Below are my Skype remarks from the Colonial and Postcolonial DH roundtable at the College of William and Mary’s Race, Memory, and the Digital Humanities Conference.
To my mind, the most significant contribution of digital humanities is to developing and sustaining the digital cultural record of humanity. We can debate about definitions and methods, but, fundamentally, the faculty, librarians, archivists, students, and those who work in galleries and museums who are equipped with digital humanities skills are uniquely poised to assemble this digital cultural record. They – we – do this by thinking critically about digital methods for humanities research and objects of knowledge and by building digital archives, maps, databases, and other digital objects that populate the digital cultural record.
Yet, as we engage in this work, we do so in the context of a politics of knowledge that hasn’t always been hospitable to those outside a dominant culture. With a background in postcolonial and African diaspora studies, then, I am inclined read our digital cultural record through the colonial and neocolonial politics that have shaped the cultural record in its pre-digital phases. Edward Said, for example, has offered language for describing how power operates through colonial discourse, representation, and the construction of the othered colonized subject as an object of knowledge. Scholars of Subaltern Studies have pointed out the importance of looking beyond nationalist historiography to recover unheard voices in the cultural record. Benedict Anderson’s work on imagined communities has identified the relationship between print culture and nationalism. And scholars like Gayatri Spivak and Anne McClintock have brought intersectional nuance to colonial cultural production through attention to race, gender, and sexuality. These critiques of the cultural record have not gone away as the digital cultural record has been developed. The digital cultural record has largely ported over the hallmarks of colonialism from the cultural record, unthinkingly, without malice, in part because postcolonial critique has not made many in-roads in the practices of digital humanities scholarship.
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