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2018 December

john5110

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December 7, 2018

Rememory

December 7, 2018 | By | No Comments

One of my most salient goals as an academic and a writer, as a person, is perhaps directly related to one of my greatest fears: forgetting home, and thus, losing home. While many of our technologies and actions today reflect globalization and the sharing of ideas, cultural practices, and artifacts, it is often driven by dominant groups in power. For example, in the case of gentrification, neighborhoods and communities often change when those with financial resources and social power enter previously “undesirable” areas. The community often receives a lot more attention and access to quality resources, but the costs include systemic removal—driven by capitalism. When people of a community (are re)move(d), often the cultural practices and spaces of a community also (are re)move(d).

Thus, my project is about rememory of self and s/place. We’re socialized through various institutions as well as our communities; however, when Western schooling works as a tool for assimilation and community is being attacked, sustaining cultural practices and embodied knowledges can be quite difficult. My interests somehow guided me organically to my proposed project. I was confused with out to balance the theoretical with the practice–with the importance of digital humanities being in conversation with questions of access. What would it mean to create something that was accessible, and more than that, reflected my pedagogical orientations in a way that continued to challenge me.

As in most situations when I am perplexed and overwhelmed, I called my mother. When I told her about my project, centered on mapping sites of educational memory in New Orleans, her first response was, “but no one has anything left.” She was alluding to Hurricane Katrina and the loss of our peoples (through passing and removal) and artifacts. In our own home, we loss not only loved ones, but many of our physical artifacts. For my mother who archived joy, sadness, about community, this was particularly difficult. Now, many New Orleanians approach their own loss with reluctant acceptance. The problem, she meant, was, “That’s going to be difficult. Who would you ask? What could they bring?”

While this may seem unimportant for some, for many, material cultural artifacts appear divorced from the people. This is often an ideology that justifies stolen cultural memory and the lack of willingness to return. Take Tarita Alarcón Rapu, the governor of Easter Island, and the indigenous Rapanui people who are asking the British Museum to return Hoa Hakananai’a (“lost or stolen friend”), ancient sculpture featuring the Rapa Nui’s famed stone faces. The British Museum has displayed it in London for the past 150 years. The U.K.’s Royal Navy stole it from the indigenous Rapanui people in 1868. What the delegation who traveled to London want to get across, is that Hoa Hakananai’a is not simply a rock, a statue. As Anakena Manutomatoma told The Guardian, “We want the museum to understand that the moai are our family, not just rocks. For us [the statue] is a brother; but for them it is a souvenir or an attraction,” (as cited by Herreria, 2018).

While I knew many of the personal cultural artifacts would be unavailable, I considered visiting archives and knew that I would have to make more of an effort to reach out to New Orleanians. Two days later, my mother called to say, “I got a few people you can talk to. They’re excited. You’re going to get a lot of stories.” While the artifacts I am in search for are not as sacred as Hoa Hakananai’a, these memories occurred in sacred s/places. For me, this was the most important aspect of the work. It’s bringing attention to what people consider is not sacred, to what some believe is forgotten.

I take this work up while drawing upon various scholars, but an important one is Leigh Patel (2015) who argues that settler colonialism works to replace and erase Native peoples. Erasing the histories of People of Color is a part of this project. Restricting access to one’s histories and ancestors is a part of the settler colonialist project as well. I see digital tools as part of the praxis of decolonization. This leads to another aspect that I continue to cycle back to: what does it mean to share the stories of others and how does the world of the digital humanities play a role in this?

References

Patel, L. (2015). Decolonizing educational research: From ownership to answerability. Routledge.

dglovsky

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December 7, 2018

Teaching Early African History/Studies with a Digital Lens

December 7, 2018 | By | No Comments

I recently attended a panel on teaching pre-1800 African history using digital humanities. The panel focused on early African history, but some of the presentations ignored the digital humanities portion of the title and only really focused on the pre-1800 part. Perhaps the theme of the panel changed after the program was printed, or maybe the presenters just decided to go in a different direction. Either way, the panel was interesting and gave me some new ideas about (re)structuring an early African history syllabus. The question I’d like to pose here is how does one do early digital African history?

Seven years ago, Richard Reid noted a decline in the number of African historians looking at pre-colonial topics. He blamed this decrease, and the corresponding increase in focus on colonial and post-colonial history, on a scholarly belief in the grand importance of the twentieth century. I would argue this is also related to the often voluminous archival record for the colonial period, as well as the relative ease of doing more recent oral history. These same questions I believe explain the lack of emphasis in digital tools to understand the more distant African past, but also emphasize the importance of using what tools we have to bring out more information about periods where the lack of written sources and documents may leave gaping silences.

Maps of pre-colonial polities often misrepresent these territories as exact, bounded physical spaces, when in actuality power was diffuse and the geographic peripheries of particular spaces were often in flux, and can be difficult if not impossible to replicate. This asks us to potentially be more creative in our “mapping.” In his work on pre-colonial Bornu, Vincent Hiribarren uses cartograms to demonstrate the structure of the state of Bornu, without claiming that these are exact. He has “maps” of Bornu, but makes clear that there are “only schematised representations” and “should not be understood as rigorous and definitive maps.”

The field of African history with the largest digital presence is unsurprisingly the one with the largest archival presence: the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Websites like Slave Voyages and Liberated Africans offer large amounts of data to help students and educators better understand the past.

How to extend this data to projects that may not have such readily available data? I do look at the late pre-colonial period, but am primarily a colonial and post-colonial historian. My own digital interests lie in the colonial and post-colonial periods, so I am not necessarily the right person to answer this. But other (non-written) evidence may be a way to bring digital tools into the classroom and onto the syllabus. Archaeology and historical linguistics are tools used to get understand the African past, and can be used and taught with digital formats in mind. Regardless of how they are used, if we believe digital tools are crucial to teaching about more contemporary periods, it is important that we extend and adapt these tools to teaching about more distant pasts.

cartyrya

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December 6, 2018

Rethinking Quantification in African History

December 6, 2018 | By | No Comments

Numbers remain unwelcome facets of African history. Foreigners collected most of them until independence, and after independence the published numbers tend to reflect Africa’s lack in terms of economic and social development. Of course, these numbers, most of which have been extrapolated from trade and population statistics, reflect the preoccupations of those who collected them. Thus, many African historians rightly ignore the numbers to tell other types of African history.

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franc230

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December 5, 2018

The Feasibility and Worthwhileness of a Project.

December 5, 2018 | By | No Comments

Scope has been a primary concern for a lot of us during the semester. You have to have an idea that falls right into that Goldilocks zone of feasible and worthwhile. My particular project is no exception. As a research assistant for the anthropology department, I started off the semester hoping to digitize an entire archaeological collection. A collection which may have thousands of artifacts and documents associated with it. I soon realized this is probably too much and decided to build the skeleton of a digital library that could add documents and artifacts in the future. This seemed like a better goal since I will likely be museum RA for quite a while. This was missing an important aspect, however, of what CHI fellowship projects are supposed to be about. That being cultural heritage.

In the future, I hope to be able to use digital heritage to preserve artifacts and educate people about our history. Well, it’s one of my goals. As a Native American archaeologist, I am greatly concerned about spreading Native American culture and passing on our history and values to the public and the next generation. Especially since these things were missing through much of my own upbringing. With this in mind, I realized that I may have actually been focusing too much on just the digital aspect of my project.

Rather than focusing on the digitization of all of the artifacts, or the building of a digital library, some of my attention should be on what sort of story the presentation of these artifacts will produce. This collection holds history. The artifacts that were collected hold the life stories of those that made them and the collection itself holds the story of the archaeologists who put it together. It is important to me that I get both of these aspects out into the world. Because cultural heritage is more than just a catalog. It gives a perspective about who we are.

The exact details of how to do this are still being worked out, but hopefully I will become better at getting the artifacts the and cultural heritage behind them out there in the process. It reminds me that feasibility is important when it comes to the scope of a project, but so is worthwhileness.

koutiany

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December 5, 2018

What does Digital Humanities mean to you?

December 5, 2018 | By | No Comments

A few days ago, in the office, my co-workers referred to me as the “DH person”. “The DH group” is also used to refer to the scholars on MSU campus who work with Digital Humanities. On the one hand, I am proud to be recognized as a “DH person.” On the other hand, I still sense the connotation of that description; there is a distinction between the “DH people” and the “non – DH people”. However, I would like to argue that “DH” should never be a tag that we use to make ourselves and our works look fancier, instead, DH is embedded in our academic activities in terms of studying, researching, teaching, etc. Therefore, it is our responsibility to make DH more accessible, promote DH by showing our co-workers, and the general public audience what they can do with DH. I believe the rise in popularity of DH will eventually benefit the development of huminites as a whole.

The “you” in the title of this blog does not only stand for our fellow graduate students, professors, but also for the general public regards their age and educational backgrounds. Within the field of humanities in the university setting, software makes the analysis process for quantitative research more efficient. More and more data are documented through digital forms, which makes them accessible to a larger audience. With the development of technology, digital learning and researching tools can be seen everywhere in our daily life. E-books and online learning systems provide students who live in remote areas access to acquire knowledge, which benefits not only the people in the school setting, but also everyone who has the desire for learning in various fields. Living in this digital age, we are no longer isolated by geographic distance.

DH is nothing scary. DH is about humanities scholars using digital tools to conduct research, to study and to teach in a more appealing way. DH is never the end goal, but a means. A means that assists humanities to step further, look deeper, and speak louder. Within the framework of CHI fellowship, I, as a German scholar focusing on cultural studies, can combine various forms of materials with the assistance of digital tools and present them to a wider audience. The project I am currently working on is presenting the stories of the German national football team players with immigration background. A map that shows the player’s heritage provides a direct visual assistant. Projects such as this could be a gateway for German language students to develop a better understanding of the multicultural situation in Germany. Currently the project is only available in English, however, more language options could be added at a later stage. Combining football and language teaching could also trigger the learner’s enthusiasm for using the language in a real-life setting, rather than simply finishing activities in a textbook. The project as such could strongly benefit language teaching and turn the learning process towards a more communicative way.

Although DH may not seem like a scary term for us, the “DH people”, it could still be intimidating for those who are not familiar with it. We should not be content with the “glory” DH brought us and forget the original intention that brought us to work with DH: presenting our research in a more comprehensive way; making our research more accessible to a larger audience; and overall, bringing humanities to the next era.