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Blog post 9/11 Epistimologies of DH

“The human being is the answer, no matter the question”. With the risk of sounding too Western I wish to begin my remarks quoting the surreal writer, poet and anti-fascist Andre Breton (who, among other interesting things about his life, opposed colonialism and traveled to Haiti for that matter). I am not indicating nationality because I wish to put the accent on his words and not his background. The reason why I chose to begin with these words is because I want to lay emphasis on the generic aspect of humanities.

After reading Kim Gallon’s chapter on black digital humanities, the following thoughts were generated in my mind:

  1. Accentuating the element of ‘blackness’ in several of our social constructions and norms in life, instead of underlining the common denominator behind them which is none other than our human condition (the triptych reason/spirit/appetite) impedes a constructive dialogue between technology and the service of human needs. I believe that black studies have done very well to identify and criticize the fact that digital services offered to black populations have been racialized, however, black studies must avoid the peril of self-entrapment.
  2. To the extent that ‘racialization’ is a fact and therefore it needs to be addressed, I can only think of participation and inclusion to be two strong remedies. After all, humanities revolve around humans. The more we reach out to them the better we understand them and create a more spherical opinion. Participation should not only involve the academia, as Gallon, more or less suggests. It can take up the form of community engagement. When a digital project is born, an analyst uses not only computational material, data and quantitative elements but asks for input in terms of user experience. The analyst’s ultimate goal is to achieve usability, satisfaction and sustainability. These objectives require thorough examination of social traits, through interviews and immersion in local cultures.
  3.  The future challenge in digital services will be the degree of customization. One size DOES NOT fit all. That is a given in today’s digital humanities bibliography. With reference to black digital humanities, the problem begins when “Type A” group of people attempt to create a system for the “Type B” group. Discrepancies are bound to occur. However, when we think how fast technology revolutionized the democratization in the use of means of communication, pluralism in digital products design should be a relatively widely accessible process, overcoming these discrepancies.
  4. Talking about becoming the very producer of the projects you will one day use yourself, I would like to mention a successful example by the Greek immigration authorities: The introduced the “Home New Home” program which aimed at training young refugees in digital filming. The purpose was to enable them to become the creators of their own digital projects. Instead of being the object of observation, the beneficiaries of the program became the subject. That is a crucial dimension in digital humanities because it diminishes the anxiety of being left out, or being dictated what to do, or how to respond.

Kim Gallon is the founder and director of the BPRC (The Black Press Research Collective).   The Black Press Research Collective  (BPRC) is an interdisciplinary group of scholars committed to generating digital scholarship about the historical and contemporary role of black newspapers in Africa and the African Diasporas.For those ones they want to have a look here is the link: http://blackpressresearchcollective.org/about/

Although it was hard to deep understand some meanings of the text  of  D.Fox Harrell story I ended up with  some  personal questions that pointing out my thoughts :

How can you evaluate immaterial labor in the context of DH? Is it the product of scholarship assessed by experts or the product of a cognitive process assessed by its users? Can the users who are by no means experts serve as the reviewers of an application? Is science so pure that anything which is not theorized in writing can be disregarded as non-scientific? It seems to me that this is a matter of “what comes first? The chicken or the egg”? “Theory or action?”.

An interesting view on this comes from Bruno Latour who in 1993 wrote that western science has been subject to a process of purification; a process that dissembles the fact that modern science is characterized by a hybridization of artifacts. In this sense, it is interesting to ask why there is the need in contemporary academia to be able to compartmentalize knowledge in such a way that alienates its different parts from each other?

 Especially since evaluation is also something that should be tested for its scientific merits. If evaluation that is also a product of intellectual labor stands unchallenged then it comes down to configurations of power within academia which elevate evaluation as a solid body of knowledge and reduce the evaluated labor in spare parts of human intellect that need to be checked not in relation but in separation with the process that created them. So it all comes down to who, why and how decides what knowledge and its different manifestations is.

Roopika Risen in her text “What passes for Human” is trying to express the way in which DH should approach different cases of technology such as the creation of robots with AI.

As long as the Digital Humanities centers produce and expand that kind of technology, they do reproduce the same cultural and aesthetic models with those of the western society.

Regarding to the question who is well-educated or uneducated, handsome or ugly we will keep representing of a variety of races, nationalities and other human attributes. Taken such analysis we realize that we can’t talk in any case about technology that imitates the human being, as it is clear that this human being is not exclusively the white Eurocentric model.

Language and Textuality, as said, are the core dimension of DH and they played an important role in the valuing of universalism. The huge textual producers of Europe, like Homer, Shakespeare or Cervantes are valued for their universality and their articulation of a “human condition”. Artificial Intelligence is supposed to mimic human cognition but instead of replicating the model of white Eurocentric male cognition, it should always consider another “human” areas such as humor, in order the natural language processing software to produce normative forms of the human. Humanoid text manages only to reinforce cultures and aesthetics of dominant culture paradigms .DH practitioners, therefore, should resist such types of universal human subjects in their scholarship as many times digital humanities projects that take up computational approaches, mostly  at the level of textuality, often fail to address the cultural dynamics.

As per which data can be found in supporting research and scholarship in Digital Humanities, DH practitioners should  broaden include and regenerate in their data as much Information as possible from culture, race, ethnicity, nation, gender and language resulting positively  everybody globally based on the same principles that DH was created to serve. Advanced technologies, under the umbrella of data, could give the opportunity to the researchers of Digital Humanities to join the mainstream of the digital age with new challenges: accessing and reusing large volumes of diverse data and most importantly to bring the knowledge of the complex intricacies of human society to light. Challenges and opportunities co-exist, but it is certain that Data, having the ability to achieve big insights from trusted, contextualized, relevant, cognitive, and consumable data at any scale, will continue to have extraordinary value in digital humanities. In the digital era, it is common for people to only think of data in terms of digitally available formats. The connection between digital data and data analytics is correct, but we need to fully understand that the terms “data” and “digital data” are not equivalent.

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