On Having Arrived at Bowdoin

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My office at Bowdoin. Jen Jack Gieseking CC BY-NC-SA 2013

I have arrived at Bowdoin College as the New Media and Data Visualization Specialist, Postdoctoral Fellow in the new Digital and Computational Studies Initiative (DCSI). After saying goodbye to Brooklyn, I am delighted and excited to be here!

I have always been enamored with all things tech since my days on the Chesapeake BBS and installing my high school’s first network, but present technologies thrill me in new ways. Furthermore, over the past few years I have been often inspired by and growing alongside a cohort of brilliant colleagues Gregory T. Donovan, Kiersten Greene, Collette Sosnowy, Maggie Galvan, Lisa Brundage, Edwin Mayorga, Evan Misshula, John D. Boy, Suzanne Tamang, and Emily Sherwood to become not only spatially inclined but also equally digitally inclined. Digital collaborations afford more collaborative and participatory approaches to research than ever before imagined. Employing digital and computational studies in our research also produces more robust tools, theories, methods, and analytics. Wired milieus prompt the crossing of many disciplinary boundaries, and they also reaffirm our dedications to our chosen fields.

This is what lesbian-queer history looks like: the detailed notes on 381 lesbian-queer organizations look like in a spreadsheet. The white means the organization was existent; the black means it did not yet exist or closed.
Jen Jack Gieseking CC BY-NC-SA

So, you wonder, whatever does this have to do with Bowdoin? Bowdoin’s new Digital and Computational Studies Initiative (DCSI) is asking tough and important questions of how to bring to light and life both digital and computational studies from an interdisciplinary perspective in a liberal arts environment. How can digital and computational studies workshops extend and support the research of a top faculty body? How can such work inspire and better ready our student leaders here at Bowdoin in a world so rapidly changing and shifting in its technologies? We are going to find out. I have the pleasure and honor of helping to shape this program and its vision. I work with our co-chairs Eric Chown (DCSI and Computer Science) and Pamela Fletcher (DCSI and Art History), my future co-instructor Eric Gaze (Center for Quantitative Reasoning), and my co-postdoctoral fellow Crystal Hall (DCSI), as well as a team of faculty from across the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.

But how does this involve my own work on the co-production of gender, sexuality, and space? And how did I get involved? In recent months I have been posting about a series of data visualizations I have been producing as part of my study of lesbian-queer spaces, economies, and culture in NYC, 1983-2008. Half of my research on the topic involved qualitative endeavors of interviews, mental mapping, and artifact sharing, while the remainder of my work was focused on the Lesbian Herstory Archives. The incredibly large amount of data I gathered on the 381 organizational records of NYC-based lesbian-queer organizations spanning 25 years quickly prompted forms of quantitative analysis that could make sense of over 2,000 data points. A graphic representation to this can be seen to the left.

While some may question my use of quantitative analyses to piece together lesbian-queer histories in that non-qualitative methods erase voice and experience, I have unearthed no better method for bringing together the stories of such an invisibilized, anonymized, and disregarded group. The oppressed can and must record their stories one by one, and each story matters. At the same time, we must also embrace these new ways of connecting to imagine and enact our history in new ways. The social sciences are radically shifting who they can account for and how they represent their populations as well. What would see and hear by turning to large data sets of our history available? What if we could weave together the remnants of histories of not only the dozens but the tens of thousands? This is the goal of my work today and in the upcoming years.

Bowdoin in the fall. Jen Jack Gieseking CC BY-NC-SA 2013

My interests and skills will be put to use as part of the DCSI team at  Bowdoin to ask similar, tough questions and produce exciting and complicated answers. Drawing upon my background in geography, psychology, sociology, anthropology, architecture, and design, I am contributing towards the way new media and data visualization will play a roll in the research and learning of the Bowdoin community. I couldn’t be more thrilled every morning as I head to work scheming about my work with the faculty here and my future teaching, plotting research projects to launch with brilliant students, and how my own research will grow and play a roll in this truly awe-inspiring liberal arts institution.

Having very much arrived, I send regards, digital and otherwise, from Bowdoin in the fall.