Decolonizing DH: Theories and Practices of Postcolonial Digital Humanities

Update, July 11: Our roundtable is scheduled for Sunday, January 12, 2014, from 8:30-9:45am. We have also been included in the presidential theme: Vulnerable Times

Update, May 31: This roundtable has been accepted for inclusion at the 2014 MLA Convention in Chicago, which takes place January 9-12, 2014. 

Postcolonial Digital Humanities has proposed a roundtable for the 2014 MLA Convention.

Decolonizing DH: Theories and Practices of Postcolonial Digital Humanities

Respondent: Anna Everett (UCSB)
Organizer: Roopika Risam (Emory U/Salem State U)

Panelists: Alex Gil (Columbia U), Adeline Koh (Duke U/Richard Stockton College), Amit Ray (Rochester Institute of Technology), Porter Olsen (Univ. of Maryland, College Park), and Roopika Risam (Emory U/Salem State U)

Postcolonial digital humanities has taken shape as an emergent academic field. Its lineage reaches back to the 1990s, when scholars Deepika Bahri and George Landow first created websites such as “Postcolonial Studies at Emory” and “The Postcolonial Literature and Culture Web.” These scholars marshaled the text-based internet culture of Web 1.0 to establish sites of knowledge; identify key terms, theorists, and stakes for postcolonial studies; and to publicize the field. Since the publication of these projects, rapid digital and technological changes around the world have provided untapped rich opportunities for the application and analysis of postcolonial studies.

Our roundtable addresses these opportunities by outlining the shape of contemporary “postcolonial digital humanities” and interrogating how postcolonial studies has evolved. In its development, postcolonial digital humanities reflects changes in digital media, from original Web 1.0 postcolonial websites, to what Lisa Nakamura and Peter Chow-White have identified as the transmedia shift beginning in the mid-2000s, to the later move to Web 2.0 and rise of social media cultures. The mid-2000s transmedia shift began changing digital practices by eliding boundaries between media producers and consumers. Such shifts have raised questions of possible epistemological differences in the articulation of identities in digital spaces. However, scholars including Alan Liu, Anna Everett, Jessie Daniels, and Nakamura herself, have observed that problematic racial and ethnic categories persist within digital cultures. Similarly, as Afrofuturists Alondra Nelson and Kali Tal have proposed, digital spaces remain susceptible to racial oppression and white supremacy. Taking these assessments of digital space as its model, this roundtable on postcolonial digital humanities brings critiques of colonialism, imperialism, and globalization to bear on the digital humanities.

The past few years have seen renewed debate over the role of cultural studies and cultural critique within digital humanities. These conversations have emerged in subfields of their own, such as the #TransformDH movement, which has raised questions about race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, nationality, and ability within digital humanities. Last year’s MLA panels on race and digital humanities, “Representing Race: Silence and the Digital Humanities” and “Accessing Race in the Digital Humanities,” brought such critiques to standing room-only public conversations at the convention. This roundtable builds on ongoing interest in cultural studies and the digital humanities as well as recent, globally-oriented projects, including Global Outlook::Digital Humanities (GO::DH) and the Postcolonial Digital Humanities website (#DHPoco).

Taking such conversations as our basis, this roundtable examines theoretical and practical considerations of postcolonial digital humanities. Grounded in the literary, philosophical, and historical heritage of postcolonial studies and invested in the possibilities offered by digital humanities, postcolonial digital humanities has emerged as a movement invested in decolonizing the digital, foregrounding anti-colonial thought, and disrupting salutatory narratives of globalization and technological progress. As such, this roundtable brings together early and mid-career scholars working at the intersections of postcolonial studies and digital humanities to begin a public conversation about the contours, stakes, and limits of postcolonial digital humanities.

Our conversations hinge around a set of questions:

How might we differentiate between postcolonial and anti-colonial digital humanities?

What is the role of embodiment in postcolonial digital humanities?

Where is digital humanities practiced and what does it mean to practice it globally?

How can scholars of postcolonial studies and digital humanities better account for the needs, representations, and legiblities of vulnerable populations?

This roundtable presents five participants limited to eight-minute remarks on the theory and practice of postcolonial digital humanities. The goals for the remarks are to stimulate conversation between the audience and the roundtable. The remarks will be followed by a five-minute response by Anna Everett, who also will moderate discussion. Preserving ample time for conversation between the roundtable and the audience, we are reserving 30 minutes for discussion.

Alex Gil’s remarks will focus the possibilities for global scholarly interaction afforded by online environments. If we are positioned to build truly global networks of scholarship in the humanities, Gil asks, how do we avoid the hegemonic pull of imperial cultures? In his remarks, Gil will focus on his experience building a network of digital scholars and addressing the role of digital platforms and questions of language, while holding on to an anti-colonial sensibility.

Taking up the transformative possibilities and pitfalls of the digital, Adeline Koh will address challenges and opportunities offered to postcolonial studies in the shift from print to digital knowledge. Koh’s remarks will address the following questions with respect to the digital: How does digital knowledge diverge from print knowledge? Are new technologies intrinsically more democratic, or do they contain embedded racial, ethnic, and class hierarchies? And, finally, what is the role of the postcolonial scholar in the production of new forms of digital knowledge?

Porter Olsen will examine postcolonial digital humanities in practice through Game Studies. How, Olsen asks, does a postcolonial approach to Game Studies look? Olsen’s remarks address the ways in which gamers and designers have resisted a hegemonic, Western-centric game industry through the practices of counter-gaming, modding, and alternative game design.

Examining theoretical impulses of postcolonial digital humanities, Amit Ray’s remarks focus on the intersections of the digital and the human. Postcolonial studies have complicated the idea of a single, universalized modernity, leaving intact the universalist vessel of “the human.” Analogously, Ray examines how the digital might articulate a heterogeneous concept of the human.

Finally, Roopika Risam explores colonial rhetorics of “building” and “development” within digital humanities. How do scholars of postcolonial studies find home in a field grounded in language of the colony and the postcolony: building, development, progress? In the pursuit of “development,” how are vulnerable sources of human labor counted? Risam’s remarks explore possible interventions of postcolonial digital humanities to render legible linguistic and socio-cultural inequalities perpetuated within digital humanities.

Together, these participants’ remarks begin the task of defining the postcolonial digital humanities. The intended audience for the roundtable includes both early and mid-to-late career scholars of both postcolonial studies and digital humanities. Additionally, the roundtable invites scholars of race, ethnicity, gender, and class to explore further the relationship between cultural critique and digital humanities.

Panelist Biographies

This roundtable session features five speakers who are in different stages of their careers but have been making significant contributions to postcolonial studies and digital humanities. The session will be moderated Anna Everett, a leading scholar in race and technology studies.

Alex Gil currently works as Digital Scholarship Coordinator for the Humanities and History Division of the Columbia University Libraries. Current projects at Columbia include the re-skilling of subject librarians, a large data-mining project of a million-plus syllabi, a project to crowd-source marginalia, and other digital humanities initiatives. He finished his PhD at the University of Virginia’s English Department, where he worked to develop technologies to analyze and visualize intertextuality in medium-sized corpora to elucidate cultures of reprint in the American hemisphere. He is currently also co-editor of the Critical/Genetique Edition of Aimé Césaire’s Complete Works.

Adeline Koh is a visiting faculty fellow under the Duke University Humanities Writ Large Program in academic year 2012-2013. She is also an assistant professor of literature at Richard Stockton College. Her work spans the intersections between postcolonial studies and the digital humanities, 19th/20th Century British and Anglophone Literature and Southeast Asian and African studies, and games in higher education. Koh recently published a co-edited volume titled Rethinking Third Cinema and directs Digitizing ‘Chinese Englishmen,’ a digital archival project on 19th century ‘Asian Victorians’ in Southeast Asia, and The Stockton Postcolonial Studies Project, an online magazine of postcolonial studies. She is the designer of Trading Races, an elaborate historical role playing game designed to teach race consciousness in the undergraduate classroom, and runs the postcolonial digital humanities website and tumblr blog with Roopika Risam. She is also a core contributor to the Profhacker Column at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Porter Olsen is a Ph.D. candidate in the English Department at the University of Maryland. His research focuses on the intersections between postcolonial literature and digital cultures, with a particular interest in how both fields deploy virtual spaces as spaces of alterity and resistance. Before returning to graduate school, Porter worked as product manager for a Linux distribution developer where he was a member of the United Linux initiative, an initiative designed to create a single Linux platform shared among distributors from Germany, Brazil, the U.S., and Japan.

Amit Ray is an associate professor of English at Rochester Institute of Technology. His research examines the varied and uneven consequences of globalization throughout the world. He has published the monograph Negotiating the Modern: Orientalism and “Indianness” in the Anglophone World, as well as articles and book chapters on postcoloniality, postmodernism, and new media, with particular emphasis on wikis. He is a member of RIT’s Lab for Social Computing and is currently working on a project using literary and cultural theory to better understand how wikis influence the larger society. His book explores how wikis challenge established notions of authorship, authority, and expertise.

Roopika Risam is a Dean’s Teaching Fellow, HASTAC Scholar, and PhD candidate in the Department of English at Emory University. In the fall, she will be an assistant professor of world literature and English education at Salem State University. Her work addresses the intersections of postcolonial studies and minority discourse in the United States and the role of digital humanities in mediating between the two. Her current project, “Oceans of Black, Brown, and Yellow: Literatures of Global Solidarity,” examines W.E.B. Du Bois in the context of postcolonial and African American studies. She also has contributed to Postcolonial Studies @ Emory, a digital humanities project that provides a home for postcolonial studies on the web, and runs the postcolonial digital humanities website and tumblr blog with Adeline Koh.

Anna Everett is a professor of film, television and new media studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). She currently serves as the Acting Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Academic Policy at UCSB. Everett is a two-time recipient of the Fulbright Senior Scholar Award (2005, 2007), among other honors. Her many publications include the books Returning the Gaze: A Genealogy of Black Film Criticism, 1909-1949; Learning Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media (for the MacArthur Foundation’s series on Digital Media, Youth, and Learning); New Media: Theories and Practices of Digitextuality; AfroGeeks: Beyond the Digital Divide; Digital Diaspora: A Race for Cyberspace; and Pretty People: Movie Stars of the 1990s. She is finishing a new book on President Obama, social media culture, and the Where U @ Generation, and working on an edited volume on Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality and the Digital Humanities with the Transform DH Collective.


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4 Comments on “Decolonizing DH: Theories and Practices of Postcolonial Digital Humanities
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  3. Pingback: From Print to Digital: Reconfiguring Postcolonial Knowledge | Adeline Koh

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