Brief Notes from Roopika Risam’s fantastic book: New Digital Worlds: Postcolonial Digital Humanities in Theory, Praxis, and Pedagogy.

My brief notes are below. I am excited for whenever I teach DH or anything next, because I know that this is the book I will get to teach and explore with–the book is simply fantastic! This should be required reading for all graduate students, and others. It weaves together technology, complexity, and what the humanities can and should do for world making. Thanks to Roopika Risam for writing such a magnificent book!

Risam, Roopika. New Digital Worlds: Postcolonial Digital Humanities in Theory, Praxis, and Pedagogy. Evanston, IL: Northeastern University Press, 2019.

Pages 7-9: Introduction covers expansive and capacious nature of postcolonial digital humanities, noting that postcolonial digital humanities is not the same as critical digital humanities.

Page 9: “As Alex Gil argues, digital humanities is unique because it is the main scholarly intervention that fosters collaboration between faculty, librarians, museums, and galleries, By bridging the gaps between these communities, Gil suggestions, digital humanities is poised to ‘retake the scholarly record’ and better understand the ‘global material epistemologies’ for digital knowledge production.”

Page 9: “postcolonial digital humanities addresses underexplored questions of power, globalization, and colonial and neocolonial ideologies that are shaping the digital cultural record in its mediated, material form: the contemporary internet environment where this record lives.”

Page 11: “Sandra Harding has long made the case for putting postcolonial studies, feminist theory, and science and technology studies in conversation with each other.”

Page 12, speaking to polycentrism and better ways to design for inclusivity, mutual aid, and better outcomes: “This approach serves as an important model for digital humanities, which falls prey to the assumption that practices of the Global north are universal forms of knowledge, rather than what Donna Haraway terms ‘situated knowledges.’ On the contrary, as Élika Ortega argues, ‘all DH is local DH.’ Thus, for postcolonial digital humanities, ‘good’ digital humanities practices are ‘local’ practices that reject the universality of methods.”

Page 14: “Moreover, the digital cultural record is already rent by disruptions born from capitalism, colonialism, and racism. From the Latin disrumpere (to break into pieces, burst asunder), a disruption is an interruption: ‘the action of rending or bursting asunder; violent dissolution of continuity; forcible severance.’ The lives of colonial subjects and people of the African diaspora have historically been viewed as disruptive to dominant cultures that preserve as white status quo, as have their languages, histories, and cultural heritage.”

Page 14: “Therefore, positioning critiques of digital humanities as ‘disruptions’ deflects attention from the disruptions that already exist within the digital cultural record, from the voices that were never part of the cultural record in the first place to the stories that have constructed individuals and communities of the African diaspora and the Global South as objects, rather than subjects, of knowledge.”

Page 16: “ The hope for change comes not from self-proclaimed acts of disruption, but from creating sustained communities of practice that foreground critiques of colonialism in scholarship; uncovering existing disruptions within the digital cultural record that have been produced by colonialism, slavery, and racism; and navigating the complex ethics of collaboration with communities that historically have been and still are affected by colonialism.”

Page 21: “Through postcolonial digital humanities, new digital worlds are possible. In them we hope for creating a postcolonial digital cultural record.”

Page 43: “Minimal computing draws on a range of cultural practices that privilege making do with available materials to engage in creative problem-solving and innovation. These go by names like jugaad in India, gambiarra in Brazil, rebusque in Colombia, jua kali in Kenya, and zizhu chuangxian in China.”

Page 43: “In practice, the work of minimal computing has led to the creation of digital humanities projects that are designed to load easily in low-bandwidth environments.”

Page 55: “As David Golumbia notes, ‘If you think back ten years, many applications that required real coding, and then later required knowledge of some building skills, can todau be done by people who know nothing that could be called ‘coding.’”

Page 59: “Martha Nell Smith suggests we recall the ways that social relations can be frozen in the production of digital archives.”

Page 71: covering many projects, and providing greater nuance and insight from a postcolonial DH perspective: “While these are important developments, they risk being examples of ‘add and stir’ models of diversity, which do not necessarily lead to radical change or a reorientation of practices.”

Pages 74: “In contrast to center-periphery models alternative representations of digital humanities have offered new representations of global digital humanities that challenge the hierarchies of centers and peripheries through a logic of diaspora.”

Page 78: “AroundDH demonstrates how grounding a project in a logic of diaspora produces a decentralized map that resists geographical hierarchies in favor of global distributions.”

Page 78: “To write back is to demand the inclusion of narratives that reshape power dynamics that create centers and peripheries.”

Page 78: “As postcolonial critics suggest, writing back need not be oppositional; rather, it exists within a discursive continuum that complicates binaries of master and minority discourse.”

Page 80: “The digital humanities accent is rooted in scholarship on Global Englishes and English language learning.”

Page 82: “digitizing—which provides representation and access—could be a radical act in itself, particularly for systematically excluded forms of knowledge like regional languages in South Asia.”

Page 87: “To embrace a global digital humanities community is to answer Alex Gil’s call in ‘The (Digital) Library of Babel’: ‘We must certainly have choreographies in place, do the dance, but remain open to wondrous new forms of the process.’ Through openness to the possibilities of a logic of diaspora, in all its messiness, among the forms that may emerge are new understandings of scholarly organization in the twenty-first century.”

Page 93: on critical making

Page 141: on the critical urgency of our work: “If we do not, corporations will beat us to the punch. Increasingly, substantial material on marginalized communities is being produced as paywalled digital archives or databases licensed to university libraries by corporations for hefty fees. […] The digital frontier is increasingly being colonized by corporations and neoliberal interests, and the digital cultural record is in danger of becoming a product of corporate interest that determine what is worth being digitized and distributed to the small audience that can afford it.”

Page 142: “This is the promise of digital humanities: critical, generous digital scholarship that has the potential to cross institutional sectors; to overcome the divides between archive, library, university, and museum; and create networked publics.”

Page 143: “micro digital humanities approach […] begins by asking: What does digital humanities look like for our communities, our institutions, our students? How can we look beyond existing models for what digital humanities should look like? How can we imagine new practices and avoid a directional politics of knowledge that flows from the top down, where the biggest digital humanities centers or best-funded universities are the ones articulating what ‘good’ practices for digital humanities look like? The good practices are local practices.”

Page 144: “A digital cultural record that puts social justice at its center—a record that is postcolonial, feminist, antiracist, intersectional—is a matter of cultural survival. Access to the means of cultural production that we have as people with the capacity to engage in digital humanities praxis means that we have the tools to reshape the dynamics of cultural power and to reclaim for individuals and communities the humanity that is routinely denied by the forces that produce oppression. Humanities scholars can intervene in the channels of capital, knowledge, and power in which the academy is implicated. After all, we have the power of world making on our side.”