Digital Humanities as Decolonization

The readings this week were helpful to me, as someone who has a vague (but passionate) sense of what DH truly is, in identifying possible practical applications of DH. The readings were a genuine and welcome introduction into the foundation and history of DH’s emergence.

However, what I found most interesting, as someone whose scholarship has thus far been focused on post-colonial theory and literature (specifically post-colonial African & Caribbean Lit), was The Early Caribbean Digital Archive website. Specifically, the section on Decolonizing the Archive. It brought to mind a question on DH as social justice. A digital archive becomes a question of accessibility. Traditionally, academia (and the humanities most frequently) has relied on physical representations of knowledge – texts in libraries and archives, documents that live in basements and temperature controlled rooms in libraries. These aren’t necessarily accessible spaces, especially for groups that are scarred by colonization.

The digital archive then, offers an opportunity to bypass traditional academic and intellectual gate-keeping by sharing, collaborating, and as the site points out, the chance to “disrupt, review, question, and revise the colonial knowledge regime that informs the archives from which we draw most of our materials” – this is a fascinating concept to me. Digital tools can certainly be limiting in some ways, but the idea that decolonization can take place through a digital archive, is the sort of thing that makes me reframe my initial ideas of what DH is.

Archiving – digital or otherwise – aren’t my specific area of interest, but this creates a clear connection for me between humanist study and digital tools, one that isn’t “mapping” (which I have little frame of reference for and struggle to conceptualize beyond a literal mind image of a google map with photos strewn about it).

DH as a decolonization tool is very appealing and also brings the semesters topic more into focus for me.

One thought on “Digital Humanities as Decolonization

  1. Eva Sibinga

    I also found the archive decolonization appealing, especially in light of the 2019 DDH Intro that focused on practical applications and concrete results of DH theory. I’m interested in more resources on decolonization within DH, beyond digital access to archives. What else does DH decolonization look like, both in theory and in practice?

    The Introduction to the Digital Black Atlantic states: “A black Atlantic perspective on the digital opens up the possibilities of a model for incorporating underrepresented voices and histories within a framework of digital humanities while resisting colonizing them, as digital humanities has a tendency to do (Risam)” (8). The question this raised for me, especially given the racial/economic/other privileges I have inherited and have been educated within, is HOW do we prevent/resist colonization in DH? How do I do it? What does this look like, especially in the interactions of voices that bridge global/academic/political “power levels”? Not to mention bridging racial or color differences, which is a question of interest to me as a white person interested in works by black authors and scholars. How do I participate mindfully to avoid reproducing problematic dynamics?

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