I am not what you would call technologically sufficient. In fact, my older brother laughed at me over the phone when I called to tell him that I was taking a digital humanities class in which I would end up learning how to build my own website.
“You have trouble changing the font on a Word document,” he told me, “How do you expect to build a website by yourself? Do you even know what HTML is?”
No. No, I did not.
To be perfectly honest, I was extremely conflicted when I was deciding whether or not to sign up for the Early Minority Literature class. I’m not a big fan of American literature to begin with (I adore Faulkner, but other than that I’m kinda just like “blegh!”), but I AM fascinated by work by minorities. I was always annoyed in high school by the lack of female and African American writers in our curriculum, and I actually wrote a few letters to the administration asking them to change that (they were, of course, ignored). However, I reasoned that maybe I didn’t actually dislike ALL American literature; my experience with the genre has been confined to the work of white males. This would be a good opportunity to expand my horizons.
I was also interested in the archival work that the class would do, and that ultimately is what convinced me to take the class (despite my skepticism about learning HTML (which I called HLM up until we had already been in the class for two weeks). When I pictured myself as a graduate student most of my mental images involved dusty old manuscripts and finding literary treasures in long abandoned boxes. Maybe not the kind of treasures that would rock the literary world (Jupiter Hammon’s missing poem, anyone?) but the kind of treasure that would rock my world.
Dealing with all the gross technology would be worth it, if I got to do that. At least, that’s what I thought in the beginning.
I was ultimately right about the archival work being my favorite aspect of the class. I spent my semester reading through the correspondence of Anna Raguet Irion, a remarkable woman who is known almost entirely as being “the girl Sam Houston had a huge crush on.” I’m hoping that perception of her will change; her letters prove that she was so much more than that.
The technology aspect of the class was simultaneously easier and harder than I expected. Coding was difficult, but it was almost a fun challenge. There was an assignment in the middle of the semester where we had a week to entirely code our own website; it was stressful and difficult, but that was the most fun I’ve had all semester. There was a certain thrill I got after solving a problem that had been stumping me for hours; I was proud of myself for accomplishing what I did in a way that I’m generally not with my studies. Like, I know I can write a good paper (sometimes in less than two hours), but I never in a million years expected to be able to make an entire website.
That was pretty amazing.
But… I didn’t really understand how all that really dealt with minority literature.
I really enjoyed the first half of the class, where we spent the majority of our time reading minority works and then discussing them in class. At that time, the technology felt more like a hinderance than a help; I spent way more time trying to figure out how to do my wiki edits than I did actually reading the documents, which was a shame. I was a bit bitter towards technology of all sorts at that point, because it felt like we were trying to force a lot of learning into a short amount of time, and it distracted from the amazing words that these people had written.
“THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MINORITY LITERATURE!” I wailed quite often as I tried to figure out how I accidentally deleted everything on the Samuel Sewall wikipedia page (and later, when it took me and the Dream Host customer service people and my professor a week to figure out why my final project website was just not working). The sleepless, frantic weekend I spent trying to catch up on all the work I missed before the Monday deadline didn’t make things any clearer either. We were making our websites about minority figures, yes, but there was something important that I was missing that I didn’t figure out until I was done with my work.
After I finished my website, I posted a link to it on facebook with a short explanation of the assignment we had been given for class. A girl I went to high school with commented on the link, saying “women who code are awesome! good job!” It was something so simple, so basic, but… it really resonated with me.
After some research, I found out that in the IT/web design field, men outnumber women three to one, and that disparity is actually growing. Though the world has greatly advanced since women like Phillis Wheatley wrote, women and minorities are still the underdogs. In the field of web design, women are the minority.
There are around ten women in my Early Minority Lit class. Now all of us know at least the basics of coding, and we can all make fairly impressive WordPress websites in a pinch. Not only has this class given us the opportunity to read the work of minorities, but it has given us the abilities necessary to put those people’s words on the internet for everyone to see.
I’m not going to quit grad school to pursue a career in web design anytime ever, but it is really empowering to know that I have the ability to create a website now. Ultimately, that empowerment– knowing that I can successfully learn to do something I previously thought was impossible– was the best thing I got out of this class. It makes me wonder what other terrifying things I can accomplish.