Exclusionary Logics in the Digital Humanities

In preparation for our upcoming discussion around Mercado’s Black at Bryn Mawr, we explored the aforementioned project alongside a number of similar efforts, all of which strive toward the preservation, publication, and promotion of suppressed narratives. While many hail the rise of DH as an emancipatory force that facilitates these sorts of cross-cultural collaborations, others contend that the institutional parameters of the field (digital though they may be) still exist along exclusionary lines. As this week’s assigned readings suggest, only through the acknowledgement and deconstruction of gendered, racialized logics can we hope to truly achieve the diversity and inclusivity long touted by proponents of our discipline.

Although few would disagree that certain internalized biases remain embedded within prevailing infrastructures, there seems to be some debate over the exact nature and scope of the central problem at hand. In “Black Studies and Digital Humanities: Perils and Promise,” Terman posits that the primary challenge facing scholars within Black Studies is determining “how to produce quality content that is centralized enough to provide a cumulative critical apparatus.” Preoccupied less with content and more with material conditions surrounding its production, Earhart and Taylor suggest that attention be turned to “inequitable distributions of digital humanities resources and labor.” For Wernimont, however, attempts to impose a strictly economic or consumptive framework upon DH undermine its fundamentally qualitative concerns: “a celebration of plentitude reproduces certain commercial metrics — notably production as value and information as capital — of which there is significant feminist critique.” Finally, Gallon sidesteps the structural conversation around academic racialization, focusing instead on the perpetuative source of these hegemonic formations, namely, our collective refusal to engage them.

As you might expect, proposed responses to these issues vary just as widely as articulations of the issues themselves. While Terman advocates the celebration and centralization of scholarly work occurring at the intersection of DH and Black Studies, Earhart and Taylor promote a model of dispersal, “one designed to decenter traditional power structures by shifting power centers, eliminating funding needs, and reducing the necessity for advanced technical knowledge.” Working toward a feminist critique of the digital archive specifically (and DH more broadly), Wernimont calls for an indexical, rather than enumerative, approach to the “proliferation of projects” that Earhart and Taylor envision. As for Gallon, she believes that the answer lies not in the projection of a digital future but in recovery of a human past: “‘How can digital tools and processes such as text mining and distant reading be justified when there is so much to do in reconstructing what it means to be human?’”

Demonstrating a potential synthesis of digital functionality and humanistic restoration, Black at Bryn Mawr is an extensive research project that “explores the experiences of Black students, faculty, and staff at the College,” thereby raising awareness of “racial power dynamics inside and outside of the classroom” (“About the Project”). The result of student collaboration under the guidance of Monica Mercado and Sharon Ullman, Black at Bryn Mawr encompasses a series of blog posts, walking campus tours, and an interactive digital map, all of which support the project’s ultimate objective: “to build institutional memory of the College’s engagement with race and racism, enabling future students to hold both themselves and the College community to higher standards of…accountability” (“About the Project”). The Amistad Digital Resource for Teaching African American History and the Florida Memory Black History photograph exhibit are two related projects, similarly awareness-driven. Looking forward, these efforts can serve as inspiration—if not definitive models—for future attempts to break down exclusionary logics, using our digital tools not to suppress, but rather to promote difference within DH.

Works Consulted



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