Recovering Silenced Voices

At our meeting on November 9th, our reading group explored representation in digital archives. The digital archives that we explored where Black at Bryn Mawr, Visualizing Emancipation, and O Say Can You See. Each of these archives took a unique approach to visually representing racial history in the United States. Black at Bryn Mawr was started by Bryn Mawr students Emma Kioko ’15 and Grace Pusey ’15 in the Fall of 2014. Through the use of historical artifacts, such as pictures, documents, letters, ect, Kioka and Pusey composed a digital walking tour that illustrates the racialized history of Bryn Mawr. The digital walking tour represents the racial history of the college through discussions of place. Viewers are taken to different buildings on campus that represent the racialized views of the college. One particularly powerful visual representation on the map is Rockefeller Hall, known historically as “the servant quarters”.  The authors note “At Bryn Mawr, servant corridors communicated clearly the expectation that Black men and women should do their work without being seen or heard, thereby bypassing any need to acknowledge or credit them for their labor”( Kioka and Pusey 2015)

The second Archive that our reading group spent some time looking at Visualizing Emancipation. Visualizing Emancipation “organizes document evidence, about when, where, and how slavery fell apart during the American Civil War.” When viewers first click on the map they are bombarded by various data points that each represent a historical event. Once one clicks on the point a window will pop up details the event. Viewers can also click a link at the bottom of the pop up to be taken directly to the source for that event. In representing the archive visually on a map, it allows viewers to draw conclusions about what sort of vents were taking place where as well as where the greatest concentration of events took place.

The third archive that we briefly took a look at was O Say Can You See. This archive “documents the challenge to slavery and the quest for freedom in early Washington D.C.”  There are many ways to go about navigating this site. You can navigate by people, families, cases, and stories.  If one chooses to navigate by selecting a specific individual to follow then one will be brought to a sort of map detailing the chosen person connections. If one chooses to navigate by case then one is able to actually see some of the historical documents and the ruling of the case.

Though all of these archives go about presenting the artifacts contained in them differently, they all tell of a highly racialized history within our nation. One where certain voices are silenced because of their skin color. A country where we as digital scholars must engage in these types of recovery projects in order to begin to give voice to the silenced.



Collective Conciousness for Rewriting History

This week in preparation for Dr. Anaïs Nony’s visit, our Digital Scholars reading group engaged with two of her works. Nony’s texts challenge us as digital humanists to work towards a re-writing of history so that we may, as a society, collectively address our current geo-political condition. In “From Dividual Power to The Ethics of Renewal in the Anthropocene,” Nony states that “the battlefield of the Anthropocene is one that demands action” (2017, p.31). Nony argues that we need to address the urgency of our anthropocenic condition and to take ownership of our geo-political situation.

“To rewrite history,” she argues, “is to heal the festering wounds that thwart the possibility of becoming otherwise in the world. This becoming other than what we are is the promise launched by collective action, by the processes of collective emancipation” (2017, p. 31). Therefore, we cannot hope to address our anthropocenic condition if we do not first acknowledge the role that we as a collective society play. In the challenge towards becoming something other than who we have historically been, we must collectively act if we are to address the urgency of our condition.

Viewing our anthropocenic condition as a battlefield allows us to question relations of power. Power, according to Nony, “is both an ontological and epistemological problem that develops into reflections on philosophies of being and natures of knowledge” (2017, p.33). Nony goes on to argue that in our current situation power is dividual and used to divide rather than unite. This segregated setting produces the possibility of watching from a distance, from a remote place of privilege and comfort, where the actions deployed in front of one’s eyes can be fictionalized to produce feelings of pity and fear (2017 p.36).

This division of power allows some to claim that they have not contributed to the Anthropocene. If we are to overcome our condition however we need to unite and work together. To move forward and address this condition we need to collectively embrace an ethic of care.  Care in this situation is taken to mean an “investment in the future of a living relation, be it with a (deceased) person, a plant, an animal, an object, or a space. Caring is cultivating a relation by investing in it” (2017 p.39). If we are to work towards becoming then we need to invest in changing our current condition not just for the moment but for the future.

In the second article of Nony’s that we were asked to read this week “Nootechnics of the Digital” Nony discussed the role of technics in our digital spaces. Nony argues that nootechnics offers a mode for thinking about the genesis of both noos (intuition, intelligence, flair, intention) and techné (technique, craft, art) as the condition and the consequence of our cultural condition, of our ability to mediate and negotiate different realms of reality” (20017, p.130). Thus, nootechnics can allow researchers a way not only to mediate and negotiate multiple realities, but to also to create change. This brings me to one of the additional reading that our reading group was asked to engage with this week.

In Marisa Elena Duarte & Miranda Belarde-Lewis’s article “Imagining: Creating Spaces for Indigenous Ontologies” the authors explore the way that indigenous communities use online spaces to share cultural artifacts and create a sort of cultural archive. In order to work with Indigenous communities towards decolonization practices, we must first step back from normative expectation (2015 p.678). Doing this allows scholars to open the way indigenous communities make meaning. Duarte and Lewis note that “Indigenous epistemic partners will want to step outside their comfort zone, sensitize themselves to Indigenous histories and political realities, learn to listen in new ways, and position themselves as followers in collaborative projects with Indigenous specialists leading the way” (2015, p.697). What stood out for me was the way that the authors challenge those of us who are not from indigenous communities to listen and be open to hearing.

To allow indigenous voices to create their own narratives, those who work alongside these indigenous people scholars need to be own to new ways of knowing. We need to move away from

Western text-based systems so visible and, therefore, apparently superior to oral, kinesthetic, aesthetic, and communal Indigenous ways of knowing—quipu, ceremonies, dances, songs, oral histories, oratory, stories, hunting and growing practices, healing arts, weaving, painting, pottery, carving, dreaming, and vision work—are the institutions through which Western text-based systems are legitimated (683).

As scholars, we need to be open to these new meaning making moments if we are to work towards decolonization and empowerment of indigenous communities.

If nootechnics allows scholars a way to negotiate between different realities, then we can potentially apply this technique to the ways that we work with indigenous communities to give voice to multiple ways of knowing. If we are to value multiple ways of knowing, then we need to figure out a way to highlight the work of these indigenous communities. Many indigenous communities value oral traditions and storytelling, so the nootechnics approach would seek to figure out a way for technology to allow this tradition the legitimacy that it deserves.

Nony, Anaïs. (2017) “From Dividual Power to the Ethics of Renewal in the Anthropocene.” Azimuth, International Journal of Philosophy, 9, 31-41