author”. In the case of the former, recognizing the inherent flexibility in what it means “to serve” exposes the more expansive view we must take towards notions like “rigor” and “ethics”. In the case of the latter, single-authored work has historically been built on the work of others, whether acknowledged or not. Thus, a more expansive notion of “DH collaboration” would focus not on the existing conventions of marking collaboration but rather on identifying and exercising a generosity of spirit in academic work.

How do we define critical agency for DH research while questioning shared credit as an end goal?

A third essential question that emerged through the Symposium was, How does our approach change when we acknowledge that while some forms of labor and laboring bodies are deliberately overlooked by those in power, others are made more vulnerable by greater exposure? More problematic than “collaboration” for many Symposium participants was the notion of “credit”, as credit can occur in multiple forms (monetary, reputation, public acknowledgment, private acknowledgment), yet without yielding participatory agency. Reifying credit in existing academic structures — or, rather, in the presumption of a shared understanding of what constitutes credit — makes it too easy to speak past each other about what constitutes the value of work.
While we agree that credit should be discussed or assigned in the early stages of DH projects and processes, we also acknowledge that it may not or need not always be equal. The Symposium revealed that equal partnerships rely less on equal credit and more on an open communication of goals and on an understanding of cash vs. cache — that is, an understanding that equality may be determined not in precisely the same outcomes for each participant, but each participant should still have access to what they need, whether that is in financial compensation (cash) or in project stakes (cache). Put simply, there are types of credit which are often overlooked in a too-rigid framework of credit equals pay or prestige. It might be more important to have ongoing responsibility for a work, or rights to modify a work, than to have public visibility about one’s past contribution or to have continued ownership of it. Reframing the question of credit as a question of epistemic agency [Fricker 2007] — as a way of validating others as knowers, and validating their right to know — transforms the shared goal from developing a precise system of attribution to recognizing the agential labors through documenting work and telling the story that we want to tell.
Roxanne Shirazi’s presentation on the labor activities required by truly innovative historical recovery projects challenged us to become less “obsessed with consumer product thinking” and more willing to embrace the processes required by shared emotional labor. Drawing on the work of Lewis Hine and Dorothea Lange, and arguing through the lens of Arlene Daniels’ article on “Invisible Work”, Shirazi articulated a key critical distinction between invisible work and invisible worker, suggesting a four-part matrix for DH collaborative teams to use in complicating their values before determining value: visible valued; visible devalued; invisible devalued; and invisible valued. These interplays, as Shirazi called them, should give digital humanists a clearer sense of what problems to scale in their particular projects. They should further demonstrate to digital humanists that not only does in/visibility not have to operate as a negative binary construct in relational work between librarians and their multiple collaborators, in some cases it can provide critical leverage by enabling other forms of recognition, remuneration, or autonomy. The balance between these interplays is fluid, requiring digital humanists to think creatively and strategically about the spaces in and through which they work, before determining that visibility must occur in the same way for all project participants, or that invisibility is solved wholly through shared attribution.
Provoking us to consider positive invisibility and guarded professionalism, Shirazi ultimately challenged Symposium participants to take up a documentary impulse instead. Thus, our end goal was not the foregone conclusion that everyone needs more credit, but rather the question of how disciplines value and preserve their labor, and what interventions could be made in those values. What is at stake in valuing particular work in particular ways? How do we negotiate the values of differing stakeholders? What have we, in the past, chosen to preserve about our methods or about the process of doing scholarship? Many participants in the room recognized the problem with only using DH to produce a highly equitable labor model. Should some invisible work remain invisible? Should other work be made more (if not totally) visible? What kinds of invisible relationships do we assume or perpetuate when using proprietary tools to do our work, without raising public expectations of us and of our work? Could there be nuanced distinctions between invisible and unseen work (i.e., work that is behind-the-scenes but traceable as opposed to work that has been put under erasure)? It became apparent during and after the Symposium that we need not only decide that visibility occurs through attribution, or that all attribution necessarily increases visibility, or that DH’s main task is to resist the erasure of attribution structures. That kind of accounting procedure — even to one another — does not advance ultimately what we are after, which is the advancement of knowledge and scholarship. We became interested during the Symposium in how we might use DH to articulate and propagate a critique of such labor economies inasmuch as those critiques led us to realize other potential mindsets.

How do we achieve legibility without flattening disciplinary distinctions?

For many researchers and practitioners, the digital humanities are one place where their discipline’s methodologies can best perform or make a critical contribution. Conversely, for many disciplines, it is digital humanities projects that effectively make their critical questions publicly accessible or make their disciplinary approaches more textured. Conflating terms and minimizing disciplinary distinctions may be holding us back from the most compelling reasons why DH matters. At the Symposium, considering invisible work from an ecosystemic perspective brought into deeper relief the relationship between two conflated terms: visibility and value. As Shirazi argued, instead of visibility, we might work toward legibility through a renewed attention to documentation and to the everyday tasks of recordkeeping.
The Symposium’s discussions of the critical value of legibility led two participants — Will Hanley and Laurie M. Wood — to reflect on the particularities of their discipline of History.[1] The argument they make about collaborative dis/appearances in History seemed important if largely unvoiced at the Symposium, and its importance became easier to discern by the end of the second day. As Hanley and Wood point out, the problem of uncredited (hence invisible) work by collaborators and assistants is somewhat remote, because the workstyle of their discipline is deeply individualist, causing most historians to do their research, analysis, and writing alone. However, their digital historical work involves a different form of invisibility and a different set of consequences that occur when DH paradigms overlay the historical. One consequence of digital history is that, because historians rarely articulate the details of their work process, they are impaired when they wish to share their labor, document their efforts, or show others (i.e., potential research assistants) what they want to do. To assign a research assistant requires, as a first step, that the historian make visible the methods he or she already has in play, but when it comes time to enlist librarians, archivists, graduate students, or even other historians as collaborators, the invisibility of their work becomes an encumbrance because they have difficulty trusting others to do it. If they are not practiced in articulating their approach in ways that can be reproduced by others, then relying on intuition and experience might fail them when the moment comes to collaborate. This raises questions about how and when to delegate work that historians would otherwise complete alone, over lengthy periods of time, and informed by their particular specialties.
Another consequence is that, because a historian’s labors are often made invisible by the writing, much of their own work disappears in the redistribution of digital labor. Historians generate a great deal of what Michael Polczynski and Amy Singer have called the “intermediate product”, or the research materials they produce between the archival records they read and the books and essays they write — notes and indexes informed by years of concentrated study. These notes and indexes are typically idiosyncratic and impenetrable, and thus lost to other researchers. More importantly, they are not always central to the digital tool. Because the intermediate product is not documented and reproducible, it gets discarded and the work must be repeated by other individuals in their own idiosyncratic manners later on. This outcome seems ironic in a discipline so deeply invested in empiricism, where one promise of digital approaches is the opportunity for historians to become more explicit and articulate about their methodology.
Here, Hanley’s and Wood’s concerns about in/visibility are twofold. First, they are concerned with identifying methods (already in use or created for the task) that can be explained simply to collaborators who may or may not already have the needed research competencies, such as with languages or metadata. Second, supervising historians want to ensure that research assistants gain new or improved research competencies, which they can deploy (again) in the individual mode of historical scholarship. Again, the historian has to articulate the necessary skills and methods, which more often remain tacit, but by entrusting the work of historical research to graduate students, empirical methods may inadvertently change. False cognates might be translated incorrectly for the index, or the student may still be learning how to distinguish unreliable from reliable sources and how to replicate complicated workflows.
Though specific to their discipline, Hanley’s and Wood’s uptake of “intermediate products” allowed us to consider that, while recognizing invisible work can be a provocative methodological path, it is difficult to make all empirical involvements equally visible. This difficulty, in turn, urges us consider the different burdens of diversifying roles and the resulting social labors that become involved in that diversification. It matters whether we think of visibility as inherently valuable and invisibility in academic labor as inherently invaluable. Symposium discussions made clear that those value judgments around such terms can be directly misleading, and that there may be critical and practical value in allowing some labor to remain invisible and aiming instead for making labor legible, if it means unflattening how our own disciplines operate.

Changing In/Visible Mindsets: Offering a Conceptual Framework to Move Forward

As co-conveners of the Symposium, we encouraged a roughly hewn discourse, recognizing that a binary relationship between visibility and invisibility was not our aim, and neither was a clean resolution to the problem(s) of recognition. Now, we see the intellectual investment of the authors included in this special issue as central to our understanding and expansion of the ideas ignited at the 2016 meeting. In the following seven pieces — five full-length articles describing original research, and two opinion-driven essays on critical terms, perspectives, or mindsets — Shirazi’s documentary impulse echoes throughout, in individual markers of collaborations, project overviews, and inquiries into praxis and theory. Several of the following contributors participated in the Symposium, though several did not, and together their voices reflect work begun in Tallahassee that gestures toward what still needs to be done across our organizational, disciplinary, and professional statuses.
The issue begins with a position piece, where a call for the interdisciplinary nature of digitally-minded humanistic scholarship is apparent, in Huet, Alteri, and Taylor’s short manifesto “A Life on the Hyphen: Balancing Identities as Librarians, Scholars, and Digital Practitioners”.Their claim that “life on the hyphen...fuels invisible work” recalls discussions from the Symposium that invisibility and un-seenness are not necessarily the same phenomenon, and they argue that apportioning credit does not always overcome the epistemic assumptions determining unequal labor. The authors ask for shared responsibility with raising the visibility of hyphenated practitioners, while recognizing the cultural academic changes this intersectionality will require.
Community development is a throughline in many pieces that follow. Kasten-Mutkus, Costello, and Chase’s “Raising Visibility in the Digital Humanities Landscape: The Open Mic Event at Stony Brook University Libraries,” illustrates a reliable model for providing space and time to learn from and with one another. Establishing programmatic approaches for digital humanities work is one path toward broader recognition, and the authors examine their own program for that possibility. Recalling a statement from the Symposium, that there are often “radically different concepts of what counts as knowledge production,” this piece shapes the conversation by arguing that investing in the local scholar/practitioner community from a library perspective is productive and generative of/for the digital humanities.
Also concerned with rethinking DH investments, Opel and Simeone’s “The Invisible Work of the Digital Humanities Lab: Preparing Graduate Students for Emergent Intellectual and Professional Work” explores the potential that spaces and informal learning offer to sustainable models of how/who works together. In framing what a DH Lab is and does, Opel and Simeone interrogate and return to central questions of who is in in digital humanities and how the field inculcates new members. Focusing on their Stories with Data workshop series, the authors argue the need “to produce graduate students who can meaningfully render visible to the public how the academy contributes to [or obfuscates] knowledge production vis-a-vis technology”.
Shifting our attention from graduate professionalization to undergraduate pedagogy, Rivard, Tilton, and Arnold’s “Building Pedagogy into Project Development: Making Data Construction Visible in Digital Projects” offers a case study in using a DH method to visualize the labor of a classroom-based project and learning environment. The authors offer three broad strategies for making labor more visible through their experience co-constructing Photogrammar, teasing out the “politics of attribution” within the content the project is studying, and the collaborative relationships in the classroom. Throughout their argument, the authors highlight the need to consider a variety of ways that collaborators, especially students, may want or need their labor to be credited or made valuable to their goals, which may not be the same as the goals of the institutional researcher or project team.
Kelly’s “Gaining Access, Gaming Access: Balancing Internal and External Support for Interactive Digital Project” offers a brief but critical interlude, using a micro case study of a single teaching experience “in order to explore how the oft-invisible policies, procedures, and restrictions shape the way we compose, circulate, and make accessible digitally-native work”. This short essay argues for a logistically-minded approach, emphasizing that hurdles to digital pedagogy can occur in the seemingly mundane, such as limited access to wifi, yet those policies reflect boundaries whose transgression is key for activating critical approaches to our own labor.
Chesley argues for applying those critical approaches to a hybrid collaborative space in “The In/Visible, In/Audible Labor of Digitizing the Public Domain” — this time from LibriVox, the public domain audiobook platform and a unique “public, volunteer digital humanities project”. The invisibility of this volunteer work “is part of the project’s strength and persistence” and resists the generalization that the academy owns all of the digital humanities. Chesley’s inclusion of a citizen-humanities, public service project reveals our utopian biases and divergent expectations toward cultural knowledge production as an academic affair.
Finally, in “Affective Absence: Risks in the Institutionalization of the FemTechNet Archive”, Austin details the dual challenge of re-presenting the labor of others in an archival collection, and the risky work of archival institutionalization. Writing against erasure, Austin says, “The small tasks of addressing power are frequently unseen, unstated, or fed back through institutional lenses — often resulting in approaches that are sanitized or obscured”. Their essay complicates any easy concept of validation, reminding us that some scholarly activities are not subject to, dependent on, or interested in the credentialing system within which we continue to dwell.
Thus, a conceptual framework for continued forward motion is threaded within these works. Taken together, these ideas, provocations, and inquiries mirror and refract the conversation that began at Florida State University in 2016. Together, the Symposium on Invisible Work in Digital Humanities and this special issue make the case that:
  1. care is a first, essential collaborative tool;
  2. scales of credit and recognition are varied and variable for every individual connected to the work;
  3. the documentary impulse is a useful method for beginning to make labor legible;
  4. acknowledging a spectrum of “works” (e.g., volunteer efforts, workflows, and community development) offers an expansive understanding of scholarly activity; and
  5. the inherent paradoxes of DH work, often simultaneously “collaborative” and “singly-authored,” are a great strength, if also a great challenge.
Our hope is that the discovery and uncovering we attempted through this shared project will illuminate many more curious and careful complexities in the digital humanities and that, as individuals together, we will make, ask, and interpret in new and more open ways.


[1] Our expansion on this question of epistemic legibility would not be possible without the significant contributions — written and otherwise — of Will Hanley and Laurie M. Wood, not only during the IWDH Symposium, but also in conversations preceding and following the event. We are grateful to Hanley and Wood for allowing us use of this anecdote and acknowledge their significant work in digital historical methods and archival reconstruction, respectively.

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