Bodies of Information: Intersectional Feminism and the Digital Humanities

(edited by Elizabeth Losh and Jacqueline Wernimont, University of Minnesota Press, 2018)

Reviewed by Elena Kalodner-Martin


"It is the responsibility of digital humanists to build tools and strategies to transform the bodies of the machines that watch over us with loving grace to meaningfully counter the violence being done to our own."

— Padmini Ray Murray, 2018, p. 198


In their chapter, Michelle Schwartz and Constance Crompton examined different methods of lesbian historiography—both in its print and digital forms—in order to explore how the format, structure, and function of these archival documents influences which lesbian contributors and scholars are and have been able to produce, circulate, and access this knowledge. Alison Hedley and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra also looked to historiography and employed personography to complicate historical contexts and understandings of gender in literature. Personography represents a community-based model for interpreting … within the context of sociocultural network[s], which relocates the body and the fluidity of gender to the center of historical texts (p. 169). Marcia Chatelain explored embodied resistance to racism in online and offline spaces and how that time is valued by an institution—;or more often, not. Her social justice centered #FergusonSyllabus highlighted the stakes of antiracist work and displayed how a movement that began on Twitter is an example of how digital humanists use the digital landscape to intervene in moments of crisis and remind the academy of our roles and responsibilities to a broader world (p. 182). Finally, Padmini Ray Murray analyzed several case studies of feminist protest in India to discuss how non-Western theories of digital usage account for a theory of technology that acknowledges how social media helps to organize physical bodies, promote visibility, and archive cases of resistance that have been overlooked in dominant historical narratives of feminist opposition.


The works included in Part III. Embodiment examined how intersectional feminism has taken up queer and nonbinary bodies (Schwartz & Crompton; Hedley & Kooistra), raced bodies (Chatelain), or the intersections of classed and gendered bodies (Murray). These texts also explore how a one-dimensional perspective of tools and data risks overlooking the material and affective implications for lived individuals. Embodiment takes many different forms in these texts: the physical body in resistance, the digital body in the archive, and the body as a technology itself, calling upon us to consider the body on its own terms as something other than the meaning foisted upon it by the patriarchal nation-state (Murray, p. 198).

The texts in this section explored the varied ways that digital humanities work is grounded in physical realities, but also how people's lives [get represented] in data 'as they have been experienced' (Schwartz & Crompton, p. 132, quoting Miriam Posner). Whereas embodiment has been talked around in DH work, these pieces centered bodies in their methodologies, results, and analyses. In looking at these different research methods, ranging from archival research to personography, this section is likely most instructive for those looking to adopt or adapt existing theories and practices of embodied DH scholarship.