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Global DH

After nearly a year of work, it’s hard to believe the Global Digital Humanities Symposium is finally here! I first became involved with the Symposium as a presenter in 2018, and I joined the planning committee in 2019. This year, I’m also a member of the communications subcommittee and the volunteers subcommittee. During the Symposium this week, I’m handling the conference’s Twitter account which has been a new experience, but it has been really interesting to see all of the conversations about the presentations that are going on out there on social media. Anyhow, on to this week’s readings…

In Alex Gil and Elika Ortega’s chapter “Global Outlooks in Digital Humanities: Multilingual Practices and Minimal Computing,” they discuss the challenges of translation in DH spaces and suggest possible solutions through their work with Global Outlook::Digital Humanities (GO::DH). They discussed the origins of GO::DH as developed out of a need for de-centering the Global North in DH communities. Primarily, the organization works to facilitate the establishment of relationships between DH communities across the world. Some of this work involves finding ways to circulate scholarship across language barriers, and Gil and Ortega site some of their objectives as being “focused on valuing the character of the community, showcasing its multilingual and multicultural wealth, raising awareness about the different academic cultures and norms, and processing ways to ensure local-global work is reviewed in a culture- and language- sensitive manner” (27). Through their creation of a Translation Toolkit, GO::DH is able to address some of these goals and identify that the DH community spans many languages and many volunteers are willing to help with translations. They advocate for minimal computing as a way for increasing access.

Roopika Risam’s chapter “Decolonizing the Digital Humanities in Theory and Practice” positions decolonization as a process and one that can be facilitated through digital technology. Like Gil and Ortega, Risam points to the de-centering of the Global South and Indigenous cultures in DH communities and recognizes the continual colonial violence that occurs without conscience efforts to destabilize current hierarchies. She suggests that …

when invoking the relationship between decolonization and the digital humanities–the central question is not how digital humanities itself could be decolonized but how digital humanities has contributed to the epistemic violence of colonialism and neo-colonialism. This is evident in both its implication in colonial forms of knowledge production and the ways digital humanities has contributed to historical processes of decolonization. Its further possibilities lie in resisting neo-colonialism in projects and tools. (Risam 80).

Risam offers a variety of potential steps to decolonization through a combination of theory and practice. She emphasizes the importance of understanding DH in local contexts, which stems from postcolonial theories. The DH community also needs to reckon with the fact that methods of knowledge production/transmission that are developed in the Global North are not the only way of doing things.

The interview with Chao Tayiana Maina, “Digital History, Grit and Passion…” posted to the People’s Stories Project blog provided excellent context for the keynote she gave at the opening of the Global Digital Humanities Symposium on April 12. I was particularly interested in Maina’s response to the question: “How would you define the term ‘digital humanities’ in line with your development of ADH?” She replied:

I’m trying to stay away from the more academic descriptions, but I see African Digital Heritage as a way to rethink, to re-animate, to respond. At the centre of everything is the culture, and technology revolves around that. I’ve always been very clear about centering the history and then the technology as opposed to saying, ‘wow, I have this cool new gadget, what history do I apply to it.’ When I think about digital humanities, I think about humanities as being the core part, and digital being an interface, or a supplement that works to strengthen the humanities as opposed to the other way around.

-Chao Tayiana Maina

This definitely came through during her keynote, in which she discussed the ways in which context is key in dealing with archives. In particular, Maina noted that working within colonial archives involves unpacking oppressive frameworks and working to develop empathy. She warned listeners of the risk of replicating colonial violence through digitization practices, and emphasizes that digital humanities practitioners must be extremely deliberate when working with these materials and developing projects from them.

I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the Global Digital Humanities Symposium this week, and plan to start exploring the presented scholarship through a decolonial lens.

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