University of Houston Libraries welcomes Linda García Merchant, PhD as the new public humanities data librarian.
Please describe your role at UH Libraries and talk about some of your professional goals.
My role is to coordinate public humanities data initiatives and technology infrastructure to meet the needs of our University of Houston (UH) research community. This coordination is supported by a partnership between the UH Libraries and the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Data Science Institute (HPE DSI). I am housed in UH Libraries Research Services alongside my accomplished data science and digital humanities (DH) colleagues.
My goal is to help researchers interested in exploring and articulating the humanities through digital methods, to create deliverables that both accomplish and exceed expectations. We are at a time where our UH community wants the opportunity to apply a rhetorical rigor to traditional and non-traditional forms of scholarship. When creating projects with a digital humanities-driven component, students and faculty see their own research questions generating new and unexpected insights. For example, writing about some aspect of James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room can also inform a Google mapping project of 1950s Paris as seen through the eyes of the book’s protagonist, visualizing a subtler form of isolation and distance that became apparent to the researcher producing both the essay and the Google map. Digital humanities projects allow for a robust, ongoing conversation between content, researchers, and related digital ephemera.
Please share a bit about your background and interests. How do these inspire and shape your approach in digital humanities?
For the last 14 years I’ve been a part of a national oral history project called the Chicana por mi Raza Digital Memory Collective (CPMR) documenting second wave Chicana Latina feminists with Dr. Maria Cotera of the University of Texas at Austin. CPMR is a post-custodial resource that to date has collected 150 oral history interviews, and over 15,000 photos, documents and ephemera. It is the largest collection of Chicana feminist materials in the United States and (we suspect) in the world. In 2007 I produced and directed a 90-minute documentary on Las Mujeres de la Caucus Chicana/The Women of the Chicana Caucus about the women of the National Women’s Political Caucus. It is this project that led to working with Maria on CPMR. Maria and I share a personal stake in this work—our mothers are a significant part of this legacy. My mom is Ruth “Rhea” Mojica Hammer, the first Latina to run for congressional office in the State of Illinois, then elected first vice chairperson of the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1973, ultimately serving as a presidentially-appointed commissioner to the International Women’s Year, National Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977. Maria’s mother is a foremother of Chicana feminist thought, Martha P. Cotera, author of Diosa y hembra: The history and heritage of Chicanas in the US, and Chicana Feminist. It was the realization that their contributions to this American history narrative was missing, that put both Maria and myself on this path to recover and reclaim their voices and the hundreds of Chicanas and Latinas working on civil and women’s rights during the 60s, 70s and 80s.
The work I do as an educator and founder of an oral history project and as a digital humanities practitioner and scholar is about the joy in the process and production of knowledge. As an active member of a cultural community, there is the responsibility to cultivate and produce these recovered narratives. There is also an obligation to sustain those resources through an engagement with the next generation of research communities to produce a shared understanding of these resources and their importance.
What are one or two ideas you’d like the community to know about digital humanities?
Digital humanities is not difficult to execute, if there is a good plan in place to do so. Planning and building a community to produce digital scholarship engages the researcher and technologists in the ongoing dialogue necessary to imagine, shape, and create deliverables that successfully and rigorously articulate the research question.
DH is happening all around us and this has become especially apparent in the last two years as DH has been a method used to respond and support the educational resources needed for the classroom, our libraries, and our homes. Access to sites, materials, and the ways to interpret and produce them is at the heart of what DH is and will remain—a method to reimagine the considerations and generative nature of knowledge production as scholarship in digital forms.