My name is Shanti Zaid and I am very happy to have been selected as one of this year’s Cultural Heritage Informatics fellows. Since I have little background in the digital world beyond a lay familiarity with the internet and a mild case of digitized article hoarding, what else could I offer by way of a biographic introduction? A classic ‘credentialed’ background would look something like: “I am a graduate student at Michigan State University pursuing dual PhD degrees in both African American and African Studies, and in Socio-Cultural Anthropology. I received my BA in History from MSU and earned MA degrees in Social Anthropology and Migration/Diaspora Studies from the University of London.” Research-wise, I might say: “My research interests include African Diaspora history and cultural traditions with an emphasis on diasporic religious forms. Currently, I study Africa-inspired religious traditions in eastern Cuba, with attention to the bodily practices and social networks of communities who practice more than one religious tradition.” Geographically, I might add that I was born on the other side of the world, raised in Boulder, Colorado but have lived in Michigan on and off for the last ten years or so.
But these bits of biography hardly seem sufficient. I would raise my artistic side and highlight that I have two recorded Hip-Hop albums and self-published a book of poetry and photography, but in reality, those were accomplished in the glory days of undergrad. Now, I’m lucky if I get out more than a couple poems a year, much less a song. At present, the most significant aspect of my biography is my daughter, born this past summer. She has brought me a joy unlike any I’ve ever experienced. And it is in part thinking about her cultural heritage that I have been considering my project for the CHI Fellowship. This project revolves around ways to digitally bring the past into the future and interactively remember local cultural heritages. Cryptic, I know, but I’ll have more time to elaborate on this project in future posts. For now, I just want to say that I’m excited to be here and look forward to sharing my ideas, progress, and digital musings this semester and over the course of the year.