*Note: please excuse the amateur and possibly excessive use of links in this post. It’s about the only “extra” thing i know to do on a blog post besides enter text, and I might have gotten carried away.
What jumps out at me most about the websites is that the ECDA and Caribbean Digital sites reflect more traditional humanities endeavors of pedagogy and research—with a high degree of political consciousness, aims, and praxis—while the Create Caribbean and Separados sites strike me as something more like an “application” of digital humanities in the service of socio-political transformation and activism. The former sites are driven by scholarly disciplinary interests while the latter ones arose as responses to “real-life” needs.
All of the sites reflect an awareness of the political power of digital humanities and a commitment to using that power for social transformation, as well as a commitment to maximizing the opportunities afforded by the multidisciplinary nature of DH.
ECDA states its aims:
The ECDA has two primary related, overarching goals: the first is to uncover and make accessible a literary history of the Caribbean written or related by black, enslaved, Creole, indigenous, and/or colonized people. Although the first step in this process is digitization, the ECDA is more than a digitization or cataloging initiative. Rather, we aim to enable users—both scholars of the Caribbean as well as students—to understand the colonial nature of the archive and to use the digital archive as a site of revision and remix for exploring ways to decolonize the archive.
Produced in 2011, the website emerged as an archiving project, which understood its potential for use in decolonization, from within its own disciplinary perspective, while adopting a critical approach to the status quo of the discipline, and also looking outward. This resonates with the intro to the 2012 Debates volume, The Digital Humanities Moment:
Indeed, fault lines have emerged within the DH community between those who use new digital tools to aid relatively traditional scholarly projects and those who believe that DH is most powerful as a disruptive political force that has the potential to reshape fundamental aspects of academic practice.
ECDA aimed to accomplish both. It is primarily a Caribbean Studies project website, but it recognizes DH as a way to “disrupt… the academic practice” of the discipline.
I see the relationship between Caribbean Studies and Digital Humanities in the SX/Caribbean Digital conference websites as being more integrative. I might be over-reading the chronology as indicative of development, but I see this site (or is it a collection of sites?) as incorporating the stage described in the intro to the 2016 volume, Digital Humanities: The Expanded Field. The content, descriptions, and documentation of the conferences reflect an expansion of the “Big Tent”, in practice (scope and scale) and in the expanded metacognitive discourse about the definition, scope, and scale of DH. (Thanks to Zach Muhlbauer, who brought up the “metacognitive” aspect of DH, and the term, in our breakout group in class in Week 1).
Although it was launched at roughly the same time as the Caribbean Digital site, in 2014, the Create Caribbean website strikes me as embodying the motivations and mentalities outlined in the intro to the 2019 Debates volume, A DH that Matters.
Both Caribbean Digital and Create Caribbean reflect the multidimensionality and “openness” described in the (draft) intro to “Digital Black Atlantic,” and the conscious effort of creating a language that is true to the realities experienced and perceived by those whose identities place them “inside” the spatial, temporal, and cultural categories encompassed in the term “the Caribbean” and its diasporas, and also comprehensible to those viewing and analyzing the data through the lenses of various academic disciplines.
In their expansiveness (or, “capaciousness”– a word I heard a lot of in our first week of classes), I see both websites as accomplishing an integration that David Scott associates with Brathwaite: “a conceptual framework of Caribbean studies that combined the ‘social arts’ with the ‘social sciences.’” I understand Scott’s description of Brathwaite as a form of supplementation: adding humanities to the social scientific approaches he inherited (Smith’s pluralism, and Best’s and Beckford’s plantation society theory). But Scott also calls for a radical questioning and revision of the social scientific framework. I see Create Caribbean as such a corrective transformation. In some ways, it strikes me as an inversion of the initial colonialist project of instrumentalization and weaponization of scholarly inquiry. But, as a humanist, I am relieved to see the prominence of the social arts in its projects and methods.
In this respect, Torn Apart / Separados – xpmethod forces me to stretch my conception of digital humanities. I opened the site in its version 2, and the graphics struck me as much more commercial than scholarly:
But the description of the tools, collaboration, and methods easily convinced me that this too is DH. The need for this project underscores what I see as the core of DH– understanding and implementing responsibility in the gathering and processing of information.
Hi, Shani – thank you for the shoutout!
I think one reason for why the relationship between Caribbean Studies and DH feels so complicated to navigate is that the latter has the potential to not only uncover but also obscure and even reproduce colonial knowledge. All too often does traditional academic scholarship fall victim to this trap, in which independent critical inquiry claims to demystify the machinations of colonial knowledge, while unknowingly committing itself to acts of academic colonization — i.e. “the weaponization of scholarly inquiry,” as you mention. Accordingly, it is crucial that anyone who is serious about using digital tools to examine Caribbean histories must also critically reflect on the multidimensional implications of their project. Furthermore, it ultimately seems as though in order to responsibly commit ourselves to the project of decolonizing the colonial biases of an archive such as ECDA, we as scholars must engage in metacognitive discourse not only within the silo of academic scholarship, but also amid accessible and public-facing initiatives (or perhaps even working toward a combination of the two). This point speaks to why digital projects like the ECDA, not to mention expansive visualizations like Torn Apart, invite the public to critically participate in their work: because the act of decolonizing the buried narratives of the Caribbean requires us to collectively negotiate our colonial biases while “thinking Caribbean reflections.” It is invaluable, in other words, that we cross-pollinate in our self-reflective inquiry, lest we run the risk of failing to see the forest for the trees, which is itself one of the many gathering-grounds of the colonizer who mistakes their own solipsism for the thoughts and feelings of all people.
I’m curious about your mention of Torn Apart / Separados as being more commercial than scholarly at first glance.
What was it about the visuals that gave you that first impression?
Thanks, Rena, for your question.
The screenshot shows how version 2 opens up to a screen with a pop up (not sure if i am using the term correctly. the square in the middle of the screen). I associate this graphic with pop up ads. I experience this with a demand for attention– which is certainly very relevant here, but in my internet experience is pretty much a marketing feature.
But also my impression probably had something to do with the general smooth presentation, “glossy”, visuals. In my field, user experience, and general “front end” are really basic, frills-free; incorporation of analytics feels like: oh look, i did something cool, instead of the effective integration between purpose and presentation.