A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend and chair a panel at the Migration Without Borders Conference here at Michigan State. I do not consider migration as a central theme of my work, nor I am particularly well versed in the historiography of migration beyond the books I read for my comp exams last year. I listened to papers on wide array of geographic areas, time periods, and disciplines. Often I find opportunities such as these types of conferences, in which I am exposed to scholarship quite different from my own, as a refreshing break from my work. I assumed this much needed interlude would be my major takeaway from this conference. Yet while listening to the panels, I found that many of the big ideas, questions, and themes resinated with my project and my growing interest in digital humanities. I was particularly intrigued to hear the panelists discuss the connections between movement and identity, which are two major themes of my work on women’s bicycling. It was interesting to see how migration scholars conceptualize physical movement, often across vast geographical spaces, as a fuel which shapes their subjects’ understanding of themselves and how they fit into the broader terrains of citizenship, family structures, and popular culture. Not surprisingly, the migration scholars at this conference were particularly attuned to the nusauces of these physical, cultural, and ideological movements in ways new to me as someone formally outside of this field of study.
Listening to these papers got me thinking about how to represent movement in digital projects. In my dissertation, I understand movement as an perpetual, embodied experience, and I have found a wealth of sources which indicate how women’s bicycling practices transformed their political and social identities as women, Americans, ‘moderns,’ and activists. Yet as I have been researching and planning my digital project on women in the bicycling industry, this project seems a bit more static. I am planning to create a map, or a digital atlas of sorts, in which the user can explore the variety of ways women were involved in the nineteenth-century bicycle industry throughout the United States. Yet, I have recently been considering ways to add movement into my project. Perhaps I could track women’s inventions to see the popularity and location of their use, or include information about the commutes of factory workers who rode their bicycles to work.
As a graduate student, it can be such a challenge to carve out time for academic activities not directly related to our own work. Yet my experience at the Migration Without Conference was a good reminder of the fresh perspectives gained via exposure to scholarship seemingly beyond the boundaries of our own work.