#FridayDHSpotlight: Introduction to Digital Humanities

For this week’s #FridayDHSpotlight, we’d like to present a reflection by Sean Buchanan on his semester taking the Intro to Digital Humanities course taught at the Claremont Graduate University by our very own Assistant Director of DH@CC Aaron Hodges last fall.

Students in this class examined the impact of computational methods on humanities scholarship in both theoretical and practical ways. Students also experimented with digital publishing platforms to present their research. After exploring various publishing platforms, they engaged in discussion concerning whether or not specific platforms are appropriate for humanistic research.

Sean entered the class wary of digital humanities, but through the many conversations and discussions had in the class, he came to understand the benefits that digital methods can bring to the study of the humanities. Thanks for this thoughtful reflection, Sean!

I came into the course as an archivist, filled with skepticism. My limited knowledge of DH at that point pertained to the digitization of archival materials and methods of processing and describing born digital materials. When I left the course at the end of the term, my skepticism had considerably diminished. This is to say that the readings assigned for class discussion stirred useful conversations about the state of the humanities, the “crisis” in humanities, and pedagogy.

I was once wary of DH and its perceived takeover of the various disciplines, but I have come to realize through Aaron Hodges’ class that DH, among other things, is an excellent tool for teaching across all age groups. Particularly younger generations, who were born into a digital world, respond well to digital tools and methods of instruction. Thinking from the perspective of an archivist, who wants to advocate for their collection and promote engagement with primary sources, DH represents a valuable opportunity. If it were not for the class, I may have remained a skeptic.


Sean is finishing up his last semester at the Claremont Graduate University, after which he will have earned his M.A. in History and Archival Studies. For more information about the Introduction to Digital Humanities course at CGU, feel free to contact the DH@CC Team.

#FridayDHSpotlight: Poetry in a Digital Age

This week’s #FridayDHSpotlight highlights our very own Digital Research Studio Fellow, Stacey Park!

Stacey, a Ph.D. student in English at Claremont Graduate University, will be hosting this semester’s first DH Pop Up on Tuesday, February 25, 2020 from 3:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M in The Founders Room of The Claremont Colleges Library.Midst Journal logo

The workshop, entitled Poetry in a Digital Age will feature a talk and Q&A with Annelyse Gelman, founder and editor of Midst poetry—a digital journal publishing poems in the form of interactive timelapses that show the author’s writing process. Gelman will talk about the origins of Midst; the technology used for the journal and the developing app; and the responses of users and readers. Stacey will also lead a discussion that considers other related trends in DH, including instapoetry and products of electronic literature. What does poetry have to gain or lose in the digital age? Both offline and online, academic and non-academic discourse is divided about issues related to various iterations of poetry in the digital age. Join Stacey and others on Tuesday to share your thoughts on this provocative topic. And in the meantime, keep an eye on the Tufts Poetry Blog for Stacey’s post about this great topic!


#FridayDHSpotlight: Rampaging Waters by Char Miller

In today’s #FridayDHSpotlight, we welcome Char Miller, the W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at  Pomona College , who introduces us to his fascinating work uncovering otherwise hidden histories concerning the great 1921 flood that devastated San Antonio, Texas.

Screenshot from the Rampaging Waters Storymap.

Screenshot from the Rampaging Waters Storymap.


The keys were a clue that something was amiss.

Still inserted in the lock of the front door of Ben Corvo’s fruit market at 422 St. Mary’s Street, employees of the Hughes Auto Livery spotted them while in the process of clearing out their nearby shop in the horrific aftermath of the September 9-10, 1921 flood that tore apart San Antonio, Texas. More than 60 people died in the deluge.

The flood had begun on Friday evening with heavy rain lashing down over the San Antonio River watershed, and by 10 p.m. St. Mary’s Street had become a river. Within two hours raging waters were crashing through downtown and devastating portions of the west side neighborhood where the Corvo family lived. Some of the livery’s personnel, as they had headed home through the wind-whipped storm, stopped by the fruit market to check on Corvo. He asked that the men escort his son to safety, but indicated “he would remain in the store a few minutes longer in an attempt to save some of the property.”[1]

Those minutes cost Corvo his life. But his demise was not immediately known because the flood took out power and telecommunications for two days, and the city imposed a strict curfew that blocked access to the badly damaged downtown. It was not until the morning of Sunday, September 11th, that some of the livery staff workers returned to inspect the damage; as they swung past Corvo’s shop, they spied his keys.

Fearing the worst, the men sprang into action: “Hammering their way through the front of the building, rescuers attacked the wreckage…and after a search that continued into the middle of the afternoon the body was located beneath debris that filled the rear of the building.”[2]

Corvo was like many others who lost their lives in the worst flood in San Antonio’s history. Churning with street pavers, furniture, trees, and boulders, the flood undercut houses, buildings, and bridges and killed many who lay asleep in their beds. Others, who had managed to escape their battered dwellings, were sucked into the maelstrom. Corvo was not alone in being trapped by the debris’ pounding force.

As the floodwaters ebbed they left behind towering mounds of flotsam and jetsam, an urban moraine: “Here and there where driftwood is piled up in some places as high as twenty feet, are beer kegs, babies’ high chairs, victrolas, butchers’ meat blocks, bed steads,” the San Antonio Express observed. This “conglomerate mass of wreckage,” was mute testimony “that the elements when loosed from the gates of hell, are no respectors of persons, class or creed.”[3]

The San Antonio Express was not wrong that death is the great equalizer, but in this particular case those killed were overwhelming Hispanic-surnamed and lived in some of the city’s poorest, west side neighborhoods. This distressing reality is a critical focus of my new book on the 1921 flood that probes the enduring mark it left on the city’s built environment and political landscape and reveals how these deep social divisions were replicated and reinforced in San Antonio’s subsequent flood-control policies and politics.

These themes have gained visible expression as a result of a generous DH@CC grant that has underwritten work of a dynamic project team. Led by Claremont Graduate University student Sarah Osailan, it includes three Environmental Analysis majors: Katie Graham (Scripps’19), Anam Mehta (Pomona’21), and Natalie Quek (Scripps’19). In spring 2019 they drew on two key sets of data that offer an innovative and visual record of the immediate aftermath of the 1921 flood:

  1. Flood fatalities: local newspapers recorded the names and addresses of those who died in the flood and I developed a spreadsheet of this information so that the team could overlay this data via GIS on to a 1909 street map of San Antonio; another map that displayed the many creeks and rivers that cut through the then-largest city in Texas; and a third that the US Geological Survey published detailing how the floodwaters surged through the city. The resulting digital map—which locates who died where and includes any relevant mentions of the deceased in local newspapers—underscores the contention that these fatalities reflect the spatial injustices and economic disparities that plagued San Antonio across the twentieth century.
  2. Government documents:
    • The US Geological Survey produced a striking map of the flood shortly after the waters receded, and it details the consequences of this disaster to an urban landscape built into the floodplain of the San Antonio River.
    • The US Army’s data makes the same case by different means. Its airplanes, stationed at Kelly Air Field, were sent aloft to take photographs of the damage. These images, never before published, capture the 1921 flood’s impressive power as it battered the community and its assets, human and structural.
Screenshot from the Rampaging Waters Storymap.

Screenshot from the Rampaging Waters Storymap.

Digitizing this data also lays the foundation for analyzing how the city of San Antonio responded to this disaster, a set of reactions that would shape its environmental politics and policies for the next 50 years. Although all residents wanted floodwaters controlled, which would be tamed, and thus what portions of the community would be protected, would be decided in the political arena that Anglo commercial and business interests dominated. The elite successfully pressed for the construction of the Olmos Dam (1926) just north of the city, which ever since has defended the downtown business district. But they expressed no such concern for managing the San Pedro, Martínez, Apache, and Alazán Creeks that had been responsible for so many deaths in 1921. Those with power and privilege deliberately ignored the interlocking problems on the Latino west side that flowed from poor drainage, bad housing, and inadequate sanitation. These discriminatory downstream consequences, channeled along ethnic and class lines, continually resurfaced until the mid-1970s when a west side parish-based organization known as COPS (Communities Organized for Public Services) challenged Anglo domination of local politics, created a more representative city council, and brought much-needed flood control to oft-inundated neighborhoods. In doing so, COPS and its allies managed to resolve many of the key injustices that the 1921 flood had exposed.


[1] “Store Owner Found in River,” San Antonio Express, September 11, 1921, 2.

[2] San Antonio Express, September 11, 1921, 2.

[3] San Antonio Express, September 11, 1921, 4.

Char Miller is the W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis and History at Pomona College. His most recent books include San Antonio: A Tricentennial History, The Nature of Hope: Grassroots Organizing, Environmental Justice, and Political Change, and Not So Golden State: Sustainability vs. The California Dream. He is grateful to DH@CC for its support and the amazing team of researchers: Sarah Osailan, Katie Graham, Anam Mehta, and Natalie Quek.

#FridayDHSpotlight: Lions! by Hannah Lewis

Brullende Leeuw, de Staart in de Lucht by Marcus de Bye

Brullende Leeuw, de Staart in de Lucht by Marcus de Bye

Our #FridayDHSpotlight this weeks comes from Hannah Lewis. This fall, Hannah was taking Professor Victoria Lobis‘ course Rembrandt’s World: Invention and Exploration in the Seventeenth Century at Claremont McKenna College. In this course, students focused on Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, a Dutch painter, printmaker, and draughtsman; Hannah decided that for her final project she wanted to design a digital exhibition.

Hannah began exploring the depictions of animals in Dutch art and found the depictions of lions to be particularly interesting. Hannah’s exhibit explores themes of anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism and how these themes affected how people viewed animals. After collecting a fascinating gallery of both scientific and artistic depictions of lions, Hannah came to DH@CC to begin constructing her exhibit.

For my final project for my class on Rembrandt, I decided to create an art exhibition. I chose to create a digital exhibition because I wanted my show to be interactive. By using Omeka, which the DH@CC team helped me learn, I was able to create an exhibition online that my teacher and classmates could explore. They were able to see the pieces of art I picked out and their descriptions, but also the metadata that I uploaded about each file. The software was not hard to use after a few hours of messing with it, and I am very happy to share the finished product, Animals in Dutch Art, with you!

Hannah Lewis is a junior at Pitzer College and an Art History major. She hopes to study Urban Design/Architecture once she graduates and would like to be involved with planning cities in preparation for the future.

#FridayDHSpotlight: 3D Printing our Cultural Heritage by Ariane Lo

In today’s #FridayDHSpotlight, we welcome Pomona College Senior in Art History, Ariane Lo, who reflects on her research on the practicalities and ethical implications of 3D printing.

Failed attempt using transparent filament.

Failed attempt using transparent filament.

It is past midnight in the High-Performance Computing Laboratory at Pomona College and for the sixth time, I recalibrate an uncooperative 3D printer.  For the past semester, I have been trying to critically assess the use of new technologies, like 3D printing and Virtual Reality, in Art History.  Professor Patricia Blessing very kindly supported and supervised my foray into this intersection of art and technology in the form of an independent study; she met with me weekly to help make sense of every new confusing knot I would reach in my research.  By now, I should have printed 15% of a plastic version of the statue of King Uthal from the Mosul Museum in Iraq.  Instead, the failed attempts pile up in a little blue mound.  Artist Morehshin Allahyari created this 3D model of King Uthal as part of her Material Speculation: Isis (2015-2016) series, along with 11 other artefacts destroyed by ISIS.  Her haunting transparent statuette contains files stored on a USB thumb drive, like a time-capsule of sorts.  The transparent filament in our Lab demonstrably disliked slight changes in temperature, so our King Uthals are in festive blue and yellow.

Allahyari’s manifesto at the exhibition in Nantes.

Allahyari’s manifesto at the exhibition in Nantes.

I first encountered Allahyari’s work in April 2019, at an exhibition on utopias in a refurbished biscuit factory in Nantes, France.  I was stuck by the strange “3D Additivist Manifesto” she wrote with Daniel Rourke – it reads: “We declare that the world’s splendour has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of crap, kipple and detritus.”  The Material Speculation project falls under clause 5 sub-clause ii which calls for “technical methods for the copying and dissemination of artworks.”   The premises laid by this seemingly total embrace of 3D printing (as the rest of the confusing manifesto carries some somber undertones) unsettled me and stayed in my mind over the summer.  I work with 3D printing and Virtual Reality at the High-Performance Computing Lab on campus, so I know first-hand the excitement of printing and transforming an idea into a material object.  The HPC lab (now baptized InTheKnow Lab) provides a unique environment for students to explore parallel computing (which we define as anything requiring more than one computing unit) and thoughtfully examine the different tools they encounter.  Asya Shklyar, the director of HPC, guided my groggy self on Wednesday mornings to troubleshoot my project and keep me abreast of the latest devices employed in art institutions.  Two HPC members, Jan Charatan and Jude Iredell, also dedicated their time to help me.

The HPC Lab at Pomona College.

The HPC Lab at Pomona College.

I appreciate the use of new technologies to document artefacts, from Professor Andrew Tallon’s invaluable scans of the Notre-Dame Cathedral to the 360-degree tours on the website 3D Mekanlar (which I used to write a paper on mosques in the Ottoman Empire).  Yet, in those instances, technological innovations simply serve as sophisticated aids for documentation and a means to complement pre-existing tools, like photography.  Cultural institutions, like the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, frequently upload 3D object files onto online repositories like MyMiniFactory, Thingiverse or Sketchfab.  Passionate individuals like Geoffrey Marchal or Cosmo Wenman also made a great number of scans available on the Internet, and their followers actively print these models and share their results on forums.  But what happens when we print these 3D models for an art historical purpose?  Do they bring forth a new and enlightening perspective on their originals?

The final printed figure.

The final printed figure.

Blue pile of King Uthals.

Blue pile of King Uthals.

When I returned to the lab the next morning, a sepulchral figure had emerged from the printing plate.  Past the initial elation of successfully participating in part of Allahyari’s artistic project, I considered the practical applications of my print and struggled to see how they could enrich my understanding the original artefact.  Museum websites often promote the possibility for visitors to touch 3D printed replicas of artworks, but the blue plastic in my hand just felt like plastic.  Further, it was only a fraction of the size of the actual statue in Iraq.  My miniature King Uthal sadly did not shed light on some unprecedented aspect of the destroyed original, but it did confirm my decision to narrow my research to two fields: haptics (touch) and scale.  In other words, I was having a hard time determining how 3D printing could inform us about the touch, texture, and size of historical artefacts.  For the sake of time-management and after experiencing a dozen dizzying Virtual Reality museum tours, I concentrated my efforts on 3D printing and set the parameters of my project to a more basic and affordable printer, like the lab’s trusty Snapmaker.  We did not own a million dollar printer that could print a mammoth tusk in one-go, nor was it efficient for me to slice a cathedral or an Assyrian Lamassu into multiple sections and spend a whole year printing them: so how could a college student use 3D printing in Art History?

Jan monitoring a rook in the polisher.

Jan monitoring a rook in the polisher.

While I agonized over this problem, I read about scales and haptics.  In The Making of Measure and the Promise of Sameness (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019), Emanuele Lugli recounts the introduction of universal standards of measure in medieval Italy (I enjoyed this book greatly).  Our modern-day conception of measures finds its origin in a deeply political process of centralizing state power and measurement systems.  Prior to the establishment of the meter, people did not measure but approximated the size of things – this speaks to conceptions of universality, fairness and accuracy in the West.  Does 3D printing enforce or slowly corrupt our understanding of the size of art objects?  I am still mulling over this book, but there are some potential, and perhaps interestingly misleading, connections to be drawn between pre-metric Italy and the “democratisation” of artworks through 3D printing.  Regarding haptics, David Parisi’s Archaeologies of Touch (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2018) served as my introduction to the field and its long unfulfilled promise of touch in virtual reality.  Museums promoting 3D printing also deal with imperfect forms of haptics, as they privilege the form rather than the feel of objects.  In the British Museum, some stands invite visitors to touch “less valuable” artefacts, like a garum (fish sauce) saucer or a shard of ceramic inscribed with imitation-Arabic.  While I work on assembling a mysterious haptics package from the lab next semester, I will be contacting researchers at Stanford University (who participated in a Scripps College exhibition) and the Interact lab at the University of Sussex about their work in haptics.

One article, entitled “A Conversation on Digital Art History” and published in Debates in the Digital Humanities 2019, was critical in distinguishing the diverging opinions in my mind.  I found myself swayed by either side of a heated email exchange between two art historians, Johanna Drucker and Claire Bishop, who simply could not agree on the value and potential of digital humanities (DH) in their field.  Although their discussion concerned DH in general, Bishop echoed my doubts on 3D printing being a “[tool] for the possibility of analyzing something at some specified point in the future – rather than exciting/polemical interpretive proposals in their own right” (325) but I found myself incensed by Drucker’s point: “You can resist digital work by saying that it has no intellectual excitement, or you can do the work of understanding its intellectual contribution” (326).  I decided to find a more suited artefact to 3D print and try my hand at 3D scanning.  For the former, I settled on printing a full set of Lewis Chessmen, a group of 12th century walrus ivory chess pieces found in Scotland.  Conscious of the capabilities of our lab printer, I wanted to study something beyond the feel of an object’s surface.  The haptic dimension of these chess pieces transcends the feel of ivory to include the way they fit in a player’s hand – their 3D replicas would allow someone to revive the ludic element of these artefacts now on display in museums.  Further, we would be able to match their dimensions to those made public in museum collections online.  So far, the rooks Jan and I have printed look promising.  We used a special type of filament which we then smoothed with alcohol mist in the Polysher machine at the lab.

An attempt at 3D scanning.

An attempt at 3D scanning.

The Williamson Gallery Reserve.

The Williamson Gallery Reserve, currently being reorganized.

My second ambition is to scan and print an art object from a museum on campus and draw a more educated comparison of the two.  Mr. Kirk Delman at the Williamson Gallery was incredibly patient in showing me the museum reserve and the different objects available for scanning.  As my attempt to 3D scan using the Occipital Structure Sensor went awry (I see people scanning human faces in detail so I will try again with better lighting), I will move on to acquire some photogrammetry (photographs and adjusted measurements) skills with the help of another HPC team member, Ino Tsichrintzi.

My work this semester served as a preliminary hands-on exploration of the difficulties in apprehending scale and haptics in the 3D printing of artefacts.  While perhaps unglamorous and at times frustratingly slow, my research helped me frame key considerations that I will develop as these technologies grow increasingly sophisticated.  Learning about the current technical difficulties in reproducing the touch and size of objects in a college lab, and my apprehension in valuing my first plastic King Uthal, led me to reevaluate my ways of understanding art.  After a restful winter break, I anticipate another brain-scrapping dive into problems of originality – after I finish printing my chess set and learn to properly operate the 3D scanner.

Born and raised in Singapore, Ariane is Franco-Taiwanese and studies Art History and Politics at Pomona College.  She joined the High-Performance Computing Lab in 2018, and has since led team projects exploring the intersections of art and technology

#FridayDHSpotlight: The Research Studio Series Round Up by Trevor Anthony

In today’s #FridayDHSpotlight, Trevor Anthony, a first year graduate student at the Claremont Graduate University, reviews the inaugural semester of the Research Studio Series.

Digital Tool Shed, The Claremont Colleges Library

Sipping coffee from my DH@CC cup, I take the opportunity to re-cap the Fall 2019 Research Studio Series, following my first semester at CGU. This series proved a valuable way for a newbie to acclimate to the Claremont scene. Kudos to Jeanine Finn, Leigh Lieberman and Aaron Hodges for organizing the series and the presenters who demonstrated the vibrant life of the Digital Humanities at The Claremont Colleges:

Mark Buchholz from The Claremont Colleges Library kicked things off with “A Primer on Digitization Programs,” featuring the case study of the archive of that noted (and perpetually frustrated) celebrity predator, Wile E. Coyote. The digitization of archives, a “bedrock” manifestation of DH, represents the democratization of information – a boon to scholars as well as society-at-large. As Mark described, there is a great deal of art as well as science involved in digitizing an archive.

The advent of digital tools in scholarly practices represents a rather literal side of DH. Leigh Lieberman presented a test-drive of the Zotero open-source reference management software. Zotero allows the writer to create references and bibliographies for any text editor and integrates directly with Microsoft Word as well as JSTOR. (My 2020 resolutions include getting up-to-speed on this cool tool!) And for those interested in an alternative to the “traditional” Mac or Windows OS, Joseph OsborneAI researcher at Pomona College, provoked with “Reclaiming Personal Computing – or Your Life in Plain Text,” showcasing open-source GNU Emacs. Technically a text editor, I understood Emacs to be a much more expansive platform, offering the ability to manage one’s computing experience in a single, highly customizable environment. If you crave customization (and possess the heart-of-a-hacker), then Emacs is for you!

The Scalar publishing platform, offering an alternative to the traditional, linear academic “paper” format, is especially useful for integrating media into one’s work. T. Kim-Trang Tran from Scripps College shared some of her Scalar work, including an ongoing, collaborative class-based project. While Scalar integrates with YouTube quite well, she highlighted Creative Commons as an alternative for those who prefer to host our own media files. This fair use /public media archive is intended to support the reuse of media in scholarly and creative contexts.

If DH thought-leaders like Jerome McGann are to be taken at their word, our future as humanists may require that we build up some coding chops. And for those tempted by the siren song of DH to get their hands “dirty” with programming, Jeanine Finn led the Python working group. We began our travels in Python with the Anaconda programming environment, and she recommended Coursera’s University of Michigan 4-part “crash course” as a good way to get our feet wet.

The Reading Group session on September 27 delved into the complex question of labor – student and otherwise – in the DH sphere, for example, with “Student Labour and Training in Digital Humanities.” Asya Shklyar, the Director of High Performance Computing at Pomona College, shared her thoughts on staffing of projects. Given the multi-disciplinary, team-based character of DH projects, staffing considerations will demand more attention as DH projects become more pervasive.

In Debates in the Digital Humanities 2019, James Coltrain and Stephen Ramsay promote video games as vehicles for humanities scholarship. Recent Pomona graduate Gerard Bentley demonstrated this in sharing his project, “Tagging and Understanding Video Game Affordances,” suggesting that video game learning techniques and AI represent undiscovered country for DH.

As you can see, a variety of inspiring presentations! Thanks to all who shared their work and thoughts. I am looking forward to DH@CC in 2020. Onward!

Trevor Anthony is a first-year student at CGU, pursuing a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies with a Media Studies concentration. He has over 15 years of experience in media development and production; he is a graduate of Duke University and the Yale School of Drama.
Stay tuned for more information early next week about the Spring 2020 Research Studio Series, when we share our schedule for the whole semester. In the meantime, join us for our first session, next Thursday, January 30th from 2:00 P.M. – 3:30 P.M. in The Research Studio: Unmaking/Remaking Memory Work: Building a Community-centered Digital Archive. In the last decade, new community-centered digital archiving initiatives have grown immensely in recognition that traditionally ignored communities should have a role in how their histories get told. In this workshop, CGU M.F.A. student and founder of @latinx_diaspora_archives, William Camargo, and CGU Ph.D. student and co-founder of the Latinx digital archiving collective ImaginX en Movimiento (IXeM), Marisa Hicks-Alcaraz, will share their experiences building community-oriented digital archives. With the tools and strategies outlined in this workshop, we hope attendees will leave with new ideas for implementing community-engaged and justice-based recuperation methods in their own research and teaching.

#FridayDHSpotlight: The Claremont Activism Archive

In today’s #FridayDHSpotlight, we highlight a summer project by Lizzy Carleton, Scripps College ’21, advised by Associate Professor of Music Anne Harley.



Taking Root: Developing the Black Studies Center at the Claremont Colleges (1969-1979) highlights the foundation of the Black Studies Center and the Mexican-American Studies Center at The Claremont Colleges. Lizzy created this project during the summer of 2019 thanks to generous funding by the Hearst Summer Fellowship Award. Her project grew out of her participation contributing to the exhibit Seeds of Change: Defining Black Space at the Claremont Colleges 1968-70, a part of The Claremont Activism Archive.  In Lizzy’s exhibit, you will find an oral history interview with Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, Pomona College class of 1969 alumna and current Pomona  trustee, selections from her personal archives, and newly digitized resources from Special Collections at The Claremont Colleges Library.

Black Studies Center, “Black Studies, Black Students, Black Admission: The Claremont Colleges,” Claremont Colleges Activism Archive, accessed December 13, 2019,

Black Studies Center, “Black Studies, Black Students, Black Admission: The Claremont Colleges,” Claremont Colleges Activism Archive, accessed December 13, 2019,

#FridayDHSpotlight: Playing it Queer by Natasha Vhugen

Students from across the consortium are usually introduced to digital humanities in the context of class assignments, but we’re always eager to support independent projects by students who want to experiment with digital techniques and public facing platforms in their own research. In today’s #FridayDHSpotlight, Natasha Vhugen, Scripps College ’21, reflects on her experience doing just that this past summer on a project advised by Associate Professor of Music Anne Harley.



I spent this past summer creating Playing it Queer, a Digital Humanities Archive (DHA) comprised of interviews with artists across a wide variety of mediums and specialties that identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I worked to document their stories and create a collective memory of the incredibly important work these artists have been doing and to serve as a living, growing documentation and representation of the wide range of queer identities and forms of expression in art.


Playing It Queer Screenshot

Playing It Queer Screenshot


The aim of the project was to create a DHA that would exist as a resource for those interested to be able to see the work being done by these artists. DHAs are a relatively new form of archiving, working to keep digital records of important projects within the humanities. The Claremont Colleges Library has an ever-growing DHA of our own, serving as a home for information collected and projects done by students who wanted to explore, among other things, the histories of various communities and create ethnographies to honor the work being done. My project will be archived alongside the others, serving as a resource for anyone who wants to see the important work being done by these artists and explore the endless possibilities for queer expression and normalization in art.


Doing this project was a very illuminating and educational experience for me. Growing up in Seattle, I was involved in the art world from a young age simply by virtue of it being all around me in a creative and arts-focused city. I also grew up very aware of queerness and that it should be celebrated, as Seattle has always been an LGBTQ+ friendly place. Identity, especially identity that is difficult to navigate and often marks people as “other,” was something I was taught to be aware of and openminded towards. When I grew older and began to identify as queer myself, I began to feel more connected to queer people throughout history and in the world now, and I knew I wanted to pay homage to the work being done to normalize queerness and to make this world a more tolerant and respectful place.


This project was incredible for me. Almost every artist I spoke with was so enthusiastic and excited about sharing their experience, and I felt honored to be able to capture it for them. There is such a wide range of experiences that queer people experience, but what I discovered is that the members of the community have such great respect for other queer people they meet, even if they have nothing in common. There is a long history of strength and love within the queer community, and that history is being communicated through the art done by these artists.


I hope to see Playing it Queer continue in the future. As the summer was winding down, I had to tell some artists that had reached out to me that I could not speak with them, as I did not have the time to do their stories justice. I am hoping to be able to sit down with them in the future and grow this archive to the best of my abilities. I am also interested in making some sort of zine or other small creative publication that can showcase the visuals I received from some artists alongside quotes from their interviews that really stood out. I want Playing it Queer to serve as a powerful representation of the work these artists are doing, and to show anyone who sees it that queerness is a thing to be celebrated and communicated to the world through any and all creative means.



For more information about Playing it Queer, please contact the DH@CC Team.

We’re Launching a New Series! — #FridayDHSpotlight

We’re launching at new series! We members of the DH@CC team spend a lot of our time preparing for classes, collaborating on exciting digital research programs, and planning events for the Claremont community. In our new #FridayDHSpotlight series, we hope to share reflections on a wide range of topics: projects, classes, and events that we’re proud to have sponsored; methodological questions that we’re grappling with in our meetings; new tools that we’re experimenting with during our office hours.

To kick off the series, we share a piece by Abigail Beck, an M.A. student in the Department History at The Claremont Graduate University, who participated in the screening of and public seminar about the haunting and timely documentary by Tim Slade, The Destruction of Memory.

A Reflection on The Destruction of Memory

by Abigail Beck

The film screening and discussion earlier this semester of Tim Slade’s The Destruction of Memory (2006) with students from Dr. Patricia Blessing’s Pomona ID1 class, Archaeology: Fact and Fiction, covered timely topics such as cultural eradication and genocide spanning from WWI and WWII to contemporary conflicts raging in the Middle East and North Africa. As a discussant of the student panel, I engaged with students about how technology has preserved historical artifacts and landmarks or sped up the dismantling of such sites; of how targeting heritage sites and urban centers can be used to demoralize victim groups; and lastly about the structural elements and critique of Tim Slade’s film.

Part of The Claremont Colleges Library Discourse Series, the discussion was dedicated to the late Stu McConnell, professor emeritus of history at Pitzer College. His research focused on the Civil War and memory, which tied into questions from the audience regarding the controversial debates in the United States regarding the removal of Confederate monuments. Overall, the event held in the Collaborative Commons in The Claremont Colleges Library was filled with stimulating conversation about the significance of cultural erasure and destruction, which according to Raphael Lemkin, the father of genocide-studies, always precedes physical and biological genocide.

These events were made possible through the generous sponsorship of DH@CC, The Claremont Colleges Library, the Department of Art History at Pomona, and the Department of History at The Claremont Graduate University. If you were unable to attend the event but would still like to watch the film, members of the Claremont community may now stream it through The Claremont Colleges Library website.

Abigail Beck is an M.A. student in the History Department at The Claremont Graduate University.

© 2020 Digital Humanities at The Claremont Colleges.
Unless otherwise indicated, all materials licensed by the CC 4.0 BY-NC License.

DH@CC has been made possible through a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.