Hello DH Friends and welcome back!

This is the second blog of our spring semester series, in which we will be visiting prominent members of SDSU’s Digital Humanities community and asking them a few questions about their relationship to DH and how they see the Digital Humanities evolving in the future. 

Today’s interview is with Dr. Pam Lach, Digital Humanities librarian, director of the Digital Humanities Center, and co-director of the Digital Humanities Initiative here at SDSU. Dr. Lach has just recently published a piece on ensuring equitable working relationships between librarians and faculty–check it out here!

Be sure to follow along this semester as we meet with other DH scholars to hear what insights they have to offer! In case you missed it, you can check out our interview with Dr. Jessica Pressman here.

Click below to hear the whole thing, or scroll down for the full transcript. Minor edits have been applied for clarity.

Interview with SDSU DHI Co-Director, Dr. Pam Lach.

Jared Zeiders: [00:00:00] Hello DH friends. Welcome back to part two of our spring blog series. My name is Jared Zeiders and I am the program’s assistant for the Digital Humanities Initiative here at San Diego State University. Today I am here with Dr. Pam Lach, Digital Humanities Librarian, director of the Digital Humanities Center, and one of our current Co-Directors of the Digital Humanities Initiative.

Good morning, Dr. Lach. How are you doing today? 

Dr. Pam Lach: [00:00:25] I’m great. Thanks for having me here. 

Jared Zeiders: [00:00:27] Oh, that’s great to hear. Now I have just a couple of questions I’d like to ask you as the co-director of the Digital Humanities Initiative, you’re positioned at the crux of everything DH on our campus, and so we thought your input would be a huge asset for our ongoing blog series.

So Dr. Lach, what would you say is your working definition of Digital Humanities? How would you define it for someone who had only encountered it and in, say. writing? 

Dr. Pam Lach: [00:00:53] That’s a great question, and it’s kind of a tricky question because digital humanists themselves can’t agree on a singular definition.

I’ve thought a lot about the challenges of defining something as interdisciplinary as Digital Humanities, because the act of defining it becomes an act of exclusion. So you draw a boundary around something, this is in that’s out, and I don’t feel comfortable doing that. But that being said, I really like the DH Initiative’s definition of digital humanities, which is  the study of digital technologies, the use of computational approaches and the study of the Humanities and contemplating and studying the often uneven and frequently negative impact of digital technologies on society. I’m trained as a historian and I’m also interested in the transformative capacity of Digital Humanities. Thinking about transforming how we do our work, what we work with, why we do it, and most importantly, who gets to do it.

So really, I see DH as a potential for democracy, democratizing knowledge production. 

Jared Zeiders: [00:02:03] Wow. That’s an excellent definition there and tidbit for us. So we really appreciate that. How would you say that you see your work as being in conversation with global diversity issues. 

Dr. Pam Lach: [00:02:16] Well, I’m really particularly interested in engaging in Digital Humanities that picks up questions of equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice and our broad theme of digital humanities and global diversity here in our initiative really enables that. Digital Humanities projects in particularly in recent years are  focusing on de-colonial and anti-colonial efforts to use the technology to raise awareness about inequities to help with repatriation of cultural heritage and to bring cultural heritage back into the communities that created the objects. So it’s really, really powerful for that. We can also look at Digital Humanities  as an act of recovery for voices that had been silenced over the years and in our past. And so there’s a lot of really interesting work that I think we can be engaging in to address inequities. So the “Torn Apart/ Seperados” project  that tracks the detention of refugees and migrants into this country is a really great example of the intersection of digital humanities, equity, diversity inclusion, and social justice. 

Jared Zeiders: [00:03:32] Wow. Okay, great. Thank you for that response.

And in your opinion, what does the future of the digital humanities field look like? How do you see it evolving, changing, or keeping up? 

Dr. Pam Lach: [00:03:44] That’s a really wonderful question. And it’s a tricky one as well because, digital humanists can’t even agree on what it is. Is it a field? Is it a study? Is it a methodology? Is it an interdisciplinary community of people doing very different, but things that kind of overlap and like a Venn diagram? 

I’m particularly interested in digital humanities that pushes those questions of equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice. So some of the things I’m really keeping an eye on are things like the critical code studies program coming out of the university of Southern California and sort of critical, what I call critical algorithmic studies.

So the work of people like Safiya Noble at UCLA to question and try to make visible the algorithms that run our lives. She particularly focuses on Google, but also the ways that the ever increasing reliance on things like predictive analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence that, the work that’s  being done to help folks understand what’s happening and that humans are making that code, that drives those algorithms and humans have bias.

And so they’re baking those biases in. So this blind faith or reliance in algorithms is really dangerous. And so there’s a lot of really interesting work in the Digital Humanities and in other disciplines too, to really expose that to create sort of a critical algorithmic literacy in the population.

And I think that’s an exciting future for DH. 

Jared Zeiders: [00:05:20] Excellent. Well, thank you so much for your time with us today. We really appreciate you taking a few minutes to give us these insights. It’s 

Dr. Pam Lach: [00:05:26] My pleasure.

Jared Zeiders: [00:05:27] Thank you so much. Have a wonderful day today. Thank you.