Peripheries, Barriers, Hierarchies: Rethinking access, Inclusivity, and Infrastructure in Global DH Practice

5th Annual University of Kansas Digital Humanities Forum
24-26 September 2015
Lawrence, Kansas

Digital Humanities engages in many alternative scholarly forms and practices, and thus positions itself as a channel for exploring and challenging how social and institutional constructs shape traditional and digital academic discourses. Yet DH itself contains many non-neutral practices and is far from barrier-free. Digital Humanities practices, tools, infrastructures, and methodologies often embed a variety of assumptions that shape what kind of scholarship gets made, studied, and communicated; how it is represented to the world; and who can participate in that making and communication. A truly accessible DH goes beyond technical standards and provides people and communities of different abilities, genders, sexual orientations, languages and cultures--and of varying levels of access to technology and infrastructure--the capacity to shape and pursue scholarship that addresses their own interests and needs.

In a global context, the expansion of DH practices around the world and beyond the academy can reveal the ways in which dominant, hegemonic practices within the field tend to reinforce the very inequalities DH attempts to correct through its embrace of accessibility and knowledge production. Thus, specific practices in Global DH can call attention to the explicit and implicit contradictions in broader DH practices.

Our 2015 Digital Humanities Forum will take a critical approach to exploring peripheries, barriers and hierarchies of digital humanities practice in a global context, identifying those assumptions, and advocating and showcasing alternative practices to advance the field. We will critically engage these issues by exploring themes such as inclusivity, accessibility, global perspectives, decolonization, and democratization as they relate to digital humanities practice and infrastructure.

Keynote Speakers

T-Kay Sangwand

T-Kay Sangwand

Human Rights Archivist, University of Texas Libraries, Human Rights Documentation Initiative

"Decolonizing archival practice and diversifying the historical record through post-custodial human rights archiving"

Over the past twenty years, archival discourse has shifted from embracing objectivity and neutrality as core professional values to rightfully questioning how these values negatively impact archival practice and the historical record. While this turn in archival discourse has compelled archives to expand its collection scope to include materials of and from communities historically marginal to archival endeavors, there are still relatively few examples of archival repositories that actively challenge the physical collection of materials from these groups, an act rooted in neo/colonial history and practice. This talk will address how the implementation of post-custodial archiving within human rights contexts can respond to historical inequities by empowering community ownership of their own archives and collective memory as well as ensuring a robust historical record. ​
Kim Christen Withey

Kim Christen Withey

Director of the Digital Technology and Culture Program and Co-Director of the Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation

"Push Pause: Slowing down digital humanities practices"

The digital humanities has its roots in fields of study dedicated to textual analysis and historical examination. The present moment is filled with DH practitioners creating visualizations of ‘big data,’ mapping connections between people and ancient cities, and building archives dedicated to long-dead authors. DH projects flourish in collaborations across disciplines and at the intersections of technology and humanistic inquiry. Yet despite the "h" in DH we often get caught up in technocentric discourses that prompt us to produce more, "scale" our projects, increase our "users." In this talk, I encourage us to pause, reflect, slow down and bring back an emphasis on building relationships as central to the practices of digital humanities.
Anita Say Chan

Anita Say Chan

Assistant Research Professor of Communications, University of Illinois

"Networking Peripheries: Technological Futures, Digital Memory and the Myth of Digital Universalism"

Channeling the promise global interconnection, and framed as the mark of contemporary optimization, “the digital” has come to represent the path towards the future for diverse nations, economies, and populations alike. In the midst of its accelerating pursuits across distinct global spaces, however, little has been made of the “universalist” underpinnings that mobilize digitality’s global spread, or of the distinct imaginaries around digital culture and global connection that emerge outside the given centers of techno-culture. This paper will attend to experiments in innovation spaces from the periphery, including the development of rural hack lab spaces in Peru, that distinctly engage local histories and memory of knowledge work around nature, technology, and information to disrupt the dominant logics of innovation and reorient ICT for Development (ICT4D) frameworks. By fostering collaborations between Latin American free software activists across a range of rural and urban site, and between transnational media producers and indigenous communities, such networks press a cosmopolitcal urging to “think with the unknown,” and open up possibilities for uncovering distinct collective futures through an interfacing with multiple local pasts.


Instructors: Pam Lach & Jamene Brooks Kieffer (KU Libraries)

This workshop will offer a primer on data for humanists, including an introduction to data types and databases, data visualization, and best practices for working with data. Participants will explore what it means to undertake data-driven digital humanities projects and will experiment with approaches to translating and transforming traditional objects of humanistic inquiry into data. No previous experience with digital humanities or relational databases is required.

Zip File with practice data for data for humanists workshop (google drive)

Instructor: Stephen Ford

Tired of searching for the perfect map for your article or PowerPoint? Wishing you had some way of confirming that the spatial pattern you're perceiving is significant, and not just coincidence?

GIS (Geographic Information Systems) aren't just for geographers. This short workshop will introduce you to the foundational concepts of GIS and the basics of some common GIS applications--how you can use them to produce your own aesthetically appealing maps, and how you can use them analytically to further your arguments.

The workshops will be taught by Stephen Ford, a Ph.D. candidate in History and East Asian Languages at Harvard University, who has used GIS and spatial statistics extensively in his own research.

Instructors: David Birnbaum & Jeffrey Rydberg-Cox

Instructors: David Birnbaum & Jeffrey Rydberg-Cox

Instructors: Sandra Kuebler & Heike Zinsmeister

Independent of which research area we work in, most of us often have to search in texts or extract specific information from texts. Sometimes, just searching for individual words is insufficient because the search results cover too many uninteresting phenomena or the phenomena are more complex. In many cases, we can extract the information easily using the command line on a Mac or a Unix/linux computer without programming. This workshop will introduce ways of extracting information from texts using command line tools. We will create concordances and extract all trigrams (sequences of 3 words). The workshop will start with an introduction on how to use the command line instead of graphical tools. 

No unix/linux, linguistic, or programming experience necessary. Please bring your own Mac or Unix laptop (or, if using a Windows machine, you may install Cygwin).

Instructor: Kim Christen Withey

Colonial legacies of collecting and cataloging live on it academic and popular conceptions of digital curation, access to collections, and virtual exhibits. This workshop explores the need to infuse Indigenous information management systems, curatorial processes, and cultural protocols into digital humanities projects writ large. Workshop participants will explore protocols for access and systems for management of collections that grapple with histories of colonialism and the contemporary postcolonial moment. The workshop will introduce participants to Mukurtu CMS as a way to reorient digital curation and recenter digital humanities.

Instructor: Anita Say Chan

This workshop will explore the use of layered networked tools and resources for digital pedagogy among humanities and social science students. Exploring data visualization resources from online academic publishing tools like Scalar to tools for creating infographics like, the workshop will focus on how to incorporate and promote digital research capacities as a key part of developing a digital literacies in undergraduates pedagogy.

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.

Organizing Committee

Brian Rosenblum, KU Libraries

Phil Stinson, Department of Classics

Élika Ortega, IDRH, KU Libraries

Pam Lach, KU Libraries

Stephanie Gamble, KU Libraries

Aiden Mendez, Student Assistant