I’m a migration researcher; forced and irregular migration in particular. Therefore, being a part of the CHI community makes me think about how my research goes beyond the academic spheres and gives voice to the communities, in my case, refugees who need to be heard.
I like to mention the scope, function, and ethics of doing visual digital humanities work in migration research. I, very roughly, split them into two categories: Visual digitalization of the quantitative data and visual work as a methodology to produce digital humanities work. First and foremost, the most prevalent way of using digital tools in migration research is mapping and visualization of the migration flows. On one hand, they (i.e. Metrocasm-Global migration Map, The Flow Towards Europe, Missing Migrants Project, & Global Flow of People) portray a fascinating visualization of millions of people on the move and emphasize the extensiveness of the situation. They lack sensing by shrinking individual stories into inaudible non-human dots on the other. We may forget the reality of each number represents a human being while enjoying the “beauty” of the visual.
Therefore, these little dots represent multiple human beings that may be dismantled with the help of visual work that falls under our second category. Human beings live, capture specific events along the way, code them into their memories, constantly remember them, and want to expand their stories to commiserate or share joy. Eventually, what has remembered merges into stories and stories become real people. If memory is the infrastructure of remembering, material objects play a vital role in definition, consolidation, and sustaining this infrastructure. Hence, visual work based on this materiality to support and regenerate the quantitative data is an invitation to the audience from every circle, either academic or not, for active witnessing by the researcher. This space of active witnessing allows the studied group, whose voice is mostly taken by the dominant groups, become visible and the owner of their own memories. Here, where ethics come to the fore for the researcher: Who is researchable, and what is denotable in the visual digitalized work?
The digitalization of this visual work extends the accessibility of the work, especially in these virtual times. If we stay optimistic enough, visual digital humanities may even lead to sociopolitical impacts while archiving and making the atrocities accessible. I chose to be optimistic and take the opportunity to utilize visual methodologies and to polish them with digital tools to tell the stories of the suffering and beholders of it throughout my work in CHI.