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My Introduction to Digital Humanities

My introduction to the Digital Humanities this week came with several challenges particularly given that I have never before explored this area of study. I found the digital language at times prohibitive if not sufficiently accompanied by the humanist language that I know to decode well.  In fact, it is the field-specific language of Digital Humanities scholarship that I have taken away the most from this initial exploration. Once I started the process of internalizing the language that was essential to understanding the work, I could then approach the work with my now built-in humanist lens.

               Going back in time, I looked at the DH debates from 2012 onward that have continued to shape the field. It was an imperative undertaking to shaping my own understanding of the field’s current position and mission statement in relations to the adjacent disciplines. The Digital Humanities are no longer existentially ambivalent on the question of “big tent” or “chain link” structural models as they once were. Nor are they narrowly excluding “reading and writing” work for the sake of “building and making” work. It is not in the self-interest of the field to set artificial parameters around admissibility when it is not yet a self-sustaining field. It borrows heavily in content, method, perspective, and framework from other fields. Yet it is in its own way an essential puzzle piece of the inter-disciplinary web of the 21st century. It has successfully made the claim for its purpose as a discipline which straddles in-between spaces in traditional humanistic and computational methodologies.

               That much was evident in the scope of the projects I examined. Two projects in particularly captured my interest because of their striking juxtaposition within the field; the Torn Apart/Separados and in The Early Caribbean Digital Archives. The substance of each project greatly differed from the other and the tools of assembly greatly differed as well, although equally relevant to the question of what type of work Digital Humanists should be creating. Each is framed within a political context.  The Separados’ Data visualization is an act of “exposing” the entrenched relationship between the political establishment, the private sector, and Immigration Enforcement and tracking that relationship in terms of political contributions and contracts overtime. The data is shocking, especially as a graphical representation, even more so if you come with stereotypical assumptions about how Hispanics as a political group behave in relation to ICE. As an extension to the project DHers might want to visualize the political influence of corporate contributions by looking at congressional voting records on immigration legislation and to determine a correlation if any between the amount of contributions received from contractors and  PACs supporting ICE and the number of YES/NO votes on immigration measures.

               A political agenda is equally embedded in the Early Caribbean Digital Archives. The overlaying of text and images as an act of “positive revisionism” counters a narrative often presented from the European colonialist perspective. The work of reclaiming the Black Narrative has its roots in the work of W.E.B. Dubois who first labored on the question of the history of the Negro Race after he was told repeatedly by white academia that they didn’t have one. Reclaiming the Narrative is an ongoing process with contributors over many generations and therefore carries with it an intellectual imperative for black scholars unlike many other works. The political aspect of the Early Caribbean Digital Archives lay  both in “reinterpreting the text and contextualizing it with images”,  as well as using new technological tools to make it accessible to the audience for whom it really will make a significant difference, history classrooms across the country.

               Although I found the projects to be vastly different in substance, both being presented on the same digital platform creates a narrative among the works to be viewed and interpreted in relation to each other. I did not look at either project in a vacuum. I went back and forth to their shared digital home to compare and contrast what I observed about them. I got to thinking about what audiences they were intended for and whether the authors had anything to say to each other.  Whether they are isolated links in the Digital Humanities chain or is there opportunity for “crossing” and can we use the “memory” of historical events to contextualize contemporary political danger? I am still making new observations and learning significantly about the Digital Humanities, now that I found my entry point.