My name is Rachael, but online I go by @zenparty. The name that I use in digital spaces is as important to me as the one that’s on my driver’s license. Check out my blog post at for more information about my online identity.

Here’s a quick and dirty introduction:

A picture of Rachael Hodder's face

Greetings, Earthlings.

In my MA studies as a rhetoric student thus far, I’ve focused on building technical skills in web development and a theoretical foundation for how to do ethical, user-centered work. I place a high value on the ability to produce work that is accessible and useful to its intended users and stakeholders. At the core of my philosophy for composition and design is user advocacy, open access, and beauty in simplicity. Previously, I earned my BA from MSU in American Studies where I focused on postcolonial histories and cultural studies. Although I am now a rhetoric student, I have a very keen interest in ethical histories and representations of cultural entities. That said, I believe my deadly combination of training in rhetorical analysis and processes, an orientation toward cultural studies, and an ever-expanding technical skillset create incredible possibilities for me to do some awesome work in the field of cultural heritage informatics.

As a veteran participant of the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool at MSU, I have some experience with CHI, but I look forward to digging in more as a fellow this year. I hope to use the CHI fellowship as an opportunity to practice cultural heritage informatics through not only engaged research and dialogue, but also by building something that’s really flippin’ cool (!).

Got more time? Here’s a little more depth:

I’m a Master’s student in Digital Rhetoric and Professional Writing at Michigan State University. This means that I apply a rhetorical analytic framework to studies of language, writing, and culture; I examine systems, structures, genres, and utilities that constrain and facilitate meaning-making practices, especially those taking place in digital spaces. In particular, I’m interested with usability and user experience studies, discursive performance in digital spaces, digital literacies, and the implementation of mobile devices as teaching and learning tools. In plain English, this means that I research how people interact with digital interfaces; use of typographic symbols, memes, and in online communication; what it means to “use” the Internet and how to teach it; and how tablets and smartphones can be used in edifying settings such as museums or university writing centers. By trade, I am a user experience researcher, information architect, and web developer.

On a broad level, I’m concerned with the logistical challenges that we, as a society, face as processes of representation, storage, and knowledge-making become increasingly digital. Cultural heritage organizations – museums in particular – are on the front-lines of this challenge. On one hand, they recognize the possibilities that digital spaces and tools have to share, preserve, and access knowledge. On the other hand, because the technology is always new and constantly evolving, there seems to be some ambiguity over how to pursue large-scale digitization. The Smithsonian has taken steps to strategize for all of their affiliated organizations in their 2010 Digitization Strategic Plan, but the path to digitization, even in our digitally oriented society, remains mired with questions of who, what, when, where, and how that don’t have easy answers.

  • Who will digitize artifacts and data?
  • What will be digitized?
  • When, or under what timeline, will digitization take place?
  • Where should responsibility for digitization lie within the organization?
  • How can organizations maintain digital archives and collection?

In effect, cultural heritage organizations are faced with questions related to content management and system design that are extremely compelling to me as a rhetorician engaged in the field of web development and professional writing. I look forward to engaging these areas of inquiry as a CHI fellow.

Another area of inquiry that interests me is how cultural heritage institutions can leverage mobile platforms to better reach audiences in and outside the confines of the brick-and-mortar museum. Not only is there a possibility to reach more people, but museums can use mobile platforms to create more meaning and context around heritage objects with locative technology and applications. This is a topic that I explored with great depth in the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool at MSU last summer. For my reflections on mobile and locative technologies in the context of cultural heritage, see the CHI fieldschool blog.

When I’m not nerding out over rhetoric, usability, and cultural heritage, I am a writing consultant at the MSU Writing Center and an advocate for interdisciplinary collaboration at the Creativity Exploratory at CAL. In my spare time, I like to overanalyze everything pop culture, shop for office supplies, and enjoy a weekly dose of hops and hyperbole at #beerrhetorics East Lansing.

In the not-so-far-away future, I plan to blog about digitization and the implications that such a project has for cultural heritage organizations; the value of coding websites and other digital literacies for humanists; and ideas for my fellowship project. I look forward to the dialogue that I will carry out with the other CHI fellows and YOU through this blog over the course of the year.

To get inside my head on a daily basis, follow me on Twitter @zenparty. I’d love to meet people from all over who are doing digital work in cultural heritage or digital humanities, so please introduce yourself!