Guest Editing at Digital Humanities Now: Some Thoughts on Labor

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 During my week as an Editor-at-Large for Digital Humanities Now, I thought a lot about curation, and the human processes taking place behind the scenes in digital work. We’ve discussed in class the way that technologies can make certain labor invisible, and part of what was so interesting to me about participating in DHNow was the way in which volunteers are situated such that their own individual labor is visible to them, while that of others (most immediately, the site’s Editors-in-Chief and other volunteers) remains somewhat obscured. DigitalHumanitiesNow gave all the week’s volunteers a nice shout-out on Twitter, but otherwise it was not immediately obvious who else was out there, monitoring the same feed I was, reading the same articles. For a collaborate endeavor, it felt surprisingly solitary.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 I also thought about the way that DHNow’s model highlights the importance of a human touch (that is, human labor) in a content-aggregation process, something we have talked about mainly, though not only, with respect to big data. Broadly, the model is as follows: human builds/implements data-gathering machine, machine aggregates data, human parses amassed content for data relevant to the human-chosen purpose of the endeavor. One of the first things I noticed during the editing process was the large amount of material the aggregator (I may not be using the right terminology here) picks up that is not very suitable for publication on the site. This is not to say that it is terrible at scooping up DH-relevant content (after all, the EICs have chosen what feeds to subscribe to), but PressForward can’t tell the difference between a job post and a substantive article and something very cool but not DH-related enough to merit publication on the site (my favorites in this category included a video of “Hamilton” performed in ASL and a time lapse video of books being re-shelved in the recently reopened Rose Reading Room at NYPL). For this task, we still need people.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 And yet… the thing I could not stop thinking about this week was the mechanical nature of the nomination process itself. DHNow adds an additional layer to the three-part process I described above by sandwiching volunteer Editors-at-Large between the Computer Aggregates and Human Parses steps to create another, smaller set of aggregated material from which the Editors-in-Chief select posts to include on the site. And from what I can tell, part of what goes into making those selections is the total number of guest editors who have nominated a given item, i.e. value is imparted not by individual recommendation but by consensus of the collective. So picture this: week after week, dozens of DHers, disconnected from one another and physically remote, wade through an endless stream of content, reading and clicking, reading and clicking, reading and clicking, until their week is done and they are replaced by a fresh set of clicker-readers. I’m kidding—guest editing is nothing like an episode of Black Mirror—but it is something I will be thinking about, right after I get back from re-visiting this classic tale of humans, machines, and labor.

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Source: https://dhpraxisfall16.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2016/10/31/guest-editing-at-digital-humanities-now-some-thoughts-on-labor/

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