A Micro-History On Teaching, Organizing, and DH
What follows is a sort of micro-history: a narrative of how I came to be simultaneously involved in teaching, digital humanities, and community organizing. I am taking a personal narrative approach to this post because that’s just how I roll, but also because I find personal stories to be an especially useful way of highlighting the connectedness between seemingly disparate aspects of the academic profession. There is no shortage of definitions of the digital humanities from which I could draw, but in this post I am thinking of DH primarily as a discursive construct similar to how it has been described by Matthew Kirschenbaum. In other words, I do not identify myself as being within the purview of DH because of the kind of work I produce (digital/non-digital), but because my work is concerned with the ways in which digital technologies function discursively within systems of power, and how this relates both to social justice organizing and to the college writing classroom.
The first time my interests in political organizing seemed to literally overlap with my inquires into DH was when Occupy Wall Street (OWS) emerged in 2011. I was attracted to the ways in which OWS was using digital technologies, and how the velocity with which it was able to gain international attention seemed to be directly connected to its ability to garner support through social media platforms. I eventually became extremely critical of the relationship between OWS and its digital technologies, feeling that the rapidity with which OWS entered public consciousness actually exposed its lack of internal infrastructure, and that it should be remembered as an eccentric political moment instead of a long-term political or social movement. Soon thereafter, I received my most substantial community organizing experience through Southerners on New Ground (SONG), an LGBTQ organization focused on addressing issues of racial and economic justice across the South. It was at this time that I also began teaching college writing courses and was able to draw from facilitation experience with SONG to engage my students in conversations about the relationship between writing, race, sexuality, and gender.
Now that I have spent several years navigating simultaneous roles as teacher and organizer, I feel a particular kind of affinity to Paulo Freire’s commentary on teachers and social movements. Here is just one example from his conversation with Ira Shor in A Pedagogy for Liberation: “I think if it were possible for lots of teachers who work just inside school, following the schemes, the schedules, the reading lists, grading papers, to expose themselves to the greater dynamism, the greater mobility you find inside social movements, they could learn about another side of education not written in books” (39). I find this passage particularly valuable in that it recognizes the experience of participating in social movements as a unique form of political education that cannot be directly translated into written text. When we see protests in the media—whether social media or news media—they are often de-contextualized, appearing as reactionary incidents disconnected from their fuller significance as complex social phenomena that are part of a much larger and distinct form of collective knowledge building.
So I suppose I am where I am today because of the political potential wrapped up in teaching, organizing, and DH (as a discursive construction), the ways in which these seemingly disparate fields can be used to inform one another toward liberatory movement-building. Also, I am here because I have to eat, and the movement doesn’t always feed us like it wishes it could.