One of the features that make The Early Caribbean Digital Archive a special place to center DH are the implicit questions it asks of us as it concerns access, power, and our relationship to both, that DH enables. I think these provocations are urgent, especially as it concerns Spiro’s argument about DH’s identity and the current pressures placed upon this dilemma as Western dependence on the field increases during a time of pandemic, continued state violence, natural disaster, and an election season.
To frame, The Early Caribbean Digital Archive is described as a decolonial project and archive, and its mission is to make “pre-twentieth-century Caribbean archival materials” available for research, public access, and contributions to the field. Objectively, it serves as a powerful, politically-transparent, and institutionally-verified site of critical, curated and reliable historical information signature to DH.
However, interpretatively, its presence and collection processes (for the good it accomplishes) open conversations on authority, privacy, and the right to excavate and digitize information in DH.
We understand the political imperative that undergirds The Early Caribbean Digital Archive. But as visitors interact with historical material, and the prompts on how a majority of it is still scattered and inaccessible to the constituencies from which they belong, it should provoke questions on the extent of access, and the almost exclusive-like authorization of digital material for and by Digital Humanists.
To clarify, I think this is what The Early Caribbean Digital Archive *provokes* as we appreciate the historical context surrounding this specific Archive, and as we interpret DH as a field with a particular commitment to the public.
‘What does it mean for DH scholars and institutions – and not a constituency or its’ people – to have authority over material and the availability of it?’ is a longwinded question that I carry about my topics and the utility of DH.
Specifically, I believe a true meditation on access, authority/power, and privacy can extend the existing discourse on ethics, and the development of guidelines that allow us to mitigate authorial (and potentially exploitative) practices that shape the way information is managed, deployed, and by virtue, the field’s identity.
Asma, you bring up a great question. We can never forget he aspects of power, and authorship when we talk about the humanities. Reading the various definitions of what DH is, what it’s suppose to be, what we want it to be, and what it really is, there was one constant: openness. Yes, as much as we now have access too and are bringing worth voices that have been excluded in the humanities, we are also striving to make DH part of higher learning institutions; have a legitimate place in academia. While it’s great for funding research and other projects as well as combining complex interdisciplinary subjects,
we can’t help but to be fearful that like the classic studies of humanities, DH has the potential to become inaccessible, elitist, and decisive. As DH scholars, in these early years of DH, we must be vigilant of this potential and keep that part of DH that is free, creative, and at reach for everyone.