I’m interested in how this week’s readings, over time, seem to draw out this tension between what could be understood as “Digital Humanities” and “digital humanities.” I understand the former, with first letters intentionally capitalized, as an attempt by scholars (as seen especially in the readings from 2012-2016) to understand a field’s relationship to the academy. Specifically, the Digital Humanities, as an academic field and institution itself, is continuously trying to balance the potentially subversive use of technology with traditional modes of knowledge production. On the other hand, “digital humanities” seems to act as the very refusal of these traditions: the refusal to acknowledge the white, Western university as epistemic authority, and the refusal to derive an understanding of its Value from it. It’s in finding a liminal position within these positions (based on the readings) that I find a lot of DH scholars. In particular, Spiro’s attempt at defining the field’s values—such as diversity and openness—can perhaps be understood as one possible way to alleviating this tension, in that defining values provides the specificity needed for the field to be taken seriously, yet are defined in such a way that opens it up for conversation, interdisciplinarity, and new “relations.”
However, if “A DH That Matters” makes anything clear, it’s that our world in crisis has revealed that out very understanding of relations are subtended by histories of slavery and colonialism—relations that are undergirded by race, gender, and sexuality. Thus, I found myself trying to define DH around projects like “The Digital Black Atlantic” and The Early Caribbean Digital Archive. Specifically, what these projects communicate is that the subversive potential of DH lies not in the technology themselves, but in how DH invites us to rethink what we consider our sources and sites of knowledge production: What would it mean for us to read the margins as not secondary, but primary sites of exploration and knowledge? A theoretical/methodological lens of the “Black Atlantic”, Josephs and Risam argue, “negotiates movement across time and space, forging varied spatial and temporal relationships,” through re-mixing the archive and reconfiguring memory in the present. In calling attention to and re-mixing “travel narratives, novels, poetry, natural histories, and diaries” as a way to disrupt the Western archive, The Early Caribbean Digital Archive does just that; acting as, what Donaldson would call, an “ephemeral archive” that speaks to “the transient nature of modern memory,” and emplacing the past, present and future together. From these projects, I see the potential for DH to cultivate a politic that celebrates and takes seriously overlooked, non-traditional texts—which, in this moment, may look like tweets, Instagram infographics, hashtags, etc.
In this way, what these projects—and a Black critical lens in general—provides “digital humanists” is, perhaps, the very refusal of the “humanist” concept itself. Indeed, Black feminists like Sylvia Wynter, Hortense Spillers, and Christina Sharpe have long written about how the figure of “The Human” has been historically constructed as the white, cis-heterosexual male—a colonial technology that defines Blackness as non-human, imposes relationality as hierarchy, and justifies centuries of brutality and violence along lines of race, gender, and sexuality. If we take this as our starting point, then the remixing of the archive with a Digital Black Atlantic lens can be understood as not only the act of recovering the past, but an onto-epistemological practice that refigures ways of Being and Becoming: specifically, ways that refuse the sovereignty of The (rational, individualistic, and technocratic) Human. And so I wonder: If we are to take these works seriously, then would a digital humanities for the 2020’s and beyond be better understood as a digital non-humanities? And what would that look like?