Politicizing Digital Humanities

In the 2012 Debates in the digital humanities, DH is described as field that is self-reflexive and self-critical. One of the few issues addressed as a problem that DH was facing as a field is its lack of political commitment. However, we can clearly see through the evolution of DH in the 2016 and 2019 volumes that it is becoming more and more political. In fact, the sites and projects we explored during this week’s reading speak to this transformation. Separados, The Early Caribbean Digital Archive and The Colored Conventions project are all politically committed to do decolonization work in one way or another.

In this blog post, I wanted to reflect on DH’s political commitment as an imperative. Is it possible for Digital Humanities to be neutral in a time where white supremacies are gaining increased power all over the world? Clearly not. This necessity for DH to do decolonization work is not only due to the current climate but also to Digital Humanities’ own colonial history. In the Digital Black Atlantic, Risam and Josephs talk about the Digital Humanities as the juxtaposition of two spaces: Digital + Humanities. They remind us that each of these spaces have contributed their own share of neoliberal practices in academia and outside of it. On the one hand, the humanities constitute a big part of the project of the empire as well as “the founding of colonial universities within colonies”. On the other hand, technology has historically been used to silence minorities and “disempower black communities”. The juxtaposition of two spaces with such loaded history can be successful and revolutionary only if it acts as “a disruptive political force to reshape fundamental aspects of academic practices” (the Digital Humanities moment)

I have always thought of politics as a valuable part of DH, but after these readings, I see it as a more foundational pillar to DH. It is  impossible to imagine doing decolonizing work by using traditional and often colonial academic approaches to humanities. That is why, as the Digital Black Atlantic puts it, it is imperative to decenter whiteness and put diasporic communities at the center of the inquiry to truly achieve a DH that contributes to the decolonization of the Global South.

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