Has anyone seen a sheep?: Ada Lovelace Day Tribute to Deb Verhoeven

This Ada Lovelace Day I want to stop and thank a woman who is making the Digital Humanities Community a more just and scholarly place: Deb Verhoeven.

I have had the extraordinary privilege of working with and for many amazing women in DH.  In fact, I would consider my intellectual DH heritage to be distinctly (if not unusually) matrilineal.  These amazing women gave me the gift of their experience [Elli Mylonas], their wisdom [Julia Flanders], their diplomacy [Kay Walter], their technical skill [Bess Sadler], and their example [Bethany Nowviskie].

Deb gave me something else.  Deb gave me her anger.

When Deb stood on the stage at DH2015 and asked the crowd “Has Anyone Seen a Woman?” Something in me uncorked.

The first days of that conference had been stultifying for me.  It was my first real experience with the sexism so many others have felt in DH for so long.  I was sick of the double takes from colleagues (senior and junior) when they heard my title: Associate Director of the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton (really? You?).  I was sick of being ignored by men while they talked over me and mansplained my areas of expertise (technical and administrative, even feminism).  I was sick of everything, including the community that had always felt like my intellectual home.

Then Deb took the stage and called for a reckoning.  She called out the “Parade of Patriarchs” that we had all witnessed the day before as white men, one after another, took the stage to start the conference.  She called out the systems we participate in that somehow always manage to privilege men over women.  And then she proposed a series of concrete solutions that male colleagues could and should take to ensure equity in the field.

And the crowd went wild.  As I jumped to my feet to applaud, so did so many of my fellow DHers – women AND men.  It was a big room, but I could clearly see Glen Worthey near the front on his feet cheering.  And I thought: Yes.  We can fix this.  The system is rigged, but WE CAN HACK IT.

I managed to introduce myself to Deb before I left Australia; we had a beer in a converted church.  I followed her on Twitter.  I friended her on Facebook.  I read her amazing theoretical work on databases [“Doing the Sheep Good“], which I cannot believe no one suggested to me while I was working on my dissertation.  And through Twitter, Facebook, and her scholarship I met a lot of sheep.

By the time I saw her a year later in London, it felt like we had known each other for much longer than a year.  We took a break and vented over coffee when things got too insane.  We attended the Diversity Track at DH2016 in Krakow (why a separate track, seriously?). She and my husband had great conversations over pierogi.  Basically, we had a blast.

And over the past year I have been finding my own voice as an activist as well as a diplomat.  It sounds different than Deb’s, but I hope it harmonizes.  And I am so pleased to be among a digitally connected diaspora of more amazing DH women: Roopika Risam, Amy Earhart, Padmini Ray Murray, Élika Ortega, Melissa Terras, and so many more.

So thank you, Deb.  Before I met you I was mad as hell.  But now, I won’t take it anymore.

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