DHSI Fellow Reflection: Steven Booth

Steven Booth is currently the Audiovisual Archivist at the Barack Obama Presidential Library and attended the Digital Humanities Summer Institute and the DLFxDHSI unconference in Victoria, BC with support from a Cross-Pollinator Tuition Award. Learn more about Steven, or read on for his reflection on his experience.

This past June I had the honor to attend the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) as a recipient of the 2018 DLFxDHSI Cross-Pollinator Tuition Award. Held at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, DHSI provides opportunities for participants to study the scope of digital humanities through “intensive coursework, seminars, and lectures” that explore historical, theoretical and praxis-based perspectives. The myriad courses and workshops offered throughout the two-week sessions attract an international influx of faculty, graduate students, technologists, librarians, and, yes, even archivists.

Ray Pun, Y Vy Truong, Steven Booth and Karen Ng at the DLFxDHSI unconference in Victoria, BC.

Having no prior DH experience, I enrolled in “Making Choices About Your Data” (also known as #wrangledata) taught by Paige Morgan and Yvonne Lam. The design of this foundations course was structured to help navigate my classmates and I through the process of understanding data – what it is, what it represents, what to do with it, and how to use it. Throughout the week, we were challenged yet encouraged to overcome our anxieties and insecurities about DH. For many of us, the class discussions, one-on-one consultations as well as small group and personal exercises using sample datasets and our own project-based datasets helped debunk the preconceived notion that in order to do DH one must know how to code.

While much of the course focused on the practical knowledge of DH, the instructors also incorporated the following FemTechNet T.V. MEALS Framework into the curriculum:

  • Tech assumes mastery of TACIT KNOWLEDGE practices, although often presented as transparent
  • Tech promotes particular VALUES, though often presented as value-neutral
  • Technology is MATERIAL, though it is often presented as transcendent
  • Technology involves EMBODIMENT, though it is often presented as disembodied
  • Tech solicits AFFECT, though is often presented as highly rational
  • Tech requires LABOR, though it is often presented as labor-saving
  • Tech is SITUATED in particular contexts, though often presented as universal.

Based on Black feminist theory, this framework created by the 2016 #femDH class aided our process of thinking critically about not only our technology assumptions but also our research, datasets and the tools we were introduced to. This was an important aspect of the class as most of the our projects examined research topics surrounding race, class, gender, and sexuality. My project focused on mapping Black queer spaces in Washington, D.C. using data I gathered from a walking tour brochure that lists the name and location of bars/clubs, and other information that I hadn’t considered pertinent to my research prior to DHSI.

With the assistance of Paige and Yvonne, my #wrangledata classmates, and others from the #raceDH class, I learned a great deal about similar mapping projects, cryptography, GIS, and various mapping tools. Being afforded the opportunity to attend DHSI provided me with the space and time to broaden my understanding of digital scholarship, which in turn helped me conceptualize and implement my research project.

Based on my DHSI experience and the conversations I had with participants throughout the week, there is an apparent need for more archivists to be actively involved with digital humanities scholarship. A number of projects and sessions (primarily those held during the DLFxDHSI unconference) were in fact related to both community archives and digital archives. Moving forward, I would like to see more of us in these settings to collaborate and help facilitate conversations, provide assistance, and share best practices about our work and how archivists can play a role in shaping future DH efforts. As of right now I’m planning to return and I hope to bring a few colleagues along with me!