So, a little bit of a different post today! Fanhackers will always be about making Fan Studies scholarship more accessible, but Fan Studies encompasses a whole lot of other methodologies and disciplines. This post will be the first of a three-part series on the Digital Humanities as a discipline, and how it relates to Fan Studies scholarship.
Because Fan Studies doesn’t really exist as a single department in a university, scholars with backgrounds from other disciplines like English, Communications, Cultural Studies, Media Studies and even the Sciences all do Fan Studies research. Part of the reason for this is that Fan Studies as its own thing is really new: our earliest scholarship is from the late 80s/early 90s! If you look at the history of Western fandom, this makes a lot of sense: Fan Studies began as a Western discipline whose work focused on Western media fandom, and around this time period, Western fans started to seriously use the internet.
The reason I’ve glossed over all of this is because Digital Humanities (DH) kind of has the same history: it’s really new and encompasses a whole lot of scholars from other disciplines. This post is going to give a really quick run-down on what DH is, and how it relates to Fan Studies. I’ll follow it up with a post on DH & Fan Studies Projects and DH & Fan Studies Ethics next week the week after!
Digital Humanities came out of counterculture-cyberculture of the 60s and 70s, so it’s really based in the values of that movement. Mainly, DH scholarship is all about accessibility: DH wants to take scholarship out of the ivory tower and share it with everyone, so it aims to be free, easy to access, and use simple language to explain the big concepts it talks about. Because of this, DH is all about:
- DH is qualitative (like English) and quantitative (like Math)! It spans a whole bunch of different methods and processes for collecting and analyzing data.
- Working together as a way of creating better, more rounded work: co-creation and collaboration! This could be in a class, a department, or even different universities.
- Defending content-creators from exploitation but placing serious value on transformative works. For DH, the more scholarship, the better, and transforming other works is a great way to get a different perspective and encourage creativity.
- Encourages scholarship as entertainment, and entertainment as scholarship. A DH scholar will give as much attention to a piece of fic as a short story or a novel and will have no problem presenting their work in a video or interactive website. They want a big audience, so the easier it is to understand, and the more interesting it is to the general public, the better!
- The way you go about doing your research is more important than your results and conclusion. For DH, the process is really what matters, because that’s the thing that is constantly being refined and redefined by DH scholars.
- Because of all this, action is what’s really important. Buzzwords like “diversity”, “intersectionality” and “accessibility” are empty unless there’s a real change in the way people carry out their research and present their findings!
Already, we can see some really clear parallels with Fan Studies, here. Firstly, there’s both quantitative and qualitative Fan Studies research, and the discipline was built on defending fans—from piracy to how we’d been portrayed in audience studies. People like John Fiske and Dallas Smythe argued that audiences are not actually mindless zombies that just eat up anything put in front of them, and in doing so, laid the ground work for others like Camille Bacon-Smith, Joli Jensen and Matt Smith to argue that fans are actually super sophisticated and smart.
So clearly, Fan Studies is built on the idea of entertainment as scholarship, even though our projects might not always be super accessible to the general public—which is also where Fanhackers comes in! In terms of actually being to access content, though, Fan Studies allowing free downloads is also generally really important to Fan Studies scholars. Even though the Journal of Fan Studies is really hard to access—many universities don’t even have a subscription to the journal—the OTW’s Transformative Works and Cultures is totally free to access and is generally really great about using accessible language.
The different waves of Fan Studies scholarship also seem to prioritize process over the end result: the first wave, which I mentioned above, is all about proving fans make up a complex community, whereas the second wave really drilled down into individual fan identity. We’re technically in the third wave, where scholarship tends to focus on how industry and fans interact, but are also edging forward into important scholarship surrounding racism in fandom, how fans of colour embody fannishness and other research that relies heavily on critical race studies (a fourth wave!).
All of this points to there being some really serious intersections between DH and Fan Studies, which makes a whole lot of sense: both are new and both have kind of the same core values. More importantly, though, the Digital Humanities is all about using digital technology to accomplish its goals, and Fan Studies is research of primarily online communities. Both disciplines feature digital tech, and though it might seem like this is not something they have in common, next week we’ll see concrete examples of how Fan Studies research is sometimes also Digital Humanities research!
For now, here’s a little reading list in case you want to know more about DH or the history of Fan Studies: