CIDR's Nicole Coleman and the history of digital history

April 13, 2016
Glen Worthey
Nicole Coleman
Nicole Coleman, of the Libraries' Center for Interdisciplinary Digital Research (CIDR), is foregrounded as a leader and pioneer in the field of digital history in a new book chapter called "Returning Women to the History of Digital History" by Sharon Leon, Director of Public Projects at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

Together with her frequent Stanford faculty collaborator Paula Findlen (currently Chair of the Department of History), Nicole is first in Leon's short list of exemplary "women who are doing exciting work and taking major leadership roles" in worldwide digital history, but who too often go unmentioned in published histories of the field.  The chapter's section headings alone serve to tell the story of how to remedy this exclusion: "Beyond the Principal Investigator: Complicating the 'Great Man' Narrative of Digital History," "Beyond the Senior Faculty," "Beyond the Principal Investigator." 

 
One probable cause -- but not the only one -- for the exclusion of women from the history of digital history is the matter of traditional (and traditionally valued) roles in the academy.  Nicole -- like many of us working both in the library and in the fields of the digital humanities -- occupies the sort of non-tenured, alternate-academic position that too often falls victim to what Leon calls "erasure" of all but the senior faculty, all but the P.I., all but the "Great Men" of digital history on whom subsequent historians of the field too often focus (and whose histories are then quoted and repeated uncritically, deepening that erasure).  Such erasures are all too easy in the highly collaborative digital humanities fields, wherein projects and publications are done by teams of professionals working in a variety of roles, rather than the more traditional "lone scholar" mode of research production.
 
Although Leon sees this as a problem for all the non-tenured contributors to digital history efforts, she rightly notes that it's especially acute for the women among them, for all the structural and historical and social reasons of traditional male privilege in the academy, as elsewhere in our society.  Her argument is a thoughtful, careful, well-researched one, and highly recommended reading. 
 
The chapter is still in draft from, but it is destined for the forthcoming collection Feminist Debates in the Digital Humanities, the next in an influential and much-praised Debates in DH book series edited by Matthew Gold and Lauren Klein, published by the University of Minnesota Press, and its online open-access edition hosted by CUNY.
 
Nicole is a core member of the CIDR team, Research Director of the Humanities+Design Lab (a constituent of the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis, CESTA), and SUL's Academic Technology Specialist in CESTA.  In spite of the deeply troubling "erasure" phenomenon that her work is used to represent, Leon's chapter is both a much-needed corrective and a fitting celebration of it.
 
And certainly none of us at Stanford have forgotten or erased Nicole's outstanding work during her decade-and-a-half tenure here among us! But it's a real pleasure to read of her pioneering and innovative contributions to the digital history field at large (and to the digital humanities generally) in such a prominent context, to refresh our memories and to renew our appreciation of them.

 

 
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