A Familiar Manifesto

I was excited by the two versions of the Digital Humanities Manifesto because what they espouse is so familiar. Most of what the authors value about Digital Humanities are things my two fields of interest—composition and fan studies—have been doing for years.

To begin with composition, Schnapp et al. proclaim, “Process is the new god; not product” (1.0, par. 13). “Process not product” is a mantra often heard among comp theorists, although it’s not exactly a new god; Donald Murray published his seminal article “Teaching Writing as a Process, Not a Product” in 1972. For us, “process not product” means we should value the steps our students take in producing writing, not only the finished papers they turn in for a grade. We use teaching methods such as brainstorming, rough drafts, peer review, and workshopping to pay attention to our students’ writing processes. I hadn’t thought of this key concept as part of Digital Humanities, however, and I look forward to applying this familiar composition stand-by to digital work.

My primary research interest connects even more directly to DH than does comp. “Fan studies” refers to the analysis of fans (of television shows, movies, books, etc.) and the artifacts they create and produce related to their interests: fan fiction, art, crafting, videos, music, and more. In particular, I research the intersection of digital rhetoric and fan studies, performing rhetorical analysis on fan products and theorizing/practicing how to use this form of extracurricular composition in the classroom. The Digital Humanities Manifesto is clearly a fan’s ally: “Copyright and IP standards must, accordingly, be freed from the stranglehold of Capital. Pirate and pervert Disney materials on such a massive scale that Disney will have to sue… your entire neighborhood, school, or country. Practice digital anarchy by creatively undermining copyright and mashing up media” (1.0, par. 8; also 2.0, par. 13). Fans have been “pirating and perverting” canon texts from the first print fanzines publishing Captain Kirk/Mr. Spock “slash” romance fiction in the 1960s. “Furry” artists display their “cease and desist” letters from Disney with pride, and I myself sell handmade Pokémon plushies on Etsy—without a license of course. Apparently, we’ve been taking “strong (guerrilla) action” all along (2.0, par. 17). (For more on fan work’s relationship with copyright, see the Organization for Transformative Works.)

Lastly, curation—for me at least—blends the two fields. I loved version 2.0’s treatment of “the scholar as curator and the curator as scholar” (par. 45). I pride myself on my fan curations, both physically and digitally. And often, these two areas cross, as in my blog The Drifarmy which displays my Pokémon collection and in my wiki The Sonic Wings Wiki which curates information (as well as my physical collection) on an obscure video game series. Such fan-produced texts are precisely what I most love to study rhetorically, yet I believe they also have a place in pedagogy. Schnapp et al. write, “Curation means making arguments through objects as well as words, images, and sounds” (2.0, par. 45, emphasis original). I believe that anything—including an object—can be an argument, and my current EN 102 assignment has my students performing rhetorical analysis of objects—specifically items related to Alabama football to bring in a hint of the fannish.

These connections between Digital Humanities and my areas of interest—both academic and extracurricular—led to my enthusiasm for the Digital Humanities Manifesto, and I look forward to seeing how such familiar concepts play out throughout the semester.

One thought on “A Familiar Manifesto

  1. Matt Smith

    My reply is really a response to yours and Allison’s because, I think, your posts both make cogent points that I’m sure we’ll touch on as the semester proceeds. Your opening concerning “process not product” is a good example of my hesitancy to the tone of the pieces. While I agree that most situations process is more important than product (especially in didactic\pedagogical exercises), I would strongly assert that product is more important than process in most commercial endeavors (especially the function of a corporation). I don’t care to know about the process behind most corporate entities, the process of how Nike makes shoes or Dove makes soap, and I think that’s the main issue behind much of this: is academia a corporate entity whose goal is to make the most profit, or is it a corporate entity whose main goal is to produce knowledge? Most of the issues that the manifestos concern themselves with are implications that derive from from this: issues of copyright, curator as scholar, and scholar as entertainer. All of these issues are obviously valid and must be discussed, but I think the main obstruction to this comes from Allison’s concern regarding “a dedefinition of the roles of…expert and non-expert.” While the academy ought not be an entity whose sole focus is its fiscal bottom line, its scholarly and didactic bottom line is mutually inclusive with its expertise. It would cease to function as a bastion of intellectual certainty, yes it would thrive as a creative and universally-accessible locus of output, but it sacrifice (to some degree) its duty as dispenser of peer-reviewed truth forged in the crucible of scholarly accountability. My reluctance, then, seems to stem from not knowing (in clear terms) where they would propose to land on the spectrum of curator as scholar and dedefining the expert.

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