Designing for the Digital Humanities

Tara McPherson, a feminist film scholar trained in post-structuralist theory, discussed new platforms to digitally publish scholarly articles last Wednesday afternoon in Humanities Gateway 1010.

McPherson has been applying her humanities-based knowledge to  how new software systems can be used as a platform for scholarly articles. She described the accessibility of Vectors, a digital journal she has had a key role in developing as “scholarly publishing that’s as easy as blogging.” McPherson is an associate professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts.

Catherine Liu, director of the films & media studies department at the School of Humanities at UC Irvine, introduced the discussion.

“The School of Humanities has been standing at the edge of the pool and not been able to go in when it comes to humanities-based computer research,” Liu said. “I think that Tara’s work lies at the convergence of feminist theory, digital theory, critical theory and digital scholarship along with new media and design. She has created a new pathway disseminating for new scholars and new media.”

McPherson opened her presentation by quoting Allen Liu’s “Where is the Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?” and claimed, “Digital humanities are notably missing action on the cultural critical scene.” McPherson believed that digital humanities were born to repackage and resell the work in humanities almost as a type of “reaction formation.”

McPherson is the founding editor of Vectors,, a peer-reviewed journal affiliated with Open Humanities Press. During her presentation, she displayed multiple projects that have been launched on the site, such as “The Roaring Twenties” by Emily Thompson and Scott Mahoy, an interactive exploration of the historical soundscape of New York City complimented with the sound of bustling crowds and traffic and a historical maps from the 20s. McPherson explained that the purpose of these projects is to engage archival research into a thesis or critical analysis.

The multimedia journal offers an interactive experience bringing the academic experience to life. She joked that when she was studying feminist films, she didn’t actually watch them until several years later. With Vectors, those films and primary sources are at the reader’s disposal rather than having to remain as an abstract, vague example.

“I take seriously Gary Hall’s recent claim, that the ‘very goal of critical theory and computational analysis may be in fact incommensurable for at the very least their productive combination require far more time and care that has been devoted thus far,’” McPherson said. “I ask what it may be to design from the very conception that digital schools and conception that emerge from the concerns of digital theory in particular, vividness toward difference.”

McPherson went into detail about the transparencies of coding combined with the complexity of critical analysis and theory. She described digital platforms as “tools” that can be designed toward the scholar’s advantage.

Liu commented, “This is really important for us to connect to with, being one of the compelling basis that digital humanities facilitates new scholarship.”