The identity of the field, network, discourse, or discipline of “Digital Humanities” is a source of endless discussion among its practitioners and critics – from conflicting genealogies of humanities computing and new media studies, to the gendered and raced institutional logics critiqued in the recent Differences issue on “The Dark Side of Digital Humanities.” This talk aims to chart an alternative path through the welter of definitional tangles by reinterpreting the world of digital humanities by taking seriously one of its more informal dimensions: the fervor with which digital humanist nerds and geeks appreciate their objects of study. I argue that digital humanities is a fandom – and that there is much to learn from attending to its processes and practices through the lenses developed both by fan studies scholars and by fans themselves. Participants in creative fan communities have theorized their own knowledge production as in conversation with, yet distinct from both media industrial and academic models; drawing from these approaches enables us to understand “digital humanities” as a phenomenon that need not be contained within the bounds of the academy. Drawing attention to the examples of the fannish nonprofit Organization for Transformative Works and the digital humanities network #transformDH, I will pay special attention to the theory and praxis of critical fandom: the ways in which members of fan communities use diverse creative techniques to challenge and critique the structures and representations around which their communities are organized. Understanding digital humanities as critical fandom makes it possible to focus on the affective dimensions that shape it and the contradictory logics that permeate its relationship to the disciplines and institutions that provide its context.
Alexis Lothian is a interdisciplinary scholar of queer and feminist media and cultural studies with a focus on speculative fiction, digital media, and online fandom. She lives in the Washington, DC area and is a tenure track Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at University of Maryland College Park, where she teaches in the LGBT Studies program and the undergraduate honors program in Design | Culture and Creativity.
Lothian is presently developing a book manuscript based on her PhD dissertation, “Deviant Futures: Speculative Fiction and Queer Time,” while also working on what will become a second monograph on critical and social justice-oriented fan cultures and participating in collaborative work as part of the TransformDH collective. Read more on her research page.
Lothian is also a participant in feminist science fiction and media fandom, with a specific interest in the ways fan communities engage in critical theorizing and activism (for example, through online discussion and fan video). She uses some of these forms in her own scholarly work, in addition to standard academic practices.