Revealing Voices: Meredith Graham

Revealing Voices: Meredith Graham

This post serves an introduction to the future publication of Project Vox’s Outreach & Assessment Manual. An earlier version of this post was originally presented at the Association for Computers and the Humanities meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in July 2019 and was adapted to reflect the current state of the project. Meredith’s post is part of our Revealing Voices blog series. 

In 2017 I joined Project Vox as Outreach & Assessment coordinator, managing our social media platforms and running our new blog. As someone who personally always felt disconnected from social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, which lack the story-telling features key to maintaining an audience and building relationships, I felt like there was more to my work if we wanted to build a community. I therefore continually asked myself: Although we communicate with hundreds of followers through our Twitter and Facebook accounts, is social media outreach the most effective way to build a community of feminist philosophers and scholars?

The blog on our new WordPress site created an opportunity for more experimentation. To make my own mark on Project Vox’s outreach, I thought about how I could create more meaningful relationships with our existing audience. I found myself interested in how I could go beyond social platforms to create a strong virtual community. What if we could give our public audience a way to contribute to Project Vox from afar? If we want to change the field of philosophy to include more diverse voices, we also need to amplify the voices of those who share our project’s values and are engaged in that work.

In an experiment with scholarly publishing and community building in March 2018, I created Project Vox’s leading blog series, Revealing Voices, that reveals those voices of formerly forgotten women philosophers alongside the voices of scholars today who study these women.

The Revealing Voices series would be a place for academically-diverse contributors—from senior scholars to those just entering the field as undergraduates—to communicate about feminist research, and it would be a way for us to meaningfully connect to members of our community. We connected our publishing space with our social media platforms. We considered those who interacted with our newsletter by using analytics from MailChimp, scholars from philosophy who researched early modern women philosophers, recommendations from team members, people we previously identified who had a strong social media presence and interacted with us on Twitter, and two undergraduate members of our team.

When we asked our blog contributors to share personal or research stories related to feminist philosophy, the response was overwhelmingly positive, and they all composed very thoughtful posts. For example, Laurynas Adomaitis wrote about translating the works of women philosophers into Lithuanian in order to combat a Soviet-era censure imposed on philosophical writing. Jill Hernandez discussed her struggles of rejection in academia when writing grant proposals to examine gender and feminism in philosophy. Roy Auh, a Duke undergraduate and our lead researcher at the time, wrote about presenting a paper on Princess Elisabeth at the World Congress of Philosophy. He noticed that between the beginning of his paper and the question period, all of the men had left the conference room due to their lack of interest in women philosophers. These are just three of the stories that we tell. In short, the audience members are part now part of our story.

The Revealing Voices posts have increased our audience engagement because the scholarly philosophy community concerned with the early modern period has taken notice of our publishing space. Contributors who wrote for our blog as graduate students noticed that it was their publication on our site that connected them to the larger scholarly community. We have also interviewed these younger scholars to ask how they include their posts in their CVs, so that we can advise future contributors on ways to professionally communicate about this type of scholarly work. The hundreds of unique views on each blog post help us see that, even as our project is working to transform the philosophical canon, our blog is transforming the publishing space for philosophers and scholars. This model of reaching out to a scholarly community to contribute to digital humanities projects does not have to be limited to Project Vox. Although this outreach model—engaging members of one’s readership and scholarly community to contribute to the blog—does not extend to all digital humanities projects, our analytics data suggests that, with consistent outreach and publishing of content developed by audience members, digital humanities work can extend the limits of social media to build a more engaged community.

Some time ago, when preparing a talk about my outreach and assessment work with Project Vox, I wanted a firm grounding in digital humanities methodology to help cement my ideas about outreach. Yet looking through the literature, I found that there were no detailed discussions of outreach strategy for digital projects. Yes, there were descriptions of how to form project teams and the members involved, but an outreach coordinator that was strictly there to promote the project and build community engagement was not part of that essential group. There were also descriptions of how to use social media to elicit responses from future contributors to digital humanities projects, but such solicitations were usually seeking some form of editing or data sharing. All of this searching left me wondering—Is there a place for outreach as part of a traditional digital humanities project model? How are we supposed to build a community of users around our projects if they don’t even know that it exists?

These questions led me to look into business marketing research and public history debates. In order to stay closer to the humanities, I stuck with the goals of public history in reaching a greater audience beyond solely the scholarly community. Sheila Brennan in Debates in Digital Humanities 2016 states, “Public history and humanities practices—in either digital or analog forms—place communities, or other public audiences, at their core.”[1] By acting as public humanists, perhaps we all need to think more about our audiences and how we can incorporate them into our projects. I see Revealing Voices as a step forward in this type of public engagement, connecting our public audiences to our project, right there on our home page.

As I have demonstrated from my experiences as part of the Project Vox team, I would not only argue for the necessity of an outreach team member, but also prioritize outreach in general for digital humanities projects. If we see ourselves as practitioners of digital humanities research, then, I believe, we see ourselves as practitioners of public scholarship. In order to reach the public and our audiences, we must consider outreach a vital part of project teams and find unique ways to engage in meaningful dialogues with our audiences.

By engaging with our social media users and public audience by reaching out to them to write posts for our blog series, we are giving our Project Vox readers an outlet to speak to a community working to revise the philosophical canon. Our public must be part of our story.

Meredith Graham is a PhD candidate in musicology at Duke University. She served on the  Project Vox team as the Outreach & Assessment Coordinator from 2017–2019 and the project manager from 2019–2020.

[1] Sheila A. Brennan, “Public, First,” Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016, Eds. Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016): 384.