Intertwining Pedagogy and Feminist Archiving at HASTAC 2017
Alexander Cendrowski, Fall 2017
In the creative writing field, we have a term that (perhaps strangely) influences a lot of the ways I've thought about the Suffrage Postcard Project over my months of working on it: "Writer-teacher, teacher-writer." The core thesis of the phrase, if it can be said to have an argument, is that the act of writing (and creation) necessarily influences the act of teaching; that the act of teaching necessarily influences the act of writing. That's the approach I've had to guiding the project's wonderful undergraduate RA team (Terikia Seals, Clarke Christina Green, and Erin Durham-Moore); the research we're doing necessarily becomes the tool of pedagogy, and what we learn in teaching each other necessarily becomes the method of research.
This was, not-so-coincidentally, also the approach I had to presenting the Suffrage Postcard Project's print poster at the 2017 Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC) conference. While the presentation model focuses on the research that the SPP archive allows for and provides, the method of presentation delivery for the HASTAC 2017 print posters allowed me to delve deep into what it really meant to have a methodology built around undergraduate RAs. When the judges came around, I was able to point specifically to how the Suffrage Postcard Project served as a pedagogical tool for our RAs: every step of determining our team's specific methodology having reinforced and exampled what was being learned in the Feminist Digital Humanities classroom. And naturally, that learning was continuously influencing the research we were doing.
My favorite example of this happened when we sat together to discuss quality control of the tags, some of which, the undergrads thought, were far too specific to work as effective tags for researchers. This was in part based in what they'd learned in class about the transparency of a feminist digital archive: we are curators of information, and as such it is perhaps necessary to determine what information is useful. But as we sat down for discussion, Terikia Seals revealed that she'd changed her mind after digging deeper into the system. She said (paraphrased):
"I at first thought that a lot of the objects were getting too specific into the postcards--they weren't really part of the postcards' core message, and not too many were getting tagged with each object, so I thought they were probably unnecessary. But then I was looking at the tag 'rolling pin,' and I saw that each postcard tagged with that featured the rolling pin as a method of representing domesticity--frequently as a weapon women might use against men."
There's a lot of assumption, I told the judges, that comes from the first glance at a digital archive. It's often easy for students (or even many scholars) to approach the methodology of digital humanities as if it's over-correcting something simplistic, but working with the Suffrage Postcard Project lent me a clean, obvious pedagogical example of how that perspective can be flipped.
I talked, too, about the advantages the Suffrage Postcard Project had lent me in taking advantage of grants that exist for undergraduate research in Humanities fields. I told the judges, and they nodded excitedly: Grants exist widely in university systems for undergraduate research--it's one of the markers administrators like to use as weight behind their accredidation and success as a university. Frequently, these grants are entirely taken by STEM fields, who have more obvious "lab" spaces to use for student research. But the reality that the Suffrage Postcard Project shows us is that humanities research can just as easily involve undergraduates. Every time Kristin Allukian has applied for the CREATTE grant that pays my stiped as a graduate researcher, she's received the grant simply because there are so few other humanities researchers applying for the same system. We've got to push into this space of funding and success for our students as digital humanists. And the HASTAC judges agreed: