Diasporizing the Digital Humanities: Displacing the Center and Periphery

Diasporizing the Digital Humanities: Displacing the Center and Periphery

Roopika Risam (Department of English, Salem State University, Salem, MA, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/IJEP.2016070105


The field of digital humanities has expanded in recent years to encompass a range of practices and practitioners around the world and has changed the nature of scholarly communication. So too have emerged centers and peripheries of the field that privilege scholarly production of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. This article examines efforts to challenge the hierarchical dimensions of power, making the case for viewing transnational scholarly networks through a logic of diaspora.
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The field of digital humanities has been positioned as a global one in recent years. Sometimes described as a set of methods or theories rather than a field, digital humanities encompasses the use of computational and digital tools for humanistic inquiry while turning the theoretical lenses of humanities-based analysis on digital objects and cultures. As such, digital humanities draws on a rich, interdisciplinary genealogy that includes scholarship in humanities computing, new media studies, computers and writing, digital rhetoric, and more. The term “digital humanities” first came into vogue in the mid-2000s, bringing together many lines of inquiry that span digital and computational research methods for the humanities and position digital objects and cultures as sites of critique. The expansiveness of the term signals broad construction of work at the intersection of the digital and the humanistic. It has further extended the geographic boundaries for this scholarship, creating new tensions and complex power dynamics.

The Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO), the umbrella professional organization for digital humanities, has positioned itself as an international body, but it is largely shaped by scholars from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe who populate its leadership as well as the boards of its allied organizations. In response to the uneven geographic distributions of power within the organizational structures like ADHO that shape the digital humanities, the concept of a “global digital humanities” has emerged. Global digital humanities poses a geospatial and conceptual challenge to the landscape of the digital humanities. It instantiates a model of the field built on rhizomatic connections between scholars around the world, challenging hierarchical narratives of the field that position the Global North as the point of entry to the digital humanities scholarly community. In doing so, it addresses the need to rewrite the mappa mundi of the digital humanities to imagine new forms of organization, collaboration, and belonging. By embracing a scholarly practice of diaspora, made possible by social media and information and communications technology, global digital humanities offers a vision for redistributing the power of digital knowledge production in the humanities around the world.

The stakes of the global digital humanities are high because the arc of the field bends towards the digital and print scholarship produced in the United States, Western Europe, and Canada. As a result, scholarly production of the Global North shapes not only ADHO but also the field’s journals and conferences. As this happens, digital knowledge production from other countries or outside of dominant cultures risk de-legitimation, while the scholars pursuing this work face disenfranchisement in the scholarly community. Moreover, the strong impulse towards collaboration in digital humanities brings with it the dangers of neo-colonial dynamics. As a result, a diasporic model for the global digital humanities is essential for not only the inclusion of those who create digital humanities scholarship around the world but also those who collaborate with scholars outside of geographic regions that are currently wielding the most power in the scholarly community of digital humanities practitioners.

The advantages of embracing the concept of diaspora for defining the global field of digital humanities, I argue, include the possibilities for increasing collaboration and cooperation across geographic boundaries, challenging barriers to participation in scholarly endeavors between Global North and Global South, and cultivating local methodologies and theories that promote plural and hybrid forms of praxis on a global scale. I begin by situating the landscape of digital humanities in the visual representations of the field, suggesting that center-periphery models of digital humanities have begun giving way to a diasporic model. Then, I consider how the development of Global Outlook::Digital Humanities, an organization intended to foster international collaboration, logic of diaspora for digital humanities. Finally, I examine the work of South Asian Digital Humanities, identifying the successes and challenges of this work, as well as its implications for understanding scholarly production in the digital age. Through diasporizing the digital humanities, I argue, new models of digital humanities and transnational scholarly practice, are possible.

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