Notes from THATCamp Feminisms West #tcfw

I’m just back from ten days in the US where I attended two events, both closely related to digital history, feminist digital humanities and women’s history (whether intellectual, science, education, etc related). I’m posting to mark the moment and to collect some links – I think I’m still digesting the many conversations and moments of insight.

THATCamp Feminisms West #tcfw

A THATCamp is a technology+humanities unconference, a format much loved in the digital humanities world. This one was conceived from a twitter conversation and organised by the wonderful Jacque Wernimont of Scripps College in Claremont, California for March 14-15. Two other THATCamp Feminisms were held simultaneously in the south and east. I was invited over to do a workshop, and thought ‘data visualisation as a gateway to programming‘ would be useful – I prepared two exercises, one of which involved thinking about how to match visualisation types to the structure of the selected content in ManyEyes, while the other was more about learning about how code works by playing with a pre-coded (and heavily, chattily commented) working visualisation that used SIMILE’s JavaScript libraries – ‘view source’ and save the file to your hard drive to get started. It was a good chance to talk about the issues that messy humanities data create for generic visualisation tools, the risks in the ‘truthiness’ of visualisations, the importance of thinking critically about algorithms and issues around primary sources and women’s history, etc, with people who’d thought deeply about some of these issues and could make their own contributions to the workshop.
The day started with the #tooFEW Wikipedia editathon (storify of results), which gave everyone a chance to learn and try out something new before the THATCamp had even officially started. It was a nice way to ease into things and achieve something together before working out the THATCamp programme as a group.
Over the day and a half I went to sessions including Feminist digital pedagogy and Feminist Collaboration. After a week of further travel across the US and another conference, the sessions are blurring into one, but overall they were a great chance to think about what a feminist digital humanities might be like (see for example Transformative Digital Humanities projects or read Toward an Open Digital Humanities from an earlier THATCamp for things to move towards or be careful of), to ask questions like ‘what would a feminist Digging into Data look like?’, to ask ‘does it matter if feminist projects are made with people who don’t share their politics’? (Probably not, though academic work might be attractive to people who value work/life balance.)  What’s the right mix of openness and shared authority, how collaborative can a class be, and how can we help students fail safely in the cause of experimenting (especially when using public technologies like YouTube or Twitter)? It’s important to remember that, as Alex Juhasz said, feminism is about process (or praxis), doing and making things, which in turn made me realise that one reason I value teaching coding is that it gives people DIY tools to make things that suit their own research needs and styles (see ‘Why learning to code isn’t as important as learning to build something‘ but please also read Code: Craft and Culture and the comments below it). I also loved Alex’s statement that she’s ‘less interested in feminism that starts from danger than feminism that starts from agency’ and being fearless about taking up space.

The value of meeting in person was an underlying theme of the event, and eventually a conversation about Building a DH Regional Hub, and the difficulties in collaborating between institutions and organising in-person meetings with the huge geographic coverage of the Los Angeles area lead to the invention of Mindr: ‘Grindr for travelling DHers – who’s nearby and what do they want to chat about?’, or as @laurenfklein described it, a ‘geo-aware interface to DH Answers‘, an app that lets you know when someone with similar scholarly interests is nearby and might be up for a chat.  I would *love* this to actually happen, and who knows, if someone is able to shepherd the enthusiasm for it, it might.

Beyond the value in the discussion, just being surrounded by people who were digitally savvy and were also aware of the effects of implicit biases and tech-as-a-meritocracy, the role of disciplinary gatekeepers, assumptions about gendered work, emotional labour and the pressure to be ‘nice’ as well as the peculiarities of academia was brilliant. It was also a bit intimidating at first as I don’t feel hugely qualified to comment on feminist issues (it’s a long time since I’ve been caught up on theory and ‘feminism’ online has probably made it sound scarier than it really is) unless conversation moved to ‘women in tech’ issues or I could contribute observations on my experience of academia and workplaces in the UK. Perhaps that’s one reason I was encouraged by discussion about possible models of feminist scholarship and mentoring (including asking male allies for help) – I don’t have to figure this out on my own. That said, as Anne Cong-Huyen said:

‘At an event like this one, where we come together to address or at least share about gender and sexual equality in dh and the academy it leaves us to ask: Where does the burden of addressing that inequity fall? […] And how about those of us who are junior faculty, adjuncts, or graduate students (like myself) who have even less power within the academy?’

Or in Amanda Phillips’ words:

In this way, THATCamp Feminisms felt a bit different than other THATCamps I’ve attended. The infectious enthusiasm of DH was tempered here by the political, professional, and market realities that disproportionately affect marginalized communities.

I think it’s important that those realities are widely understood and shared, or some of the promise of the digital humanities will have failed to blossom. Creating space for those hard questions perhaps highlights how positive, supportive and constructive the environment at THATCamp Feminisms West was.  I don’t have a witty or concise conclusion, except to say that I met a bunch of amazing women and came away encouraged and inspired, and you should definitely go to a THATCamp Feminisms if you ever get a chance. Or run one yourself and see what happens. To quote Alex Juhasz again:

To me it is was less the DH, or even the digital, that made this conversation matter, but the feminist: because we shared values, the will and capacity to be critical as well as intellectual while being supportive and trying to distribute authority and voice around the room all the while working, quick.

Other posts:

(For the clarity, my personal definition of feminism is something like ‘working to create a world in which the choices available in your life aren’t determined by your gender’ – of course, ideally the same would be true for ethnicity, nationality or class, and they’re all inter-related, and they all work to create a better life for all genders. I shouldn’t have to offer a definition of feminism as ‘equality of opportunity’ but somehow the term has been twisted to mean all sorts of other things, so there you go.)

From Claremont I made my way back to LA, then over to DC, then Philly, catching up with or meeting various ace people before heading to Bryn Mawr for Women’s History in the Digital World, but I’ve run out of time and space so I’ll have to post about that later.

Links of interest – November 2009

I’ve fallen into the now-familiar trap of posting interesting links on twitter and neglecting my blog, but twitter is currently so transitory I figure it’s worth collecting the links for perusal at your leisure. Sometimes I’ll take advantage of the luxury of having more than 140 characters and add comments [in brackets].

  • ‘vision video’ for Project Natal – lots of UX challenges but the hardware and software sound amazing already http://procrastineering.blogspot.com/2009/06/project-natal.html [physical and gestural interfaces, spatial, facial recognition – all kinds of “we’re living in the future” stuff]
  • Museum website sharing… RT @LSpurdle: The project plan and final report for the Pre-Raphaelite project are here Pre-Raphaelite resource site
  • Thoughtful piece on twitter and nature of engagement at confs When Social Technologies Become AntiSocial (HT @jtrant) [part of an on-going debate about whether the ‘backchannel’ should be made public during conference presentations. My gut feeling is that it’s distracting, and as in this case, sometimes particularly unfair on the speaker. I do think twitter displays elsewhere in a conference work really well. The backchannel is so useful for all the social and peer connection stuff at conferences, but ultimately you’re in a session to listen to the speakers and most of us find concentrating on one thing for a long period of time difficult enough these days so might need all the help we can get.]
  • “Let’s make public speaking and public listening an art form.” spectacle at Web2.0 Expo… from my perspective (HT @zambonini) [danah boyd’s perspective on the event that triggered the above post]
  • No public back channel – ‘My vote would be to take the toy away from the kids until they can act old enough to use it.’ http://bit.ly/2GbzmH [public back channel again]
  • research gems: ‘it’s like a vicious circle, except it’s not that vicious, it’s just a circle’ http://is.gd/53noQ [just plain funny]
  • Brilliant for cultural heritage RT @givp RT @yunilee Unbelievable software turns average webcam into 3D scanner. http://tinyurl.com/ykpzc2e [not real time, I assume – but it could be brilliant for quick and dirty object digitisation]
  • RT @dannybirchall: What do you think of my new website? http://www.wellcomecollection.org/
  • Nice one! RT @richbs: Beautiful visualisation of V&A Collections from The Times on Saturday
  • Academic Journal Racket – ‘the IOP Physics package … is costing us an amount close to the annual salary of a lecturer.’
  • advertisers don’t get it. Using personal profiles for marketing messages destroys the value of the platform A Friend’s Tweet Could Be an Ad
  • V cool! RT @marialgilbert: Esquire magazine’s current issue includes augmented reality http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGwHQwgBzSI Consumer buys ‘key’ to content.
  • Aren’t museums already broadcasters, on the internet? Or does TV trump YouTube? “Museums and broadcasters must work together” [I do have a blind spot around the ‘museums as broadcasters’ idea – maybe I already take it as a given, or maybe it’s because I don’t have a TV? @NickPoole1 has been tweeting about it a bit, but I think I prefer ‘museums as platform’ to ‘museums as broadcasters’. Spaces for learning, discussion, reflection. Possibly related to Clay Shirky’s talk at the Smithsonian – ‘If you think of every artefact as a latent community, much of social values comes from convening platforms available for people to start sharing value in communities of practice. … If you think value is only things that you buy and manage and control… being a platform increases value for and the loyalty of the people who go there.’]
  • Blimey! RT @bus_tops: The Illustrated Man: How LED Tattoos Could Make Your Skin a Screen
  • Amazed by these stats ‘MSN Hotmail’s remained the most popular email service provider’ at 33%, Yahoo 14%, Gmail 6% [It really annoys me that Nomensa don’t link to the original source for their stories. They post great content, but it’s unusable without proper attribution]
  • Nice one! RT @museweb:Museums and the Web Copyright Form reworked as a non-exclusive license [related: “really enjoyed this post from @lisadempster http://tr.im/EPzH about her personal experience as author publishing with Creative Commons”]
  • This is ace, I love museum trails ‘Same-sex desire and gender identity‘ at the British Museum
  • Not sure about PDF but useful still RT @zambonini: Just discovered www.tweetdoc.org – an easy way of saving (PDF) twitter search results
  • BBC bows to SEO‘ – longer headlines on story pages, shorter on indexes for same stories
  • RT @coscultcom we’ve listened to your comments and changed our criteria – do one thing and do it well. More info at Cosmic Collections – do one thing and do it well
  • Fail! RT @bwyman: MS’s IE9 team blog post about standards and interoperability requires a silverlight install http://is.gd/4YjAP
  • RT @Wittylama: new blog: my recommendation to #GLAM for the #wikimedia collab. with highest return for lowest risk http://bit.ly/2FGKZT
  • interesting but terrifying ‘The future of entertainment: outside the box‘ vs ‘reasons why adults and teens use online networks‘ (and next slide)
  • thoughtful discussion of the post-release life and impact of a museum API http://bit.ly/2MPqEi from @brooklynmuseum
  • ace posts on visualising museum data http://tr.im/FbsD http://tr.im/FbsT (and built in reading list if you’re into infovis) on Museum Pipes [also on infographics, infovis: “infographics xkcd style http://xkcd.com/657/large/“]
  • RT @bathlander: You can now search all the public collections of the Smithsonian in one place! http://collections.si.edu 2.3 million records
  • I love this comic because a) it’s about coffee and b) it’s an ace infographic
  • NMI at Walker Art Center are my heroes ‘New Media kills in the Walker’s pumpkin carving contest’ http://bit.ly/1FGstB (HT @danielincandela)
  • EU says you must accept browser cookies?! http://is.gd/4SI4Y No way, urgh (HT @benosteen)
  • Hmm, wonder if I could hook online coll pages RT @lorcanD: Virtual International Authority File. Thom Hickey article. http://bit.ly/2HKf6X
  • RT @librarianbyday: If Your Patrons Continually Use Your Catalog the Wrong Way the Problem Isn’t Them http://bit.ly/R1eH (via @NancyProctor)
  • The ‘What is keeping women out of technology?’ article confuses ‘technology’ with ‘networking’ http://bit.ly/2hcLTz [The ‘phone, handbag’ thing is ridiculous – even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter why you don’t answer the phone, and I’m pretty sure we have some methods for asynchronous communication these days – ooh, like voicemail, email, direct message… It’s a shame the author doesn’t really get around to addressing his original question, except to say that he doesn’t want to hear any of the reasons commonly given. Why ask then?]
  • RT @gkob:funny how well @stefanomaz summarizes the triplification hype RT @sclopit: Data Smoke and Mirrors http://bit.ly/5fJv3
  • “this is my freaking HOUSE” – issues with ‘the gathering clouds of a location-based privacy storm’ http://tr.im/EvTX [and] social media makes your privacy leaky, because as careful as you are, even geek friends can be unsavvy about privacy and social media
  • RT @elyw: check out Museum Victoria’s new History & Technology collections online
  • Excellent insight into problems with large sites RT @bwyman: American Airlines fires UX designer for caring too much http://is.gd/4O6q2
  • I can’t believe this kid is only 16. ‘Digital Open Winners: Australian Teen Crafts “Sneaky” Games’ http://bit.ly/2FzBoz
  • no idea where this link came from so no HT but wow! AR with movable screen shows what church would look like un-destroyed http://tr.im/E4BM
  • A response to A N Wilson in the Mail ‘An uncertain scientist’s guide to taking risks’ http://tr.im/E4xP Also good on climate change action [earlier tweet: “Ha ha ha, hilarious article by A N Wilson about the trouble with scientists. http://bit.ly/3jCVUc HT @benosteen“]
  • such a simple but brilliant accessibility idea – magnifier application in Nokia phones for help with fine print http://is.gd/4McVg
  • Excellent post – IMA’s Rob Stein on benefits and challenges of transparency and museums http://is.gd/4McL8
  • ALA on websites for learners… they ‘need an environment that is narrative, interactive, and discoverable.’ http://bit.ly/2FfzSL
And stuff I really must find time to read properly:
Finally, a tweet about an interview with me about the Cosmic Collections competition.
I really should group those tweets and replace all the shortened links with the full URLs but it’s already taken a surprisingly long time to put this post together.

Ada Lovelace Day at the Science Museum

I’m really excited that we’ve managed to get some new pages and updated text about Ada Lovelace on the Science Museum website, and particularly that it’s in time for Ada Lovelace Day.  On a personal note, I’m thrilled because ‘women in technology’ has long been an issue close to my heart.  I think role models are important and I don’t know if you can get better than the woman often described as “the world’s first computer programmer”. 

It’s also exciting because it shows that with the right infrastructure, and institutional support, museums can move quickly (ish) and be responsive to current events.  It couldn’t have happened without the support of the curatorial and marketing departments.

The Computing gallery in the Science Museum has some great objects – Babbage’s Analytical Engine and the Difference Engine built by the Science Museum according to Babbage’s original specifications (and half ofBabbage’s brain in a jar).  There are also performances by the Ada Lovelace drama character on Tuesday, March 24, so pop in if you’re in London.

Speaking of Ada Lovelace Day, I’d better get my ALD09 blog post written tonight!  If you’re not sure who to write about I’ve posted about possible candidates under the label AdaLovelaceDay09.

‘The 50 Most Important Women in Science’

More inspiration for Ada Lovelace Day 2009 from Discover magazine’s 2002 list of The 50 Most Important Women in Science. Not everyone listed is directly involved with technology, but it’s worth checking them out anyway, because as the article points out, ‘[i]f just one of these women had gotten fed up and quit—as many do—the history of science would have been impoverished’:

Three percent of tenured professors of physics in this country are women. Nonetheless, a woman physicist stopped light in her lab at Harvard. Another woman runs the linear accelerator at Stanford. A woman discovered the first evidence for dark matter. A woman found the top quark. The list doesn’t stop there, but the point is clear.

Three years ago, Discover started a project to look into the question of how women fare in science. We knew there were large numbers of female researchers doing remarkable work, and we asked associate editor Kathy A. Svitil to talk to them. The result of her investigation is a selection of 50 of the most extraordinary women across all the sciences. Their achievements are detailed in the pages that follow.

To read their stories is to understand how important it is that the barriers facing women in science be broken down as quickly and entirely as possible. If just one of these women had gotten fed up and quit—as many do—the history of science would have been impoverished. Even the women who have stuck with it, even those who have succeeded spectacularly, still report that being a woman in this intensely male world is, at best, challenging and, at worst, downright disheartening.

It will take goodwill and hard work to make science a good choice for a woman, but it is an effort at which we cannot afford to fail. The next Einstein or the next Pasteur may be alive right now—and she might be thinking it’s not worth the hassle.

An easy candidate for Ada Lovelace Day – Barbara Liskov, winner of the 2008 Turing Award

How cool is she? ACM Turing Award Goes to Creator of Influential Innovations in Computer Software Design

NEW YORK, March 10, 2009 – ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery, has named Barbara Liskov of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) the winner of the 2008 ACM A.M. Turing Award.  The award cites Liskov for her foundational innovations to designing and building the pervasive computer system designs that power daily life.  Her achievements in programming language design have made software more reliable and easier to maintain.  They are now the basis of every important programming language since 1975, including Ada, C++, Java, and C#.  The Turing Award, widely considered the “Nobel Prize in Computing,” is named for the British mathematician Alan M. Turing.  The award carries a $250,000 prize, with financial support provided by Intel Corporation and Google Inc.

The first woman to be awarded a Ph.D. from a Computer Science department (in 1968 from Stanford University), Liskov revolutionized the programming field with groundbreaking research that underpins virtually every modern computer application for both consumers and businesses. Her contributions have led to fundamental changes in building the computer software programs that form the infrastructure of our information-based society. Her legacy has made software systems more accessible, reliable, and secure 24/7.

Looking for inspiration for Ada Lovelace Day?

The GetSETWomen Blog is a great source of inspiring women in technology to blog about for Ada Lovelace Day.

The UKRC‘s GetSETWomen network for women in science, engineering or technology (SET) site also includes an astronomy blog where a variety of women will post ‘a one-off entry about the role of astronomy and outer space in their lives’ for the International Year of Astronomy, and the 2008 Outstanding Women in SET: Photographic Exhibition is another good source. It’s a shame they haven’t listed the ‘outstanding women in SET’ for 2009 ahead of the launch of the exhibition but check back in mid-March.

[Updated to add:] The Global Women Inventors & Innovators Network(GWIIN) website might also throw up some leads, and the related British Female Inventor of the Year award site has some great stories about women inventors.

I’ve also been listing inspiring women at modernbluestocking.freebase.com, though as it’s a much broader project, not everyone listed works with technology.

If you’re not sure why female role models matter, these articles explain it well.

Berners-Lee attacks “stupid” male geek culture

The inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has called for an end to the “stupid” male geek culture that disregards the work of capable female engineers, and puts others off entering the profession.

Berners-Lee said a culture that avoided alienating women would attract more female programmers, which could lead to greater harmony of systems design. “If there were more women involved we could move towards interoperability. We have to change at every level,” he said.

Berners-Lee attacks “stupid” male geek culture

The UK as a knowledge-based economy

Rather off-topic, but I wonder what role cultural heritage organisations might have in a knowledge economy. I would imagine that libraries and archives are already leading in that regard, but also that skills currently regarded as belonging to the ‘digital humanities’ will become more common.

In less than three years time, more than half of UK GDP will be generated by people who create something from nothing, according to the 2007 Developing the Future (DtF) report launched today at the British Library.

The report, commissioned by Microsoft and co-sponsored by Intellect, the BCS and The City University, London, sets out the key challenges facing the UK as it evolves into a fully-fledged knowledge-based economy. The report also sets out a clear agenda for action to ensure the UK maintains its global competitiveness in the face of serious challenges.

The report identifies a number of significant challenges that the technology industry needs to address if these opportunities are to be grasped. Primarily, these are emerging markets and skills shortages:

  • At current rates of growth China will overtake the UK in five years in the knowledge economy sector.
  • The IT industry faces a potential skills shortage: The UK’s IT industry is growing at five to eight times the national growth average, and around 150,000 entrants to the IT workforce are required each year. But between 2001 and 2006 there was a drop of 43 per cent in the number of students taking A-levels in computing.
  • The IT industry is only 20 per cent female and currently only 17 per cent of those undertaking IT-related degree courses are women. In Scotland, only 15 per cent of the IT workforce is female.

BCS: Developing the future.

The report also suggests that the ‘IT industry should look to dramatically increase female recruitment’ – I won’t comment for now but it will be interesting to see how that issue develops.