I have been offered a returning fellow position at the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative (CHI). I was not expecting it, but I am happy and very honored to come back. Keep learning how to code and create on the website while finding the applications of informatics to explore questions as transcendent as what makes us human, or how to make this world a better one, is something I was dying to do. This returning fellowship is the perfect opportunity to do it.

This year, I will avoid talking about my experience of banging my head against the wall trying to make sense of coding, JS libraries, GeoJSON, Mapbox, Leaflet, R, and so many other matters I came across in the CHI fellowship. Instead, in this opportunity, I am taking a more curious and exploratory approach to the field where the intersection of the humanities with informatics takes place. I am talking about the field of digital humanities.

I encountered digital humanities for the first time at the 2019 Latin American Studies Association (LASA) congress thanks to the help of a very talented scholar I met there. She worked with a colleague in what I interpret as a digital pedagogical tool to explore Latin American music. When I heard about that, I did not know that it was digital humanities. What I remember, though, is this feeling of astonishment: How was a Ph. D history student creating a webpage!?  Why did I not know anything about that!?

I studied political science in a small and recently born department that was not very interested in or capable of pursuing risky explorations. It makes sense for a small and newly created department. Education at the time aimed to cultivate competent professionals following very conventional understandings of what a professional political scientist should be thinking and doing (in Colombian terms, of course. And yes, I am Colombian). Happily, it seems things are changing there, and it is possible future professionals in political science will know of digital humanities and the things they can do with informatics to expand their professional spectrum.

My masters’ degree is in Cultural Studies, and folks in the department where I took it were deeply involved in digging intellectual trenches to resist and fight against all forms of systematic oppression and discrimination. The core objective of the program was to engage in a highly critical way with the specter of common sense, which is a horrible monster at times. We read Marx, Foucault, Stuart Hall, Raymond Williams, Angela Davis, Judith Butler, and many other critical figures of the left, and the new left, and the post, and the progressive. But exploring the power of informatics to make compelling arguments or to come with a digital way of engaging with perennial injustices was not their thing. The trajectories of the faculty and the graduate students were mostly traditional in terms of the form, and there was no push coming from anywhere trying to make a change. For instance, I was not interested in a bit about learning to code. Changing the world was too urgent to invest some time in learning mundane languages like HTML, CSS, or JavaScript.

I used pixlr x to create this ridiculous image. It provides a great service for free.

I started my Ph.D. degree in Anthropology at Michigan State University (MSU) three years ago. I heard of Digital Humanities at MSU, and of CHI, but those things were too foreign to me. Foreign is awful if you are an international student trying to make sense of a place you don’t know and a language you have never used. I avoided the subject until I met the scholar I talked about at the LASA congress. Last year I was offered a fellowship in CHI, and it changed how I was thinking about my future and what I could do as a humanist and social scientist. I am deeply in debt with the program and Dr. Ethan Watral, its director.

I want to finish this entry by providing you with a plan of what I will be talking about this year, but I want to make some cautions, so everyone keeps their expectations in check. I am exploring the scholarly field of digital humanities and its applications with my monthly entries. You won’t be consuming the words of an expert. You will be going over the words of a student, a very good student, but a student in the end. If you keep up with these monthly entries, we will learn a couple of things about the field of digital humanities during this academic year.

I want to focus on Latin American digital humanities because I see Latin America as the space where I want to make a difference. Still, I want to talk about Digital humanities at large, and I will refer to what MSU has been doing with it. I will save MSU trajectory with digital humanities for the last entry in this collection of eight blog posts. Again, don’t expect the expert account of Digital Humanities here. I will do what I can with the short time I have to inform myself, and in the meantime, to inform you and give you cool things to expand the breadth of what you think you can do with your interest in the humanities and the social sciences if you believe you share in some ways my trajectory.

Eventually, I will talk about the development of my new CHI’s digital humanities project, and in May I will write only about it, but hopefully, we will have the opportunity to discuss its technicalities in GitHub. In this way, I will be able to carry out this side-line exploratory project. Next month, my entry will have a schedule of the more specific topics I will be touching on every entry.