Are you a scholar of African American literature who does print culture studies, or are you a print culture scholar who examines African American literature? Are you a scholar of African American literature who does digital humanities, or are you a DH'er who considers race? Questions like those in fact carry considerable weight.
How you define yourself dictates the ways your work moves, and perhaps more importantly, those definitions determine the academic and professional neighborhoods, so to speak, where you reside. So far, there have been relatively few African Americans associated with DH at MLA. But, as we know, African American actively engage technology....just somewhere else beyond MLA.
Reading P. Gabrielle Foreman's recent article had me returning again to some of these questions about the identities of print culture scholars vs. scholars of African American literature. I get the sense that many scholars of African American literature (based on their publication records) start with black literary texts and authors and then go into print culture. I get the sense that many print culture scholars start in fields other than African American literature first.
When print culture scholars later arrive in the realm of African American literary studies, it can sometimes create tension, especially when and if those seemingly new arrivals organize African American projects that exclude large numbers of established (black) African American literary scholars.
I'm still working some of these ideas out, but it seems that the issue of neighborhoods and sites of origin are things we need to consider a little more when it comes to figuring out what's happening at the places where digital humanities, print culture, and African American literary studies converge.
• Notes on P. Gabrielle Foreman's "Riff, Call, and Response" Pt. 1
• Notes on P. Gabrielle Foreman's "Riff, Call, and Response" Pt. 2
• The Demographics of Literary fields (and sub-fields)
• From Maryemma Graham to more Af-Am Literary Field Notes