Sharon Leon (RRCHNM, George Mason University) has shared a draft of a forthcoming book chapter, “Beyond the Principal Investigator: Complicating ‘Great Man’ Narrative of Digital History.” The chapter investigates the origin stories of digital history and seeks to “… [recover] women’s contributions to the field … and question the conditions that have contributed to their erasure…” Leon considers not only political issues such as citation bias and the stigma of public history, but also structural issues such as gendered labor in academia and the uneven distribution of tenure.
Making concerted progress on these factors is essential in surfacing women’s work in digital humanities and in digital history specifically, but it is not enough. As historians, digital and otherwise, watching the changing contours of our field, once these acknowledgements are made we need to make an effort to actually read the credits and about pages that accompany digital history projects, and to grapple with the range and significances of the contributions of the entire project team. Doing so will quickly surface the important work of the large numbers of women in digital history.
In seeking to understand “… why are there so few women in the history of digital history?” Leon’s chapter discusses a variety of projects and institutional settings. She devotes some time to the challenges of documenting the work of individuals in cultural heritage organizations:
Unfortunately, for the majority of digital history projects from cultural heritage institutions—institutions that employ remarkable numbers of women, it will be very difficult to clearly identify the individuals who participated in their planning and development since the majority of that work is identified as the work of the institution—the library, archive, museum, or historical society. Thus, dozens of other women who have produced significant digital history work will remain nameless. Perhaps in the future, regardless of whether or not their positions demand that their work be “work for hire,” the librarians, archivists, curators, editors, and public historians who collaborate on these projects will adhere to the recommendations put forth in the “Collaborators’ Bill of Rights” and create full and explicit credits and acknowledgements for the work so that all of the contributions can be clearly known.
In posting the chapter draft openly, Leon includes a call for comments and other feedback.