Jen Jack Gieseking is New Media and Data Visualization Specialist in the Digital and Computational Studies Initiative at Bowdoin College. Previously, she was Visiting Assistant Professor at The Graduate Center of City University of New York where she served as the Project Manager for the digital studies in academia Ford Foundation grant, JustPublics@365. She has held fellowships with Alexander von Humboldt German Chancellor Fellowship; The Center for Place, Culture, and Politics; The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies; and the Woodrow Wilson Women’s Studies Dissertation Fellows Program. She has experience in the study and research of digital methods and analyses. She is co-editor of The People, Place, and Space Reader, with William Mangold, Cindi Katz, Setha Low, and Susan Saegert which is forthcoming from Routledge in 2014. She recently spoke with Crystal Hall about her research and digital studies.
Tell us about your research focus. Why was this particular field of study appealing to you? What particular facet of your area of study has been most interesting to you lately?
I am a cultural geographer and environmental psychologist which means that I study how people relate to and define their sense of space and place, and how space and place relate to and define us. My work focuses on how space and identity produce one another in digital, material, and imagined environments, with a focus on sexual and gender identities. I am keenly interested in how participatory digital and computational research methods and analytics can inform and support or inhibit research into and productions of social, spatial, and economic justice.
To date, there is no lesbian and/or queer history of New York City. It shocks everyone I tell, even other lesbians and queer women. The only existing social history of lgbtq life in NYC is George Chancey’s (1994) incredible work on gay men’s lives and spaces, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. In my early research into geographies of sexualities, it became obvious to me that while a great deal of impressive work had been done, the nuances and interdependencies of this group’s more complex identities, such as gender, race, and class, needed to be more fully examined. I spent over a year talking with 47 self-identified lesbians and queer in intergenerational focus groups and conducting archival research at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, NY. Right now I am working on my first book on this topic which will be the first lesbian-queer history of New York City: Queer New York: Constellating Geographies of Lesbians’ and Queer Women’s In/Justice in New York City, 1983-2008.
It was in the course of my research in the organizational records of the archives that I began to see huge trends in these women’s experiences. Having accumulated the detailed records of 381 lesbian-queer organizations spanning 25 years, I jumped into creating graphic analyses, maps, and network analyses to see what else could be revealed about these women’s lives. What were clusters or unique organizations that supported the needs, wants, and desires of tens of thousands of women–such as Lesbian Avengers, ACT UP, etc.–are, for the first time, beginning to tell broader stories by being analyzed as a collective whole.
What prompted your interest in Bowdoin? Halfway through your first semester, what are your impressions of the college community?
I firmly believe in a liberal arts education, and Bowdoin’s dedication to educating 21st century citizens and leaders for the common good fits with my own work and goals. How can we not only sustain society but continue to make our world a more just and equal place? How can we produce cultures, politics, and economies that allow for deeper understanding of self and other, and the enactment of those identities? These are the kinds of questions and issues Bowdoin faculty and students seek to answer and confront, and they motivate me as well.
Why, in your opinion, is the study of digital and computational studies compelling and relevant to students, and to the world today?
We hear often that the world is changing and it is important to keep up with those changes. I could not agree more. But I am also excited and inspire by the affordances of digital and computational research. We can collaborate and create research in new ways across space and time that were previously unimagined. The medium is revolutionizing social science research, from how we collect and analyze data to how we even define data. At the same time, many oppressed groups who were previously unrecognized now have a way to make a space for themselves that is publicly recognized. I am honored and excited to be a part of that work that allows for this transformation in the academy and the world.
Perhaps the part of this work that is most interesting to me is the new tools for data visualization and new media that allow scholars to rethink the way we analyze and present data. My work is flowing into audio, visuals, graphic analyses, network analyses, and maps with higher levels of insights being afforded. For example, many of the visualization I have created in graph forms from my data show larger patterns of inequality facing these women that they blamed upon themselves as individual issues. In other words, no one woman or group of women is to blame for not keeping a neighborhood like Park Slope primarily for lesbians. Lesbians and queer women could not afford to stay in a gentrifying neighborhood like Park Slope in Brooklyn, but that most women make a great deal less than women and couple of two women makes the least so that their ability to afford to buy property comes much later in life if at all. I am hopeful that by conducting more complex and comprehensive examinations of these women’s lives, patterns of inequality can be confronted for these women and so many others like them.