Providing resources and trai­ning in the practices and tools of the digital humanities

Best Student Paper Award

We are pleased to announce the winner of the DH Forum 2015 Best Student Paper Award is Dhanashree Thorat from the University of Florida.


"A Postcolonial Reading of (Digital) Archival Structure"

Postcolonial Studies has been invested in highlighting the hegemonic nature of archives, and specifically of the colonial archive. The discipline provides the conceptual tools and the critical space which make it possible to critique not only the content which is inscribed in the archive, but also the structure, design, and organization of the archive. Given the tremendous interest in digital archiving in the contemporary moment, it has become important to bring the postcolonial lens to bear on digital archiving practices. Digital archives are not inherently democratic or self-reflexive, and a postcolonial lens presents a means of examining how these archives become complicit in nationalist and hegemonic projects.

This paper focuses on the September 11 Digital Archive, one of the largest archives related to 9/11, and conducts a postcolonial analysis of its archival structure. Instead of analyzing the content of the archive, I will examine the socio-technical infrastructure within which that content is made legible. I will argue that the structure, design, and organization of the September 11 Digital Archive helps channel an insular nationalist perspective of 9/11. This insular nationalism deploys the tropes of trauma to memorialize 9/11 from a hegemonic subject position. Subaltern voices speaking of discrimination, prejudice, and hate crimes after 9/11 are subsumed within that socio-technical infrastructure dedicated to memorializing 9/11.

My decision to focus on the infrastructure rather than the content is based on two factors. First, there is an existing rich vein of scholarship on how content housed in archives codifies dominant narratives, and how it can reproduce the erasure of minority voices from public discourse. There is a need, however, of a parallel analysis on how the structure of the archive itself is entrenched in hierarchical power relations. Second, a critical reading of archival structure is a step in the eventual re-envisioning of digital archiving practices. In my conclusion, I will suggest how a postcolonial rethinking of archival structure might introduce new, multiple, and alternative narratives that decenter the hegemonic 9/11 mythologies.