Khanh Vo (Ph.D. College of William and Mary, 2021) completed her doctorate in American Studies and has consistently worked toward a career that spans academic teaching, public history, and the digital humanities, which she approaches through the lens of digital culture, game studies, and scientific and technological discourse. Khanh is the JHI's 2022-23 Digital Humanities Network Postdoctoral Fellow.
JHI: What are your main research interests?
KV: My research interests revolve around history of science and technology, public history, and the digital humanities. My research, broadly speaking, traces the historical relationship between mechanization and human labor in concert with questions of race, gender and design. Specifically, I use the cultural figure of the robot to think through how the post-humanism of the past is raced and gendered—how did we get from the Mechanical Turk to the Amazon Turk? Through case studies, I look at human-machine interaction, cooperation, and co-existing. I also incorporate DH into a lot of my work, whether it is using data visualization or incorporating digital pedagogies into historical research as new ways to think and do public history.
JHI: What research projects are you working on at the JHI and why did you choose them?
KV: My main research project at JHI is completing a book proposal based on my dissertation manuscript. With my interest in public history, I may branch out into alt-ac careers and to have a book published would be a wonderful capstone and reflection of my work whether or not I stay in academia. A secondary project I would like to complete is a DH mapping project based around 18th and 19th century so-called “runaway slave advertisements.” It is part of a collaborative project to map the microhistories of enslaved individuals who sought self-emancipation to recenter these narratives within the U.S. context of slavery and freedom. But because most stories of self-emancipation disappear within the archives, it’s also about finding ways to mitigate the evidentiary gaps and continue these narratives. At this stage, it’s very much a thought experiment to find interdisciplinary approaches to reconstructing this history.
JHI: What are you hoping to experience this year as a JHI Fellow?
KV: I want to build a strong network within the JHI, CDHI, and U of T community, take up some of the professional development training offered, and enjoy doing academic research again. With such a diverse community of fellows at the JHI where, even though our works are united in this theme of labor, everyone’s research and methods are so different and divergent from each other. It’s a fantastic opportunity to share my work and process and to ask for help moving forward.
JHI: Share something you read/watched/listened to recently that you enjoyed/were inspired by?
KV: I recently finished another rewatch of NBC’s The Good Place, which is about a group of friends navigating through the afterlife. It is a hopeful, warm, and funny contemplation on what it means to be human, on what we can do with our time, and our obligations to each other. A sitcom is built on familiarity—getting viewers to revisit the same characters, the same story episode after episode. Yet, The Good Place constantly resets the terms of its show. It generous with its character development; it fuses that growth and the relationships to its worldbuilding so successfully that it warrants any number of rewatches. And I have not yet seen a show with a better pilot and ending.
JHI: What is a fun fact about you?
KV: I love to craft and work with my hands. I am also a giant nerd for pop culture, from Studio Ghibli to Doctor Who. I combine these two passions in crocheting projects and making pop culture objects out of trash. There’s a lot of non-biodegradable materials that we can’t always recycle and end up throwing away. I collect (non)recyclable materials, anything from broken plastic toys to empty ramen containers, and recraft them into 3D models. My current two projects are a Harry Potter themed crochet tapestry blanket and a miniature replica of the castle from Howl’s Moving Castle.