Bethany Nowviskie

  • Published: Apr 7th, 2011
  • Category: twittering
  • Comments: 14

what do girls dig?


Has data-mining in the humanities emerged as a gentleman’s sport? Two and a half conversations about gender, language, and the “Digging into Data Challenge.”

(Make sure to click “load more” at the bottom of the Storify narrative to find my real commentary.)


14 Responses to “what do girls dig?”

  1. Micah Vandegrift
    on Apr 7th, 2011
    @ 9:46pm

    You know this is interesting because just today I was listening to a podcast that was chatting about the new Spike show Coal on life as miners in West Virginia and my critical ear perked up when I head the trailer say, “Sons. Fathers. Brothers. Coal Miners.” I’d wonder how the concept/terminology of “mining” even got attached to data. Maybe we need to ngram it for some historical context. 😉

    Agreed though, that even in digital spaces and with digital tools and ideas attention should be paid to the power of language.

  2. elotroalex
    on Apr 8th, 2011
    @ 7:09am

    Dear boss lady,

    I know I belong to the other side by convention, but with your blessing I would like to responsibly apply for honorary membership in the girls-who-dig club. I’m happy to announce that I will be putting some critical pressure on data-mining at my talk on deep representation at the Scholars’ Lab later this month. Before I commit a full argument to the public sphere, though, I want to see how ‘the DID affair’ develops on this here blog-post. As male-hispanic-on-duty, I don’t think I have enough sensibility chips to play in this hand too long.

    I will say for now, ever so carefully, that this might be a good opportunity to revisit the ole’ Luce Irigaray. I was (half-)joking with Rafael Alvarado (@ontoligent) tonight that DH never made it past structuralism. What a great historical moment to talk about gender, that transition between structuralism and post-structuralism! Are we there yet? Is race right around the corner?

    Anyway, I do hope the stone-throwers stay at bay and we can focus on a) understanding the nature of the questions that make boys gaga for data-mining (if it is indeed some sort of male-think (is that even possible in America?) that drives the disparity); b) figuring out whether it is an institutional paradigm that nurtures boys to be data-mining PI’s; c) how to ‘reconfigure’ the playground so girl-diggers can join the funded fun at that scale; and, of course, d) what do girls dig?

    Reading the fall-out with great interest!

  3. Tanya Clement
    on Apr 8th, 2011
    @ 9:45am

    As a woman who does dig, I think one very real response to this is what elecroalex brings up: the institutional paradigm. Money begets money. Power begets power. All of the folks listed are tenured professors, chairs of departments, and corporate vice presidents. Each of these folks comes from an already funded environment, one that can show that they can support this kind of endeavor. In many ways this mirrors the recanonization of what is digitized: what digitization projects get funded? Usually those that include already “important” authors. Who gets money to dig for data? Those who are already in a position to argue that they have the infrastructure to support this work. Infrastructure is necessary and important for large-scale computing but how do we incorporate women who may not be in these power positions or set up within well-resourced institutions? Perhaps something like the NEH fellows program in DH centers, perhaps a funded opportunity for someone in a smaller place with a good idea to get into the game, perhaps a requirement in the grant that at least one person must come from a smaller academic institution or some other entity that is not one of the usual suspects. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a direct invitation for women to become involved but it does have to be feasible given the roles that women (unfortunately) most often play at universities: it has to be inviting.

  4. john theibault
    on Apr 8th, 2011
    @ 12:10pm

    Coincidentally, I invoked the Digging into Data Challenge today in my Introduction to Digital Humanities class as part of a discussion of the mixed reception of “collaboration” in digital humanities work. We didn’t really discuss the gendered dimension of the projects, but the 2 of 33 ratio at the conference is an improvement on the ratio for the projects themselves. Both of the women speaking at the upcoming conference are respondents to the teams who received the first round of Digging into Data fellowships. There were no female PIs in the first round of funding. What makes that particularly remarkable to me is that the construction of all of the teams had to include a match-making phase in which PI and affiliate status was hashed out. All of the projects that list contributors beyond the PIs have at least some women involved, but the numbers remain very low (only 1 of 13 for the Old Bailey project, for example). I think Tanya’s probably right that the Power begets Power dynamic shaped the match-making process in ways that made it less likely that women would be represented at the PI level. I wonder if that tendency was reinforced by the requirement that the teams be international. In any case, it makes me more sympathetic to the AHA’s dictate that panels at the annual meeting be mixed-gender.

  5. I’m a girl. (What) do I dig? A response to Bethany Nowviskie’s “what do girls dig?” « The Spiral Dance
    on Apr 8th, 2011
    @ 1:16pm

    […] am writing this post in response to Bethany Nowviskie’s excellent storify collection that asks some important questions about the gender imbalance visible at the Digging into Data […]

  6. Kim Knight
    on Apr 8th, 2011
    @ 1:35pm

    Oh, I see my blog post linked here automatically!

    I was just going to summarize that I think my reaction to the digging into data challenge aligns with the issue of framing and rhetoric that Bethany outlines above. I find I am reluctant to structure my engagement with data in the way that would be deemed necessary in applying for such a grant.

    In the blog post I also talk about the liberation of an amateur engagement with data and the legacy of my mother’s attitude that those who were good at words were generally bad at numbers.

  7. Weekend Reading: Who Won? Edition - ProfHacker - The Chronicle of Higher Education
    on Apr 8th, 2011
    @ 3:02pm

    […] the language around the digital humanities in her update of Freud’s notorious question, “What Do Girls Dig?”: And I have a hunch that it’s not just me — that the disconnect from certain brands of […]

  8. Arno Bosse
    on Apr 9th, 2011
    @ 10:50am

    If staffers from the NEH are researching women working on “digging into data” type DH projects a good place to look are the programs of the past Chicago DHCS Colloquia ( – I see some links are broken, click instead on the “original colloquium site” for each year). People like Helma Dik, Robin Valenza, Rebecca Chung, Sofia Athenijos and Beata Klebanov for example & several others. UW Madison and UIUC are quite strong in this area, as is Stanford (see for example Aditi Muralidharan’s recent work) as well as a number of Canadian institutions.

  9. Intro to Digital Humanities (draft) | Victoria Telecom
    on Aug 19th, 2011
    @ 1:53pm

    […] Nowviskie, Bethany. “What Do Girls Dig?” Bethany Nowviskie, April 7, 2011. […]

  10. Bethany Nowviskie
    on Jan 3rd, 2012
    @ 10:50am

    Excellent news from the @DiggingIntoData Twitter account: nine months after “What Do Girls Dig?” (which has been reprinted as part of the University of Minnesota Press Debates in the Digital Humanities collection), the 2011 winners of the Digging into Data challenge have been announced. 9 of 14 winning projects have a woman as a principal investigator. (In the 2009 round, the numbers were 0 of 8.) Congratulations to all of the project teams, and many thanks to the Digging into Data funders who took this conversation so seriously.

  11. don’t circle the wagons « Bethany Nowviskie
    on Mar 4th, 2012
    @ 3:54am

    […] “What Do Girls Dig?” was worse. In it, I had stitched together some quick Twitter conversations using Storify — […]

  12. GrammarJockey! › New (New [New]) Media Report: Storify
    on Apr 18th, 2012
    @ 10:25am

    […] humanities because of the flurry of scholarly activity on the web — Bethany Nowviskie’s What do Girls Dig? was published in the edited collection, Debates in the Digital Humanities, interestingly enough in […]

  13. The Early Modernist’s DH | Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture
    on Oct 8th, 2012
    @ 2:00pm

    […] endemic to these kinds of questions. Confronting these the growing pains raises new questions: Who gets left out? Just how big is the tent? Indeed, I find in the conversations about DH a tendency toward a kind of […]

  14. Scholarly Communications | Readings 804
    on Jul 11th, 2013
    @ 12:48pm

    […] I was also intrigued by the articles that took note of how DH might be made even more inclusive. Bethany Nowviskie notes that certain aspects of digital history, such as data mining, tend to dominated by males (one […]

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