Mcpherson, Tara. “Why Are the Digital Humanities So White? or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities. University of Minnesota Press, 2012.
- Many humanities scholars treat computation within the humanities with some level of suspicion, perceiving it to be complicit with the corporatization of higher education or as primarily technological rather than scholarly. This essay argues that we desperately need to close the gap between inquiry into tools and infrastructure and inquiry into race, immigration, and neoliberalism, and that difficulties we encounter in knitting together our discussions of race (or other modes of difference) with our technological productions within the digital humanities (or in our studies of code) are actually an effect of the very designs of our technological systems, designs that emerged in post–World War II computational culture. These origins of the digital continue to haunt our scholarly engagements with computers, underwriting the ease with which we partition off considerations of race in our work in the digital humanities and digital media studies.
- Mcpherson notes that although Project MAC and the development of UNIX occurred at the same time as the civil rights era, the assassination of Malcolm X, the Stonewall Riots, passage of the Voting Rights Act, the execution of Che Guevara, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the launch of the National Organization of Women, and the independence of 32 African countries from colonial rule. So why do we never consider them as occurring at the same time, or how one may have influenced the other? These two fragments of history stand apart, attracting the interest and attention of very different audiences, siloed in their respective departments. She argues that these moments are deeply interdependent and proposes triangulating race, electronic culture, and poststructuralism, and argues that race, particularly in the United States, is central to this undertaking, fundamentally shaping how we see and know as well as the technologies that underwrite or cement both vision and knowledge. Certain modes of racial visibility and knowing coincide or dovetail with specific ways of organizing data: if digital computing underwrites today’s information economy and is the central technology of post– World War II America, these technologized ways of seeing and knowing took shape in a world also struggling with shifting knowledges about and representations of race. The push towards modularity in digital computing in the 1960s unconsciously reflected the geographic racial partitioning of the time. Even today, as we see ourselves becoming away of these foundational issues and like to imagine ourselves smarter than our midcentury counterparts, we are always already complicit with the machine.
- Mcpherson argues that the “digital humanities and code studies must take up the questions of culture and meaning that animate so many scholars of race in fields like the new American studies. Likewise, scholars of race must analyze, use, and produce digital forms and not smugly assume that to engage the digital directly is to be complicit with the forces of capitalism. The lack of intellectual generosity across our fields and departments only reinforces the divide- and- conquer mentality that the most dangerous aspects of modularity underwrite. We must develop common languages that link the study of code and culture. We must historicize and politicize code studies. And, because digital media were born as much of the civil rights era as of the cold war era (and of course these eras are one and the same), our investigations must incorporate race from the outset, understanding and theorizing its function as a ghost in the digital machine. This does not mean that we should simply add race to our analysis in a modular way, neatly tacking it on or building digital archives of racial material, but that we must understand and theorize the deep imbrications of race and digital technology even when our objects of analysis seem not to be about race at all. We also need to take seriously the possibility that questions of representation and of narrative and textual analysis may, in effect, divert us from studying the reorganization of capital— a reorganization dependent on the triumph of the very particular patterns of informationalization evident in code… We must remember that computers are themselves encoders of culture.”
Onuoha, Mimi. MimiOnuoha/Missing-Datasets, 2020. https://github.com/MimiOnuoha/missing-datasets.
- “Missing data sets” refer to the blank spots that exist in spaces that are otherwise data-saturated, and they usually correlate to the most vulnerable in that context. Just because data does not exist does not mean it’s “missing” – missing datasets are tied to expansive data collection. Spots that we’ve left blank reveal our hidden social biases and indifferences; what we have deemed important and unimportant. Four reasons for why a dataset might be missing include: those who have the resources to collect data lack the incentive to (corollary: often those who have access to a dataset are the same ones who have the ability to remove, hide, or obscure it), the data to be collected resist simple quantification (corollary: we prioritize collecting things that fit our modes of collection), the act of collection involves more work than the benefit the presence of the data is perceived to give, and there are advantages to nonexistence. Some possible responses to these missing datasets include: data won’t solve all problems, collective action is a strategy for resistance, and lack of collection is also a strategy.
Posner, Miriam. “ What’s Next: The Radical, Unrealized Potential of Digital Humanities.” https://miriamposner.com/blog/whats-next-the-radical-unrealized-potential-of-digital-humanities/
Note: the link she includes to Aboriginal maps doesn’t work, but I believe this is what she’s referring to the maps from this other reading http://territories.indigenousknowledge.org/
- This article, which is actually a lightly edited version of the keynote address Posner gave at the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference at the University of Pennsylvania on July 22, 2015, explores where we stand now in regards to digital humanities and where we might be able to go and do. We are in an interesting time. Digital humanities is growing and institutionalizing. We can map points and shapes — not perfectly, but we can do it. We can build graphs and charts, and mine texts in search of patterns. We’re working more with images, and we’re even making some forays into moving image analysis. But a lot of this is built on foundations from other fields, particularly business, and this is both inevitable and problematic. Many tools that store temporal data demand times and dates nailed down to the minute, or at least the day, when of course many of us are dealing with things like “ca. 1500s.” Google Maps, which powers a lot of projects, enshrines a certain type of map and looking at physical space, and is owned by a for-profit company with opaque intentions. But most importantly for this article, most of the data and data models we’ve inherited deal with structures of power, like gender and race, with a crudeness that would never pass muster in a peer-reviewed humanities publication. The census reduces complicated, nuanced racial identities to broad, simple categories. An resource for museums to establish authority (a tool used to establish names) handles the idea of sex and gender clumsily. There are many reasons for this state of affairs, many to do with practicalities and efficiencies and who’s actually aware of what data is where. But a big one is that we haven’t really figured out how to deal with categories like gender that aren’t binary or one-dimensional or stable. Some ways of handling these categories might be to understand them not as data points, but as a product of a set of relationships of power. Another way might be to create a sufficiently complicated data model, wherein race or gender is time-and-space dependent, or wherein it would change depending on perspective. Ultimately, Posner calls for us to be more specific about where changes in digital humanities might most productively take place. It’s not only about shifting the focus of projects so that they feature marginalized communities more prominently; it’s about ripping apart and rebuilding the machinery of the archive and database so that it doesn’t reproduce the logic that got us here in the first place.
Moving Toward a Reparative Archive: A Roadmap for a Holistic Approach to Disrupting Homogenous Histories in Academic Repositories and Creating Inclusive Spaces for Marginalized Voices https://elischolar.library.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1045&context=jcas
- Mainstream memory institutions have a long and dark history of engaging in oppressive archival practices. Is it conceivable that traditional archives might find a way to help mend the social wounds that have been created by the absence of records and that have created an ill-formed representation of history? This article argues that the building of a reparative archive via acquisition, advocacy, and utilization can assist in decolonizing traditional archives and bringing historically oppressed voices in from the margins, focusing on repair in material form, specifically within academic repositories that have customarily excluded the historically disenfranchised. Reparative archival work requires at a least one dedicated staff member to attain a reasonable level of success. The author conducts a case study of the Black Campus Movement (BCM) Collection Development Project Initiative at Kent State University, which set for itself three goals:
- Acquisition: The flagship collection, the Lafayette Tolliver papers, is primarily a visual history of the black student experience at Kent State between 1968 and 1971 as told through included nearly 1,000 never before published photographic prints and negatives. Since this acquisition, they have actively expanded to include black student life records through the present, including recording oral histories that highlight the narratives of black alumni, especially voices from Black United Students (BUS), the most critical element in the evolution of cultural transformation at Kent State during the late 60s through early 70s.
- Advocacy (Exhibits and Digitization): The university hosted an exhibition highlighting the Tolliver collection at the request of the donor, which allowed Special Collections and Archives to create a trust of stewardship with the donor, while at the same time providing an opportunity for the hidden voices of black student activism to begin to reclaim their space and their history, and a forum to assist in deconstructing the master narrative at a predominately white institution. More than one hundred black alumni returned for the event, and their names were gathered for potential future inclusion in the Black Campus Movement project’s oral histories and acquisition outreach. When the exhibit was finished, it was digitized through Omeka and these black alumni contributed additional information to the items; names, locations, context, and more. This had an impact on the controlled vocabulary used for this digital project. An increasing constituency within memory institutions, specifically within the realm of human rights work in community archives, engages in a participatory archives model, and “archives consequently become a negotiated space in which these different communities share stewardship—they are created by, for and with multiple communities, according to and respectful of community values, practices, beliefs and needs.” This paper argues that reparative archives in academic repositories should make this approach part of the acquisition process and work collaboratively with the donor or community members where applicable. These actions, in turn, give participants a sense of ownership and belonging.
- Utilization: Outreach to faculty for course purposes is useful, but so is outreach to student organizations. Student organizations are not attached to specific outcomes and therefore, they may provide more opportunities for organic interaction with records than can structured classrooms. In the case of Kent State, members of the BUS visited the exhibit, and reached out to the archivist and library staff and from there, a broken relationship has begun to mend as the students understand the the importance of archiving their stories to assist in repairing the void in the historical record in the institution’s archives moving into the future.
- A look into how historians are striving to preserve the history of this pandemic, specifically the experiences and stories of marginalized communities, for future generations, including challenges of the digital world and privacy, and what they are learning from previous generations and disasters.
- An interview with a professor about how the move to online learning shifted her viewpoints about teaching, the inspiration found in a professor in a Japanese internment camp, and reaching marginalized and underprivileged students, and digital and public history as service projects as well as academic projects.
- Sheila Brennan argues that digital methods help us to access and share marginalized or silenced voices and to incorporate them into our work in ways not possible in print or the space of an exhibition gallery. Her essay provides an overview of the multiple ways historians are using digital tools to research and share inclusive histories with broad audiences. For example, many digital collections replicate existing archival structures and collections, and as such, they can reproduce the power structures, and absences, involved in the creation of the original physical archives. At the same time, digital scanning and photography, combined with web protocols, have allowed individuals and organizations to build, curate, and share more inclusive collections around themes and communities. When it comes to teaching, the internet allows teachers and scholars to share syllabi, reading lists, lesson plans, and other materials. One example is the #Charlestonsyllabus; a community sources project filled with writings by scholars of color to encourage teachers to discuss difficult historical and cultural topics with their students. No matter the project, digital public historians encourage and facilitate active participation of communities to increase understanding of the past and contextualization of the present through digital means
- This has been in the news a bit lately; this initiative by the New York Times “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative” through a series of essays, images, videos, and even a podcast.
- This section of the Public Health in Oregon digital exhibit looks at institutional data from the Oregon State Insane Asylum, the Oregon School for the Education of Deaf Mutes, and more to make the point that data may be scientific, but it is not neutral, for those who collect data determine what kind of information to collect, how to collect it, and who to collect it from. However, the bias revealed in historical data can also be revealing, in and of itself.
- How do the digital humanities frame humanity? Gallon seeks to articulate a relationship between the digital humanities and Africana/African American/Black studies (from here on I will call the field Black studies) so as to highlight how technology can further expose humanity as a racialized social construction. She argues that any connection between humanity and the digital requires an investigation into how computational processes might reinforce the notion of a humanity developed out of racializing systems, even as they foster efforts to assemble or otherwise build alternative human modalities. Recovery is at the heart of Black studies, so this work is built on a “technology of recovery,” characterized by efforts to bring forth the full humanity of marginalized peoples through the use of digital platforms and tools. One of the essential features of the black digital humanities is that it conceptualizes a relationship between blackness and the digital where black people’s humanity is not a given. The black digital humanities might be defined as a digital episteme of humanity that is less tool-oriented and more invested in anatomizing the digital as both progenitor of and host to new—albeit related—forms of racialization. These forms at once attempt to abolish and to fortify a taxonomy of humanity predicated on racial hierarchies. Rather than moving forward with digitizing, text mining, topic modeling, and the like, the black digital humanities would have us seriously consider the political relations and “assemblages” that have racialized the literary, philosophy, and historical texts that we study. Digital tools and platforms should interrogate and disclose how the humanities are developed out of systems of power.
Gold, Matthew K., and Lauren F. Klein. Debates in the Digital Humanities 2019 Minneapolis, Minnesota; University of Minnesota Press, 2019. “Toward a Critical Black Digital Humanities” by Safiya Umoja Noble
- The digital humanities can profoundly alienate Black people from participating in its work because of its silences and refusals to engage in addressing the intersecting dimensions of policy, economics, and intersectional racial and gender oppression that are part of the society we live in; this engagement cannot be relegated just to Black digital humanists. We are living in a moment where Black people’s lives can be documented and digitalized, but cannot be empowered or respected in society. Noble argues that what we need to do to solidify the field of critical digital humanities is to couple it more closely with other critical traditions that foreground approaches influenced by political economy and intersectional race and gender studies. More generally, we can take this interdisciplinary opening to think about whether a shift of resources away from digital production to projects that take on issues of social, economic, and environmental inequality can allow more significant interventions to take hold. It is not just the everyday use of digital technologies that we must confront in our work but also the public policy and resource distribution models that allow for the existence of the digital to take such a profound hold.
- Noble argues that digital humanities is moving to the fore of the academy at a moment of heightened racial oppression, rising white supremacy, anti-LGBTQ hysteria among politicians, anti-immigrant legislation, mass incarceration, and the most profound wealth and resource inequality (which disproportionately harms women and children) to be recorded in modern times, and if critical digital humanists are not willing to lead the conversation about the implications of the digital on social inequality and to help develop policy that attempts to mitigate this inequality, then who can? We might begin by asking ourselves at what point did we become overly invested in the digital to the exclusion of pressing social issues of racial injustice, disenfranchisement, and community transformation. Is the narrow, inwardly focused attention on institutionalizing digital humanities to the exclusion of the social, political, and economic landscape worth it?