Race Within Digital Humanities​

The readings that the digital scholar’s group was asked to read in preparation for Dr. Richard Jean So’s visit this week, took on the topic of race within digital humanities. These reading challenged us to consider how race is constructed within data-driven spaces, as well as the role that race plays in computational history.

In “Making a case for Black Digital Humanities” Gallon seeks to “articulate a relationship between the digital humanities and Africana/African American/Black studies…so as to highlight how technology, employed in this underexamined context, can further expose humanity as a racialized social construction”. Gallon notes that discussions about the lineage of black studies within digital humanities are historically absent. In order to begin the work of tracing this lineage, scholars need to engage in “a discussion of the black digital humanities by drawing attention to the “technology of recovery” that undergirds black digital scholarship, showing how it fills the apertures between Black studies and digital humanities”.  Recovery, notes Gallon “rests at the heart of Black studies, as a scholarly tradition that seeks to restore the humanity of black people lost and stolen through systemic global racialization”.  This recovery within digital humanities seen to recover those who have been excluded, or whose histories have been remained hidden. “One of the essential features of the black digital humanities, then, is that it conceptualizes a relationship between blackness and the digital where black people’s humanity is not a given”. Ultimately, Gallon challenges those involved in digital humanities to shift our epistemology in order to generate new questions about the relationship between the racialization of humanity and the digital spaces.

Tara McPherson, in her article “Why are digital Humanities So White Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation” argues that technological systems are inherently constructed for white audiences. Further, she argues“the difficulties we encounter in knitting together our discussions of race (or other modes of difference) with our technological productions within the digital humanities (or in our studies of code) are actually an effect of the very designs of our technological systems, designs that emerged in post–World War II computational culture”. Thus, part of the struggle that we face in trying to make digital spaces more inclusive is the actually coded design that underlies these spaces. McPherson notes that “First, we must better understand the machines and networks that continue to powerfully shape our lives in ways that we are often ill-equipped to deal with as media and humanities scholars. This necessarily involves more than simply studying our screens and the images that dance across them, moving beyond the study of representations and the rhetorics of visuality”. We need to move beyond visualization and on to construction. It is this that will help us to move beyond the boxes we create.

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