Weekend Reading: the #MLA14 Edition

conferenceLast week, a wave of good news about acceptances of panels for the Modern Language Association to be held in Chicago in January 2014 (#MLA14) were announced over Twitter. The program is full of fascinating digital work that ranges from discussing alternative forms of academic jobs (#alt-ac) and feminism; the notion of digital counterpublics in pedagogy; revisiting the notion of the database in electronic literature, and more. In this Weekend Reading edition, I showcase what I found to be some of the most thought-provoking panel descriptions (full disclosure, postcolonial digital humanities is on the list!). If you have a digital-related panel accepted, please add your panel and a link to the open Google doc here.

  • Alt-Academic Feminism I: “Teaching Outside the Classroom through Digital Humanities” :Women in academe frequently evaluate their place in this (virtual) space, asking how online communities are realizing long- term promises of open access—technically, socially, and politically. This roundtable considers how digital/public humanities might redraw boundaries that shape studies by and about women in art and culture. What support are women faculty, instructors, and students receiving for digital work, especially in smaller language departments and humanities departments? How are women finding their way into coding, systems architecture, and design? Will Alt-Ac careers mean opportunities or greater service burdens (in departments and IT centers), inspired collaborations or labor inequities? Are women, people of color, LGBT communities, generations, and differently abled women done in by DH or doing DH across unjust divides? How might digital tools and practices serve feminist pedagogy and/or feminist critique? Can we self-consciously, strategically, non-destructively, and generously create networks inside and beyond the classroom? How might DH re-situate feminism within and outside the academy? 

  • Critical Making and the Digital Humanities : “For Ratto as well as practitioners such as Stephen Hockema, critical making “is an elision of two typically disconnected modes of engagement in the world—‘critical thinking,’ often considered as abstract, explicit, linguistically-based, internal and cognitively individualistic; and ‘making,’ typically understood as material, tacit, embodied, external, and community-oriented” (52). Following Ratto and Hockema, this panel asserts a hybrid making practice that sees no sharp distinction between programming and making, conception and execution, cognition and embodiment, the hand and the mind.”

  • Deletion, Erasure, Cancellation: Negative Textualities:“This roundtable offers a new approach to textual and media studies through close consideration of practices such as deletion, erasure, and cancellation—acts that might collectively be termed “negative” textual operations. Recent critical trends in media studies have drawn crucially necessary attention to the materiality of media, expanding scholarly attention within the field beyond its early focus on narrative and representation. Our conversation seeks to build upon and extend this attention to materiality through a specific focus on texts, practices, and histories that hinge on various forms of textual removal. In attending to these negative operations, we intend to foster discussion of a framework in which qualities such as absence, removal, residuality, blankness, and illegibility become essential criteria for critical analysis as well as for authorial and artistic production.”

  • Early Modern Media Ecologies“This special session takes on the profoundly interactive relationship among diverse media in early modern England. Bringing together young scholars who specialize in Renaissance literary studies and the digital humanities, the panel will use new media to reflect on early modern media hybridities. Our presentations show how sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature is at once biological and technological – how actors, printers, musicians and needleworkers participated in literary processes that cannot be limited to writing.”

  • Hard Mode: Games and Narratives of Marginalization: “In this panel, Hard Mode: Games and Narratives of Marginalization, we seek to discuss some of the ways in which games and game narrative can be marshaled for socially conscious purposes–particularly in the hands of creators and critics operating outside this mainstream game culture. We seek to continue the conversation begun by Mark Sample’s “Close Playing: Literary Methods and Videogame Studies” roundtable at MLA 2012, which began the discussion of video game studies as media objects of interest for their place in the discourse of narrative and storytelling. We propose this focused exploration in light of this year’s presidential theme, “Vulnerable Times,” invites exploration of the role of art and narrative in promoting social change.  Games produced in dialogue and outright confrontation with this mainstream, normative discourse of gaming culture are a powerful example of this potential, particularly as the visibility of marginalized groups as players and designers increases.  As Gonzalo Frasca once said, “If videogames are indeed persuasive tools, then they can be used for conveying passionate ideas…games will allow us to model our ideas and let others play with them and vice versa.”

  • Decolonizing DH: Theories and Practices of Postcolonial Digital Humanities: Our roundtable addresses these opportunities by outlining the shape of contemporary “postcolonial digital humanities” and interrogating how postcolonial studies has evolved. In its development, postcolonial digital humanities reflects changes in digital media, from original Web 1.0 postcolonial websites, to what Lisa Nakamura and Peter Chow-White have identified as the transmedia shift beginning in the mid-2000s, to the later move to Web 2.0 and rise of social media cultures. The mid-2000s transmedia shift began changing digital practices by eliding boundaries between media producers and consumers. Such shifts have raised questions of possible epistemological differences in the articulation of identities in digital spaces. However, scholars including Alan Liu, Anna Everett, Jessie Daniels, and Nakamura herself, have observed that problematic racial and ethnic categories persist within digital cultures.

All this exciting work certainly bodes well for #MLA14 reversing the idea that conferences cannot be fun, as Jorge Cham of PhD Comics well illustrates below…

PhDComic by Jorge Cham: The Conference

First image credit: zigazou76 on Flickr

Comic credit: Jorge Cham of PhD Comics

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