robin_anne_reid: (Treehouse)
robin_anne_reid ([personal profile] robin_anne_reid) wrote2013-01-04 01:22 pm

MLA 2013 Session #239: Representing Race; Silence in the Digital Humanities



Friday, 4 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Gardner, Sheraton
Presiding: Adeline Koh, Richard Stockton Coll. of New Jersey
Speakers: Moya Bailey, Emory Univ.; Anne Cong-Huyen, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Hussein Keshani, Univ. of British Columbia; Maria Velazquez, Univ. of Maryland, College Park
Responding: Alondra Nelson, Columbia Univ

This panel examines the politics of race, ethnicity, and silence in the digital humanities. How has the digital humanities remained silent on issues of race and ethnicity? How does this silence reinforce unspoken assumptions and doxa? What is the function of racialized silences in digital archival projects?

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This was one of the sessions I had to attend--and it was one of the best of the conference so far.

Adeline Koh:

Conception of panel: February or March this year a lot of discussion in blogosphere about silences in digital humanities, cultural silences about race, gender, disability, being somewhat neglected, and this resulted in a collection of posts Digital Humanities Now. Exploring this issue of race and ethnicity as structural elements:

Calibration of DH Tools
DH Archives
Virtual Identities
Pushback within communities
How do we navigate this silence

Anne Cong-Huyen

Thinking Through Race (Gender, Class, & Nation in the Digital Humanities; the #transformDH Example

Small effort, grown to larger banner movement, to move DH in transformative way. Pointing out faults and shortcomings is not enough.

Image of Map, borders, restriction of digital humanities geographically. Borders/boundaries, text embedded in a global map.

Start: Digital Humanities vs. digital humanities. The institutionalized and the broader field (little d h): different communities. Organizations and groups with lower case dh include HAYSTACK, HomeLab, #transform DH

Funding rewards certain practices at larger institutional settings; NEH support reflects assumptions about what is valuable about DH. Build maintain databases, digital tools, etc. Tangible recognizable projects. Few of these projects deal with text or works of those marked as Other in terms of race, etc. Only 3 out of 22 projects dealt overtly with (missed phrase). A lot of the work funded is in English, historical (18th century) , copyright issue. Europe and the US are focus.

Presentation in conference at Puerto Rico, and MLA 2011, went on to produce a document "Toward an Open Digital Humanities.' (all on her blog), a useful primer of approaching inclusion and access. Participants of the session put out an open call on twitter ASA 2011; six came together, all early career academics, grad students, newly minted PHDs, to share material concerns about our futures, and what we saw developing.

Saw potential in the digital humanities, but found ourselves concerned about its development. The issue of labor, ethnic and gender populations who produce the technology, the types of academic jobs; concern about some of the positive views of technology, and such technologies and practices that align with certain kinds of practices of Othering, already in academia.

Some people's work does not get recognized as DH -- and the DH was not speaking to concerns of group whose areas of study include:

Critical race and ethnic studies
Feminist, gender, queer studies
Postcolonial, transnational, diaspora
Disability Studies
DIY (Add your Own!)

Reactions to what was happening in the field: DH prides itself on being interdisciplinary collaborative and inclusive. Pushback against what we were doing, even from some allies, was surprise.

Resistance at MLA 2012

Our work challenged conception of DH as insurgent/technological. We encountered pushback from people we did not expect it from--people who should have been our allies. Roger Whitson (chairing the sister panel). Comment on Roger Whitson Does DH Really Need to be transformed: my reflections on #transformDH, led to active response (Alexis Lothian).

Central Points:

Gender, sexuality, race, nationality, and ability are all central to how we encounter and participate in digital humanities.
#transform DH is a larger endeavor>Participate
We must work collectively towards transformative social justice oriented engagements.
Be a digital humanist--reassert the human in the humanities.

More concrete ways of participating:

Join the community
#transform DH community
Transformdh.tumbr.com
#transformDH tag on twitter, facebook
HASTC also has a #transform DH page.

All information here:

We want everyone to be involved.

Anitaconcihta.wordpress.com



Moya Bailey unable to join us, but she posted summary of remarks on her blog to view at: MoyaBailey.com

Hussein Keshani: race and state patronage of Digital Islamic studies in the UK explores state funding and governance and control.

New title: How to fund non-Western digital humanities projects in the UK: become a terrorist.

Intersection of race and digital humanities Islamic studies in Eng./NA sphere, it seems that DH projects in their initial and grandest incarnations followed some unspoken rule that the purpose was to construct cathedral for western identity.

Appetite for resources voracious--would marginal fields be crowded out. Towering projects of DH: biggest most ingenious and technologically complex ones, all seems to retell narrative of western exceptionalism, the Enlightenment, the long 19th century (British and American).

All printed books in early English
Women in British Isles
Shakespeare is revered throughout
Shakespeare global project
Ancient Rome digitally reconstructed

The rise of DH is part of a savvy and heroic attempt by the old humanities to reinvent itself and demonstrate its relevance. But this uneasy feeling grips me, it is the feeling that a powerful new way of constructing liberal or humanistic arts emerges, but it's being employed to focus on the Western heritage.
Financial and technological resources are allocated--best support in Anglosphere must first be devoted to cultural touchstones of western Civilization, the Western self is a racial category not just a cultural one, reproduces itself. My error is to assume that the humanities/liberal arts is a cosmopolitan area.

There are efforts to deploy to study subaltern, marginalized, etc., to study how objects of race are constructed.

Race is both reimagined and reinstituted in digital culture.

But these efforts tend to be piecemeal, sporadic one offs not institutional in nature, dwarfed by the Western scale.

Discuss the case study: digital Islamic studies in the UK

"Be careful what you wish for"

State in Anglosphere deliberately focused its resources on digital Islamic studies--which counters much of what I just said.

Why did it do so?

The UK government asked for strategically important higher education projects to be identified by a Higher Education Council; in the following years, 350 million pounds was pledged to reinforce those designated error. 2005-2012: STEM, etc. foreign languages, etc. then at a later date Islamic studies (new category added) in response to government commissioned report "Islam at Universities in UL" Sudiki (spelling?) Focus on Muslim students and on promoting to them a moderate multicultural friendly version of Islam--to ensure that students have access to material on how the teachings of Islam can be put into practice in a contemporary pluralistic society; to improve quality of spiritual advice and support in universities; to identify gaps between needs and aspirations of Muslim students, and the programs of studies available in universities in England

This report and context are substantially different than the past, reacting to growing population of Muslims in England.

Changed dynamics between Muslims and policy makers since 9/11: need to make sure growing Muslim population is an asset not liability (QUOTE).

Educational minister: commented on press release. "thoughtful and helpful contribution…the effective and accurate delivery of Islamic studies is important for a multitude of reasons including community cohesion, and preventing violence" Islamic Studies became a strategic field of study.

A major player was Joint Information Systems committee--digital humanities entity digitized Islamic manuscripts; they commissioned a report which connected work to the press release, but omitted a key sentence: "this would in turn contribute to preventing violent extremism." Information but not violence.

Small and marginalized field was worthy of resources--upsurge of governmental funding coincided with the UK's government of rising terrorism as a threat following 9/11 in US and London bombings.

This was to tame the population, to assimilate, to inoculate against violence. In the Anglosphere, the Muslim is both medieval/contemporary Other

Race in DH is not only one of exclusion, so take heart: but paradoxically one of inclusion too. The case suggests that in order to be included, one must be deemed a sufficient threat.

State wants to affect young Muslim. Does creating a digital humanity database of Arabic texts really do that? Don't know. But good for Islamic studies, and digital humanities.


Adeline Koh: navigate silences about discourses and love.

Navigating Archival Silence
Creating a 19th century postcolonial Archive

Archive and Power: forms by which knowledge is made knowledgeable
Knowledge production, limits possibility of knowledge. (Foucault)
Achrontic power (Derrida) type of power that calls things into being

Digitizing "Chinese Englishmen"

19th century journal.
Using digital archive programs to construct a postcolonial archive.

DH has lots of work on 19th history, but little on colonial history or empire--or even situating canon authors to colonialism.

"Chinese Englishmen" Anglophone Chinese diaspora in S Asia, specifically Singapore and Malaysia. Privileged Chinese subjects. Qing Chinese Empire and British--torn between two. Bourgeoisie intermediaries.

The Straits Chinese magazine
Modeled after Blackwood's and Macmillan's
Upper class periodical to give voice to Chinese diaspora of Malaysia
Edited by Song Ong Siang and lim Boon Keng

Alpha form: decentralized a postcolonial archive, one that questions the structure of imperialism in the archive itself.
Artifacts that have been unrepresented

"Postcolonial" derives from Edward Said and postcolonial studies: a mode of criticism than a time period.

Archive which works against imperial meaning making in the archive by implementing new types of reading and technologies that disrupt the colonial meaning.

Cultures of circulation, manipulation, management that allow object to enter an archive--Allan Isaacman, "interrogate needs for scholars to overcome colonialism and apartheid".

Subject matter: allows for more comparative structures of similar hybrid dynamics against 19th century European empires.

Spinoffs: African Englishmen, Indian Englishmen, Caribbean Englishmen, etc.

Digital: hypertext, use of tags, "open up text" to different interpretations.

Digital product will accommodate public commentary through comments form.

Goals for more decentralization; crowd source annotations of the text, encourage audience participation and annotation.

CMS Shift: now hosted in wordpress, but will be planned to Scalar.
Metadata will be tagged in RDF format, allowing others to interact easily with the archives.

Scalar: allows comments to play a more central role in determining the structure of the archive.

Social Media: Twitter account @CEnglishmen
Twitter: #CEnglishmen
Future: Tumblr

Digital recovery project--think through creating a postcolonial archive; through attempts to be self-critical of knowledge formation (not top down).


Maria Vaelaquez; Blog like you love, anti-racist projects, Black feminism, and the virtual.

Introductory chapter of dissertation
Highlight connections between black women's projects during the 1990s and information technology during that period.

2 examples of principles and practice.
Two quotes: about new skin for earth--no race, gender, age. Etc. Story of technological transcendence saying that technological systems will mimic then replace the organic. All equal/utopian. Identities becoming unmarked but still circulating.

Not the only story coming from the 90s: crescendo of black female creators.

Link the two movements to highlight social justice issues on the cusp--anti-racist blogosphere.

Information Age rhetoric during the 1990s, situated in context of social justice movements, particularly in the Black community with suddenly much stronger sense of spiritual and local transformation.

Writing genre fiction and race.

Conversations occurring in virtual communities, and in meat space events.

WisCon, Arisa, etc.

Virtual labors of love, etc.

Talented and passionate community of women in love with the creative works and women of color.

Discussions around Trayvon Martin's Murder
Whitney Houston Project
Racefail 2009
Angry Black Woman website.

Link personal and political, blogs that are public anti-resistance efforts, highlight self-love and community love. Focus on Black women's empowerment. Spiritual, creative, and political links in the projects of love.

Conclude: 2 sites as examples (one successful, one not)

Carl Brandon society; increasing new awareness of authors of color, Samuel Delany's article.


Online journal to sell stuff to support fans of color attending the conference--playful and successful.

Fostering communities of color in sf.

Community building online for friendship and allegiance must be demonstrated textually online.

Lifting Voices. Services for children in that particular area -- DC homeless shelter. Ask students to write letters

Advertising on Black blogosphere for financial support -- advertising campaign--similar to Black women at the turn of the century.

Both are using the same method of relying on community allegiance and transformational power.

Lifting Voices ended up closing shop, but did produce a book of student writing.

Did not work in long term---no institutional support.


The questions framing this special session focus on the critical utility of the humanities and addressing race, gender, and nationality, and ways in which people make use of the digital commons--fail without access and resources.

Respondent: Alondra Nelson: couple of points.

Provocations that we can use in conversation.

Thanks for invitation.

First ever MLA.

Heartening and discouraging: changes from her dissertation on this topic.

Disconcerting that there's still a resistance to inserting race, ethnicity, and gender into space -- that we're seen as creating a problem where things are just fine.

New iteration of the quotes with which Maria began her dissertation.

Heartening: one, sense of collectivity of #transformDH

That MLA 13 there are more audience members than the panel as opposed to the inverse, so that means that you guys put your finger on something that's important to a lot of people.

1. transforming DH, changes sought in DH
Social justice, social transformation: what can the humanities and what can the DH do about issues that aren't just about the humanities? Inequality and larger than academy

2. resources that are allocated--social control that comes back again and again in state surveillance that probably should be a more explicit conversation, and part of issue of peer review. Intervene in peer review projects.

3. raise the issue of the Digital Divide a term which I despise because it creates the problem it's trying to diagnose--who is DH for? Who is transformed DH for, for the transformers (heh), for academics, for broader society.

4. Touching on composition of archive and what's included and how: one thing I would hope that would be in the forefront of transform DH as it involves. Is thinking more about the politics of composition, and so what does a transformed archive look like. What does progressively composed DH archive looks like. Not just excavation and retrieval. Difference between creating a postcolonial archive ad an anti-colonial archive.

5. What does it mean or a transform DH when the people you want to be in conversation are using mobile aps -- are there technical tools that you want to think about as being important and loud and thus transformative work. Women are less likely to use social media sites and more likely to blog and so to the extent that the transformDH project is about representing different audiences, and more diverse ones, and reaching that audiences, technical question is an important one.

Q How does this relate to humanities as a large -- not just DH issue.

Applies to everything