Making Things and Drawing Boundaries, edited by Jentery Sayers
Citation: Rucker, Nathan. “Making Things and Drawing Boundaries, edited by Jentery Sayers.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 22, 2020. doi:10.20415/hyp/022.r05
Keywords:critical making, digital humanities, inclusivity, literacy, pedagogy.
Jentery Sayers, Ed. Making Things and Drawing Boundaries: Experiments in the Digital Humanities. U. Minnesota Press, 2017.
As a volume in the Debates in The Digital Humanities series, the essays in Making Things and Drawing Boundaries: Experiments in the Digital Humanities inspire readers to dive into projects (often with students or the community) and set aside the anxiety of expertise that rides along with imposter syndrome with many in academia. These essays help break down our preconceptions of expert versus enthusiast versus scholar since the book provides a greater sense of the possibilities within the field and the community of digital humanities workers. Taken as a whole, the collection argues for digital humanities scholars, researchers, and makers to think more about the field, often in new and more sophisticated ways. Given the growth and expansion within the field as well as the popularity of “maker culture,” Sayers’ volume hits at an incredibly valuable time and is a critical work in the Debates in Digital Humanities series.
Sayers’ book makes a case for the tinkerer, the player, or, the non-expert within the digital humanities. When it comes to technology, many folks approach it through a lens of inferiority. Making Things and Drawing Boundaries encourages those of us in the field who may be hesitant to remove the glass and start working, whether as scholars, as instructors, and as makers. While the term “maker” often carries with it both toxic and gendered connotations, the essays in this volume attempt to alter what a “maker” is to that of a much more inclusive understanding of the term. By expanding the term, the book seeks to include many who are and have been excluded--especially when it comes to matters of technology and its various social and cultural issues. As Sayers argues in his introduction, the book attempts to challenge the ways “remarks such as ‘getting under the hood’ or ‘knowing the nuts and bolts’ .... tend to fuse logic with mastery, control with masculinity, engineering with rationality, and programming with revealing” (3). The book applies this same view to the concepts behind digital making work to expand our ideas of engaging with technologies as well as our ideas of what is digital in digital humanities projects. Additionally, Sayers has incorporated brief, one-page “project snapshots” throughout his collection that showcase ways individuals are exploring questions in the field, such as Kari Kraus’s “bibliocircuitry” project where a student incorporated an Arduino board into the pages of a book to investigate the book’s future. The aim of the book is to use these varying perspectives to understand where researchers can reduce the boundaries sometimes created in digital humanities work.
Part I: Making and the Humanities
Consisting of six chapters, “Making and the Humanities” establishes a grounding ethos for the volume by looking into the ways we wall-off thinking activities from doing or making activities as well as how we separate creativity from scholarship and analysis. As Julie Thompson Klein addresses in her opening chapter, this boundary work that serves to “create, maintain, break down, and reformulate boundaries between knowledge units” often confuses our understanding of how digital humanities and (by extension) the work should be. This section offers some historical perspective on makers as well as gives a sense of how we can look at making as an act of scholarly inquiry that is built off of its literacy principles and how these processes inform one another.
These chapters support an overall theme of the book that blurs the lines a reader may have for digital humanities work. As an example within the humanities, scholars tend to value ideas as they appear in print as opposed to the ideas expressed in objects. By challenging the tradition of privileging paper in the humanities, this section supports the work of this volume: that of incorporating critical thinking into critical making. These works challenge the way many approach work in the humanities.
Part II: Made by Whom? For Whom?
Diverging essays in Part II question the roles and labor required of research assistants and librarians in the research university. Still, other works such as Sara Hendren’s piece makes a case for us to reframe our understanding of disability in technology by making the point that “all technology is assistive technology.” Instead of looking at designing for disability as a problem to solve, Hendren’s piece inspires us to use this process as a way to make things that challenge our perceptions. Overall, this section does well for the scholar interested in rethinking the roles we take up in the field and our work.
These nine chapters succeed in blurring the lines separating the scholar from the teacher or student while also discussing issues with class. The project snapshot by Garnet Hertz, “Made: Technology on Affluent Leisure Time,” offers a humorous, yet pointed critique of the “do-it-yourself” ethos in tech more broadly, and in maker culture specifically. The project, a sticker made to parody an issue of the famous Make Magazine, highlights the social class privilege that pervades those spaces since many without the means do not have the same access to work on the projects found in Make Magazine. The variety of takes on who makes and for whom these projects are made should give readers a starting point on how they might consider their practices.
Part III: Making as Inquiry
By focusing on the context in which makers create, these chapters will serve researchers and educators by addressing the complex thinking processes that go into critical making projects. This section acknowledges that reverse engineering a twentieth-century synthesizer with software does encourage significant interest on its own, as in Boeva’s and company’s chapter, but many of the essays in this section push farther to engage in the thinking processes these activities encourage. These pieces show that by encouraging researchers, teachers, and students to dive in and figure things out, the problem-solving that occurs can lead to deeper reflection. By not only looking at the product, but, for example, how the circuitry an old Nintendo Entertainment System can be manipulated to produce glitches in the software, scholars gain new ideas on how the maker, the hardware, and the software can affect one another.
Context is key as well in an essay on creating a digital archive related to representations of Japan and a chapter that re-contextualizes important literary spoken word events from the 60s and 70s at a Canadian university. These two projects showcase the importance of organization and curation when it comes to archival work as an argumentative act unto itself and the primary way that these collections derive meaning for other researchers and the public at large. By extension, these chapters and this section offer researchers connections they can use to inform the ideas for critical making projects they wish to pursue.
Part IV: Making Spaces and Interfaces
The collection of chapters that makes up Making Things and Drawing Boundaries’s fourth section often turn their attention to the varying perspectives in the community at large with which these projects interact. By covering feminist and queer feminist communities, as in chapters by Amy Burek, et al. and a chapter by Melissa Rogers, this section disrupts the normalized white cis male perspective on technology. In a related way, chapters on how researchers are augmenting physical spaces with virtual environments, embedding cultural as well as historical ideas in those spaces, encourage researchers, scholars, and readers to consider ways to disrupt the boundary between academia and community. All of these essays vary the perspectives that people often bring to technology and how technology affects community.
This section serves as a valuable resource in challenging these preconceived boundaries and this idea works itself throughout the volume. By looking at the different ways people are affected as well as the various ways people interact with this work, these chapters should generate and complicate many ideas and projects in the minds of readers.
Part V: Making, Justice, Ethics
If Sayers’ edited collection presents an argument that critiques the present and “normative assumptions and effects of popular maker cultures” (7), then the final part does not close the book on the matter, but instead offers new and engaging questions for scholars. These final three chapters extend the volume’s aim. A chapter by Debbie Chachra questions how many researchers conceive of the idea of making by confronting how we could see it traditionally while another chapter impresses upon the reader the need for reflection in the creation of these projects. Still, the final chapter by Erin R. Anderson and Trisha N. Campbell looks at the challenges in expanding the nature of ethics within critical making projects. These strengthen the discussion of the boundary work that lies ahead.
Making Things and Drawing Boundaries, edited by Jentery Sayers, represents a great, if not an unexpected marker in the span of Digital Humanities as a discipline, field, or practice. This book focuses on diving in and figuring it out along the way; therefore, it allows for those of us following digital humanities as a field a chance to consider our own ways of thinking, doing, and making in our own digital humanities work. As editor, Sayers has filled this collection with diverse ideas and writers to allow us to think more about the digital humanities field and how it continues to develop. The range of authors showcase the wide variety of ways in which digital humanists “make” in research, creative works, and community service. Additionally, the book looks at how these projects and our work make meaning for the various public, private, and community constituents involved.
- And this is where I have ruined the joke by explaining the joke.
- Yana Boeva, Devon Elliott, Edward Jones-Imhotep, Shezan Muhammedi, and William J. Turkel
- Amy Burek, Emily Alden Foster, Sarah Fox, and Daniela K. Rosner