Sarah Sze's World on a String, featured on Shannon's Blog

Faculty Profile | Shannon Mattern

When we started thinking about Wikipedia and feminism, we immediately went to see what Shannon Mattern had to say about it.

On December 4th, Project Continua and The Digital Humanities Initiative are teaming up for a Wikipedia-Edit-A-Thon, a public event to right and write women’s history (see our Events section for details.). As a crowd-sourced website editable by anyone, Wikipedia has the potential to be an expansive source of accessible information, but there are notable gaps and even omissions of articles on women figures and contributions. Events are popping up all over the country to fill in these gaps, and in preparing our own (learn more about that here), we came across this thought-provoking blog post by our New School colleague Shannon Mattern. So pleased were we with her ideas, we decided to draw attention to some of the awesome work she’s doing at her blog, Words in Space.

Shannon is an Associate Professor at the School of Media Studies, and has been studying, as her bio states, “how the forms and materialities of media are related to the spaces (architectural, urban, and conceptual) they create and inhabit.” A popular teacher at the New School, she was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the history of art at UPenn, and is the author of The New Downtown Library: Designing with Communities (University of Minnesota Press, 2007) and Deep Mapping the Media City (University of Minnesota Press, 2015). Next spring, she’ll be a fellow at Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany.

“Wikipedia + Feminist Epistemology” pushes us towards questions like how Wikipedia’s internal structure can communicate a particular view of history, what Wikipedia’s insistence on “neutrality” means, and why the site (and even our own editing) is geared towards the genre of biography. These, we saw, are absolutely the questions we need to be asking about Wikipedia and the internet generally. Who and what should be included in the internet’s encyclopedia, and how can feminist thought challenge our conventional ideas of “notability”? By adopting Wikipedia’s methods as our own are we neglecting feminist meta-narratives and underwriting “Great Man” theories of history?

Mattern’s previous work helps us think about digital humanities as not just a series of tools, but as a system of interdisciplinary critical thought that she developed at The New School long before we came along. Last October, she organized a Symposium titled “Indexical Landscapes,” which looked into the organization and use of urban space and geography through data–from drone surveillance to delivery logistics. A few weeks ago she gave a talk on Media Architectures and Archaeologies which, to simplify, “problematized the fetishization of big data,” something the tech world is apt to do, and which the humanities world is poised to critique. Her teaching and scholarship gravitates around mapping and archiving, with a consistently feminist focus.

We look forward to Mattern’s return in the fall of 2016!