UH Grad Students Collaborate on National Digital Project, “Torn Apart”

NEWS RELEASE

HOUSTON, TEXAS (September 27, 2018)– UH Hispanic Studies graduate students, Sylvia Fernández and Maira Álvarez, collaborated with leading digital humanities scholars on the creation of Torn Apart/Separados, a digital visualization project that emerges from the immigration crisis that started at the United States-Mexico border. Volume 1 of the project, released on June 25th, 2018, aggregates and cross-references publicly available data to visualize the geography of “zero tolerance” immigration policy in 2018 and immigration incarceration in the USA in general. This initial volume highlights the landscapes, families, and communities affected by the massive web of immigrant detention in the United States.

An article for WIRED magazine, “‘ICE Is Everywhere’: Using Library Science to Map the Separation Crisis,” recognized the Torn Apart model as “more than information […] a living resource, one the team hopes migrants will use to find their families and that researchers will build upon.”

The recently released Volume 2 explores the financial landscape of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the impact of its increased investment in detention, enforcement, and deportation of immigrant families. Torn Apart’s data analysis reveals that ICE-related government contract values have increased 987% since 2014 and have almost doubled in the past year. The data shows that 16 “fat cat” congressional districts in Virginia, New Mexico, Alaska, California, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Tennessee, Maryland, and New York received 88.53% of ICE contracts between 2014 and 2018 ($8.64 Billion of the total $9.76 Billion in awards).

Torn Apart began with an intense 6-day collaboration, which brought together a collective of academics, scholars, and researchers with extensive experience in teaching and writing about histories of immigration around the world. Collaborators include the Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities and Borderlands Archives Cartography, with additional contributions from 50 participants. (Full details available on the project’s Credits page.) “The interdisciplinary and collaborative work within this digital, activist, and mobilized humanities,” Fernández reflected, “offers the opportunity to create new ways of interpreting, visualizing, and documenting the histories of communities with a profound message towards social justice and equity in this world.”


Sylvia Fernández: is a Ph.D. Candidate in Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston and a Research Fellow with Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage. Her research interest is on U.S. Latina/o Literature with a focus on U.S.-Mexico Border, Women’s, Gender and Sexualities Studies, Archives and Digital Humanities. She is co-creator of Borderlands Archives Cartography.

Maira Álvarez: is a Ph.D. Candidate and currently a Research Assistant for the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston. Her research interests lie in the study of U.S. Latino, U.S.-Mexico Border, and Latin American Literature as well as Women’s Studies, Latinx Art and Digital Humanities. She is co-creator of Borderlands Archives Cartography.

 

 

 

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3D: Dismantling the Mafia, Destabilizing Mechanisms, and Documenting the Historical Memory. By Sylvia Fernández

Reposted from Torn Apart / Separados website. You can find the Spanish version titled, “Triple D: Desmantelando a la mafia, desestabilizando mecanismos y documentando la memoria histórica”, at http://xpmethod.plaintext.in/torn-apart/reflections/sylvia_fernandez.html

the trap

So, once again, be careful! American domination – the only domination which one never recovers. I mean from which one never recovers unscarred. And since you are talking about factories and industries, do you see the tremendous factory hysterically spitting out its cinders in the heart of our forests or deep on the bush, the factory for the production of lackeys; do you not see the prodigious mechanization, the mechanization of man; the gigantic rape of everything intimate, undamaged, undefiled that, despoiled as we are, our human spirit has still managed to preserve; the machine, yes, have you ever seen it, the machine for crushing, for grinding, for degrading peoples? Aimé Césaire[1]

Ever since I begin my university studies in 2009, a concern arose in me; it derived from the frustration generated from taking courses related to the border. At first these classes focused on the feminicides–the murder and disappearance of hundreds of young women working at the factories (maquiladoras)–NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), the aftermath of the war against drug trafficking as well as other issues tied to the US-Mexico border (immigration, militarization, violence and more violence). Most of these classes have been very difficult for me because of the negative perspective perpetrated to this geographical space and its communities. Despite the reality of these problems, interpreted in a particular way in these contexts, these classes were framed from a number of generalizations, without going deep into the history that lies behind the continuous crises.

Being a border woman, born and raised in the same place where my parents met while working in the Toshiba factory, my life has always been centered in a transnational environment. Therefore, the abuses, the violence and everything that implies living under a mechanism controlled by the hegemonic interests of an imperialist and capitalist system have been part of my everyday life. So, when I talk about my hometown (la frontera #1), most of the time I feel very sad and frustrated because my birthplace ends up being the representation of the chaotic, the dangerous, and the monstrous zone. It produces a rejection of the border or, in many cases, it provokes a feeling of a division to draw a distinction between the United States and Mexico. By living in this region one perceives and, in one way or another, resists that the problems that emerge, concentrate or impose themselves in this place, are beyond the sensationalist or tragic story and are there for paternalistic reasons. Also, the same mechanisms that control spaces like the US-Mexico border or the Central America region itself have been responsible for building “the official history” of these spaces and perpetuate the omission, invisibility, and alteration of the voices of the communities that inhabit these places.

The events taking place on the US-Mexico border in the months of June and July 2018, such as the immigrant families detained, deported, separated, and the executive order signed by Donald Trump, “Zero Tolerance Policy,” have once again become newspaper headlines; and US government speeches have made me feel frustrated, once more. One reason for this is that the crisis facing immigrant families that are being separated and transferred to detention centers, among other institutionalized shelters, is using the same strategy of hate, discrimination, racism, and dehumanization, among many other injustices. And this is where I ask myself, what happens all the time after a crisis like the one taking place now? It is forgotten. And the true story that includes the voice, the documents and statistics of the communities is lost. And when we seek to recover those voices/documents, they are often incomplete or corrupted. This is how the history that tells the story about the border is an altered creation that benefits the dominant and aggressive nation.

My case is an example. I am from the border between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, which on the one hand is perceived as an insipid place without history and on the other is distinguished by its ease of converting crisis stories into fiction or production factories, always being used, destroyed and abandoned. Similarly, there is also the case of the thousands of Central American migrants who are now being part of a history that hides the main reasons for their migration[2], such as the intervention of the United States in Central America since the beginning of the twentieth century and the abuses they have faced during their immigration trajectories https://www.facebook.com/ajplusenglish/videos/275760276504019/UzpfSTc0Nzc0MTM5MDoxMDE1NjE5NzEwMTI4NjM5MQ/. In such a way that violence, poverty, and migration, among other crises that represent Central America and the border itself, are not due to their inhabitants but because of the mechanisms integrated into these countries for the economic, political and hegemonic benefit of the US government. It is necessary to keep historical memory present in order to emphasize awareness, decolonization of their consciousness, and resistance to oppressive mechanisms in a transnational manner.

With this in mind, over the past 3 years, I have been part of Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage as a Research Fellow. This has given me the opportunity to be exposed to a vast amount of recovered archives that contain the voices of the past. Particularly, many newspapers and unknown personal archives have led me to understand and be conscious of the existence of Other histories. These documents, personal archives, and US Latina/o academic research have shown me that the border cities of El Paso and Cd. Juárez and this special space that they create is a region of relevant cultural and historical production. Yet, since it is considered the periphery of the United States and Mexico, there is a lack of knowledge and disregard for this region and its transnational literary heritage, especially from locals who do not conceive this legacy as part of their identity and patrimony. My experience in Recovery coupled with my transfronteriza identity led me to think of a project that could integrate the US-Mexico borderlands and together with my colleague, Maira Álvarez—a fronteriza from Laredo, Texas—we founded Borderlands Archives Cartography; a project that maps nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries newspapers published on both sides of the border to visualize the multiplicity and hidden history(es) of this region.
The development of the project, in one part by presenting it in multidisciplinary conferences locally, nationally and internationally and my involvement in the Digital Humanities and Social Justice Speakers’ Series hosted by Recovery, with the special effort of Carolina Villarroel, Gabriela Baeza, and Lorena Gauthereau, led me to have the good fortune of meeting wonderful people (Jeremy Boggs, Purdom Lindblad, María E. Cotera, Alex Gil, Élika Ortega, and Roopika Risam), who have allowed me to learn from their experiences in the field of digital humanities. These scholars are aware that personal/communities stories are subject to political crisis and that they have the power to make social justice changes.

In June 2018 Alex Gil invited me to be part of a team with  Roopika Risam, Manan Ahmed, Maira Álvarez, Moacir P. de Sá Pereira, Linda Rodriguez, Merisa Martinez, and Gil himself, that created  “Torn Apart / Separados,” a project that aggregates and cross-references publicly available data to visualize the geography of Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy in 2018 and immigration incarceration in the USA in general. This initiative continues to work to profoundly review the crisis caused by the separation of immigrant families and refugees. It unmasks the mafia-type work of the US government as it produces more and more money through the abuse of vulnerable communities and by continuously degrading and attacking people of color.

I want to end by highlighting how the interdisciplinary and collaborative work within this digital, activist, and mobilized humanities offers the opportunity to create new ways of interpreting, visualizing, and documenting the history of communities with a profound message towards social justice and equity in the world. The way we have been working represents a practice of resistance in a communitarian way; our work goes against the strategy of “divide and conquer” in order to avoid the constant physical and verbal aggressions towards groups of minorities.


Sylvia Fernández is a Ph.D. Candidate in Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston and a Research Fellow with Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage. She is the co-founder of Borderlands Archives Cartography. Her research is on US Latina / o with a focus on US-Mexico borderlands, transnational feminisms, postcolonial theory and digital humanities.


[1] Aimé Césaire. “Discourse on Colonialism”. Translated by Joan Pinkham. Monthly
Review Press, 1972.

[2] http://theconversation.com/how-us-policy-in-honduras-set-the-stage-for-todays-mass-migration-65935?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=twitterbutton

https://medium.com/s/story/timeline-us-intervention-central-america-a9bea9ebc148

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/february-2017/todays-banned-immigrants-are-no-different-from-our-immigrant-ancestors

Spring 2018: And that’s a wrap!

On Friday, May 18th, we wrapped up our Spring 2018 speaker series and workshops on Digital Humanities and Social Justice. The series brought leading scholars in digital humanities to the University of Houston campus. These scholars included: Jeremy Boggs (University of Virginia), Purdom Lindblad (Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities/MITH), María Cotera (University of Michigan), Alex Gil (Columbia University), Élika Ortega (Northeastern University), and Roopika Risam (Salem State University).

These speakers lectured on how they are working to engage and create ethical, socially conscious methodologies. If you missed any of the lectures, or if you want to re-watch one you attended, you can now watch these videos online (Events> Speaker Series and Workshops > Videos). Click here to watch the videos!

We would like to extend a thank you to all of our supporters throughout the semester: the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Arte Público Press, the Digital Research Commons (DRC) at MD Anderson Library, the Houston Arts Alliance,  South Asian Youth in Houston Unite (SAYHU) and the Women’s Gender & Sexuality Studies (WGSS) Program at the University of Houston.

Thank you to all those who attended the lectures and workshops (both in person and virtually)– you helped make this a success!

We look forward to bringing the community more #usLdh (US Latino Digital Humanities) speakers, workshops, and events!

Follow Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage on Social Media!

Twitter: @AppRecovery

Reading List for Women’s History Month

Are you looking for more books by Latinas to read this Women’s History Month? Why not read a recovered manuscript?! Here is a list of manuscripts recovered and published by Arte Público Press/Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage. Enjoy!

A Nation of Women: An Early Feminist Speaks Out (Mi opinión sobre las libertades, derechos y deberes de la mujer) by Luisa Capetillo

Mi opinión is considered by many to be the first feminist treatise in Puerto Rico and one of the first in Latin America and the Caribbean.  In concise prose, Capetillo advocates a workers’ revolution, forcefully demanding an end to the exploitation and subordination of workers and women.


Absolute Equality: An Early Feminist Perspective (Influencias de las ideas modernas) by Luisa Capetillo

In Luisa Capetillo’s three-act play written in 1907, “Influences of Modern Ideas,” Angelina, the daughter of a rich Puerto Rican businessman and landowner, educates herself by reading the works of European writers, philosophers, and anarchists. After reading Tolstoy’s The Slavery of Our Times, she is convinced that “the slavery of our times is the inflexible wage law.” As the workers go on strike in her home town of Arecibo, Angelina tries to convince her father to give his property—home, factories, land—to the working class. And so the stage is set for Capetillo, a militant feminist, anarchist, and labor leader, to inform the public about her passions: the fight for workers’ rights; the struggle for justice and equality, for women as well as workers; and the education of all classes and sexes. The themes in this social protest play appear throughout Capetillo’s writings.


The Collected Stories of María Cristina Mena 

This volume gathers for the first time Mena’s stories written between 1913 and 1931 and published originally in such magazines as Century, American and Cosmopolitan. In her short fiction Mena writes about Mexico for an Anglo-American audience, and skillfully confronts issues of gender, race and nation.

 


Dew on the Thorn by Jovita González

Dew on the Thorn seeks to recreate the life of Texas Mexicans as Anglo culture gradually encroached upon them. González, a former president of the Texas Folklore Society, provides us with a richly detailed portrait of the ranch life of the Olivares clan of South Texas, focusing on the cultural traditions of Texas Mexicans at a time when the divisions of class and race were pressing on the established way of life.


Feminist and Abolitionist: The Story of Emilia Casanova

When asked to deliver contraband papers to her native island home of Cuba in 1852, twenty-year-old Emilia Casanova gulped audibly in a most unladylike manner. This was her chance to be in the thick of the rebellion against Spanish authority instead of on the sidelines more befitting someone of her station. Even though she would be branded a traitor and endanger her family if she was caught, she pushed her fear aside and accepted the mission.

Back in Cuba following her first summer abroad, distributing seditious propaganda isn’t as easy as it had seemed while in New York. But she honors her commitment to the Junta Cubana, a group of Cuban revolutionaries living in exile in the U. S., and begins her efforts to convert compatriots to the cause of independence from Spain. She begins planting the seeds of insubordination in her social circle and enlists two of her brothers in the cause. Things become more dangerous when she targets soldiers in the garrison close to the family’s home, and it doesn’t take long for one of her brothers to be exposed. Soon Emilia’s father is forced to lead his entire family away from their home and into exile in the U. S.


Firefly Summer by Pura Belpré

Firefly Summer is an enchanting poetic recreation of life in rural Puerto Rico at the turn of the century. Returning home to her parents’ plantation for the holidays, a young student rediscovers the quaint customs, music and lore of country folk, and the lush verdant beauty and lure of the tropical hills. Teresa is honored when her family initiates her in their traditional rites and celebrations that mark the seasons of the year as well as the stages in people’s lives.

However this idyllic journey is not without intrigue. Unknown to Teresa and her best friend from school, there is a real-life mystery unraveling concerning the foreman of the plantation who was raised by the family since early childhood. In the course of their sleuthing, the three young people discover the challenges of approaching adulthood. The events of the summer bind the trio in a lasting friendship.


History and Legends of the Alamo and Other Missions in and around San Antonio by Adina de Zavala

Originally published in 1917 by Adina de Zavala, this volume reconstructs the history of the Alamo back to pre-colonial times. Its importance lies not only in its portrayal of Texas’ history as a product of Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo-American contributions, but also in its focus on the role of Texas women and Texas Mexicans in shaping the historical record. At a time when Texas Mexican women held little influence, de Zavala attempted to rewrite the way Texas history was written and constructed. This milestone literary work includes historical maps, plates, diary accounts and other records.


The Rebel by Leonor Villegas de Magnón

The Rebel, by Leonor Villegas de Magnón, is the autobiography of the Mexican-American feminist and pacifist who served as a nurse in the Mexican Revolution and became active in Texas politics and culture. Originally written in the 1920s but never published, The Rebel stands as one of the few written documents which consciously challenges misconceptions of Mexican Americans.


La Rebelde by Leonor Villegas de Magnón

La Rebelde is the original Spanish-language version of Leonor Villegas de Magnón’s memoir. Many women from both sides of the border risked their lives and left their families to support the Mexican Revolution.  Years later, however, when their participation remained unacknowledged and was running the risk of being forgotten, Villegas de Magnón decided to write her personal account of this history. With enthralling text and 22 pages of photos, La Rebelde examines the period from 1876 through 1920, documenting the heroic actions of the women.  Written in the third person with a romantic fervor, the narrative weaves Villegas de Magnón’s autobiography with the story of La Cruz Blanca.


The Squatter and the Don by María Amparo Ruiz de Burton

Originally published in San Francisco in 1885, The Squatter and the Don is the first fictional narrative written and published in English from the perspective of the conquered Mexican population. Despite being granted the full rights of citizenship under the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848, this group had become a subordinated and marginalized national minority by 1860.


The Woman Who Lost Her Soul and Other Stories: Collected Tales and Short Stories by Jovita González

Jovita González was long a member—and ultimately served as president—of the Texas Folklore Society, which strove to preserve the oral traditions and customs of her native state. Many of the folklore-based stories in this volume were published by González in periodicals such as the Southwest Review from the 1920s through the 1940s but have been gathered here for the first time.


Who Would Have Thought It? by María Amparo Ruiz de Burton

Who Would Have Thought It? (1872) is a historical romance which engages the dominant myths about nationality, race and gender prevalent in society in the United States, prior to and during the Civil War. The narrative follows a young Mexican girl as she is delivered from Indian captivity in the Southwest and comes to live in the household of a New England family. Culture and perspectives on history and national identity clash as the novel criticizes the dominant society’s opportunism and hypocrisy, and indicts northern racism.


Women’s Tales from the New Mexico WPA: La Diabla a Pie

At the height of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the administration of U. S. President Franklin Roosevelt instituted a Federal Writers Project as part of the larger Works Progress Administration (WPA), massive national undertakings aimed at getting the nation back to work. Many people participated in compiling a series of state-by-state guides to the country. Other writers’ projects included the gathering of folk songs and oral narratives by still-living ex-slaves.


For lists of contemporary woman-centric writings, see Arte Público Press’s Women’s History Month Fiction Titles list and their Non-Fiction Titles list.

LULAC Council 60 Clubhouse: This Place Matters

Two-story white house with Texas Historical Marker in front. House has three large windows on the second floor.

LULAC Council 60 Clubhouse (Photo: Dee Zunker For The National Trust For Historic Preservation)

On January 30, 2018, Houston’s LULAC Council 60 Clubhouse was named a “National Treasure” by the National Trust for Historical Preservation—a privately-funded nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving historically-significant locations. Originally built in 1907, this modest two-story building became the headquarters for Houston’s chapter of the civil rights organization, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

LULAC History

LULAC was founded in 1929 as response to the discrimination faced by people of Mexican descent living in the United States.

Historic black and white photograph of restaurant sign:

PHOTO COURTESY RUSSELL LEE PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION AT UT-AUSTIN

At this time, people of Mexican descent were denied civil rights: they were often refused service and jobs; children attended segregated schools; public spaces were segregated according to “Jaime Crow” practices; and they were often targets of racially-motivated violence.

In an effort to create a stronger, unified organization, delegates from three major Texas Mexican American civil rights groups met to discuss a merger. These three groups included: the Order of the Sons of America, The Knights of America, and the League of Latin American Citizens. The members who worked to facilitate this merger included: Ben Garza, Juan Solis, Mauro Machado, Alonso S. Perales, J.T. Canales, E.N. Marin, A. DeLuna, and Fortunio Treviño (LULAC: History). On February 17, 1929, the merger was complete and the first LULAC Convention was held on May 19, 1929 (LULAC: History).

Red, white, and blue LULAC flag

LULAC flag, Council 60 Clubhouse. Houston, TX

Since the merger until present day, LULAC has been fighting to empower Latinas and Latinos in theUnited States by creating access to political processes and equal opportunity to education. LULAC holds “voter registration drives, citizenship awareness sessions, sponsor health fairs and tutorial programs, and raise scholarship money for the LULAC National Scholarship Fund. This fund, in conjunction with LNESC (LULAC National Educational Service Centers), has assisted almost 10 percent of the 1.1 million Hispanic students who have gone to college” (LULAC: History).

Council 60 Clubhouse

The Council 60 Clubhouse in Houston served as the de facto headquarters for LULAC through the majority of the Chicana/o movement in the 1960s.

Photo of the Texas Historical Commission marker in front of LULAC Council 60 Clubhouse

Texas Historical Commission marker in front of LULAC Council 60 Clubhouse

The designation of this clubhouse as a National Treasure—a place where a part of US history unfolded—speaks to the need for inclusion of the role of Latinos in US history. That is, as Al Maldonado, III, LULAC District VIII Director noted at the January 30th reception, “Latino history is US history.”

I had the honor of attending the LULAC Council 60 Clubhouse reception. Just minutes before driving to the historical site, both our intern, Theresa Mayfield, and I were sorting through documents from our Alonso S. Perales collection.

Alonso S. Perales

Alonso S. Perales was one of the founders of LULAC and the second president. Perales’ daughter, Marta Carrizales and his son, Raymond Perales, donated his collection of papers to Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage (located at the University of Houston). A conference was subsequently organized by Recovery and held in his honor in 2012.

Alonso S. Perales, in suit, facing left

Photo: Alonso S. Perales, in suit, facing left. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library.

The collection is very extensive and includes his personal documents, LULAC organizational documents (such as bylaws, history, conventions, manuscripts, resolutions, speeches, bills, news, and correspondence). Perales was only the third Mexican American to receive his law degree and dedicated his life to fighting for the civil rights of his people. He published two books, Are We Good Neighbors? and En defensa de mi raza (In Defense of My People). The Perales Collection is housed at the University of Houston’s MD Anderson Library Special Collections (read the Library’s finding aid here).

Upcoming Perales DH Projects

In an effort to highlight Perales’ civil rights work, we are currently working on creating an Alonso S. Perales Digital Archive, which will include a sampling of documents from his collection. I am also personally working on a mapping project, Are We Good Neighbors?, which will map out the recorded instances of discrimination experienced by Mexican Americans in Texas, based on the personal accounts that Perales collected from the Texas community and published in his book of the same name. To learn more about Alonso S. Perales, read the collection of essays that came out of the 2012 Recovery conference, edited by UH law professor, Michael A. Olivas, In Defense of My People: Alonso S. Perales and the Development of Mexican-American Public Intellectuals.

For more photos of the LULAC Council 60 Clubhouse reception, visit us on social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook).

Works cited

“LULAC History: All for One and One for All.” League of United Latin American Citizens. Accessed 30 January 2018. lulac.org

“LULAC Clubhouse.” National Trust for Historic Preservation. Accessed 30 January 2018. https://savingplaces.org/lulac

Olivas, Michael A. (ed.) In Defense of My People: Alonso S. Perales and the Development of Mexican-American Public Intellectuals. Arte Público Press, 2013.


Lorena Gauthereau is a CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow at Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage at the University of Houston. Find her online at https://lorenagauthereau.wordpress.com.

Digital Humanities & Social Justice Speaker Series (Spring 2018)

USLDH: US Latino Digital Humanities

Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage is excited to announce its Spring 2018 Speaker Series, Digital Humanities & Social Justice. This speaker series is sponsored in part by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This grant was awarded in Summer 2017 and included funding for Recovery’s Director of Research, Dr. Carolina Villarroel, and University of Houston Associate Professor in Hispanic Studies and Arte Público Press Executive Editor, Dr. Gabriela Baeza Ventura, to visit various Digital Humanities Centers in the United States to study and evaluate their operations and their applicability to creating Digital Humanities programming focused on US Latina/o Studies, and to further partnerships and collaborations.

The Spring 2018 Speaker Series brings leading digital humanists, digital preservation specialists, and consultants to the University of Houston campus to give guest lectures on the social justice, activism, diversity, and the Digital Humanities. These guest speakers will also lead workshops that will demonstrate how to put social justice methodologies into practice through various digital tools, software, and ethically-conscious pedagogy. The lectures are open to the public. Workshops require an RSVP due to limited seating.

The 2018 series kicks off on January 25 and runs until May 18.

Speakers include:

  • Jeremey Boggs, Humanities Design Architect at the University of Virginia Library Scholar’s Lab. (Jan. 25 & 26)
  • Purdom Lindblad, Assistant Director of Innovation and Learning, Head of Scholar’s Lab Graduate Program at Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH). (Feb. 15 & 16)
  • María Cotera, Director of Chicana por mi Raza, Director of Latina/o Studies at the University of Michigan. (March 1 &2)
  • Alex Gil, Digital Scholarship Coordinator, Co-Director of the Studio@Butler. (March 29 & 30)
  • Élika Ortega, Assistant Professor of Cultures, Societies, and Global Studies and Core Faculty at the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks at Northeastern University. (April 26 & 27)
  • Roopika Risam, Assistant Professor of English and Chair of the Program Area for Content Education at Salem State University. (May 17 & 18)

Make sure to follow our hashtag #usLdh on Twitter for live-tweets of the presentations and check Facebook or our blog page for event updates.

The 2018 Digital Humanities & Social Justice speaker and workshop series is sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Arte Público Press/Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage, University of Houston’s Digital Research Commons, MD Anderson Library, and the Houston Arts Alliance.

Incubator: Decolonizing the Digital Humanities

This past week, I had the opportunity to give a talk as part of Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage’s new US Latina/o Digital Humanities (#usLdh) Incubator series. If you missed it, you can access our group notes on Google Drive or Storify. I’ve also started a Zotero Group with a growing bibliography related to US Latina/o Digital Humanities (which includes sources on DH, decolonial theory, postcolonial theory, and more). Feel free to join and contribute to the growing bibliography!

My talk and this blog post are not meant as an in-depth analysis of decolonizing DH, instead, my goal is to provide a brief overview of the relationship between coloniality and the archive as well as a discussion of decoloniality not just as a theory but also as a methodology. This is meant to serve as a springboard for further discussion on decolonial DH methodology.

Colonialism, History, and Archives

In order to begin a discussion on decolonizing the digital humanities, I think it’s important to first acknowledge the role of colonialism in creating or shaping the historical record. Archives help structure knowledge and history. In terms of the nation-state, national archives help to create an authoritative national narrative. The International Council on Archives, for example, describes archives on their webpage as follows: “Archives constitute the memory of nations and societies, shape their identity, and are a cornerstone of the information society” (International Council on Archives n.p.). Yet, the shadow of colonialism more often than not penetrates this archivization process, determining whose stories belong in the archive and how to frame the national historical narrative. As Frantz Fanon wrote in The Wretched of the Earth (1963):

[C]olonialism is not simply content to impose its rule upon the present and the future of a dominated country. Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverse logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts it, disfigures it and destroys it. (Fanon 210)

Examples of distortion of history include the erasure of indigenous histories and languages, the recasting of winners/losers, the erasure of people of Mexican descent from the Texas side of the Texas Revolution, and—as recent political controversies have highlighted—the romanticization of the US Confederacy and the US Antebellum South. Colonization, complete with its indigenous genocide and African slavery robbed people of their lives, their freedom, their religion, their names, their culture, their lands, their language, and more. Marginalized archives, which contain the forgotten history of oppressed peoples (what Rodrigo Lazo calls “migrant archives”), “reside in obscurity and are always at the edge of annihilation. They are the texts of the past that have not been written into the official spaces of archivization” (Lazo 37). While not all DH projects are digital archives, DH projects do create a type of archive as they structure knowledge/history, tell historical stories, preserve parts of the archive, prioritize certain people/languages/epistemologies, and more.

Postcolonialism vs. Decolonialism

It is, of course, difficult to boil down two large theoretical fields, but for the purposes of this discussion, I wanted to provide simplified versions. Postcolonial theory critiques the formal colonial matrix of power. You can think of it as a “macro” critique. It looks at the big picture of colonialism. Decoloniality, on the other hand, tends to focus on the details, an awareness of how our quotidian experience is coded through coloniality. It attempts to delink our history (and our present) from colonial legacy by parsing out how coloniality is at work in our lives. The decolonize your diet movement, for example challenges people to become aware of the origins of dishes and to move away from overly-processed foods. An example of a decolonial DH project is The African Origins project, which reinserts the human into the history of colonial transatlantic slave voyages. This project is an effort to identify the names and origins of Africans that were forcibly transported across the Atlantic on slave ships.

Decolonial theory is influenced by Latin American Marxist Dependency theory, Négritude African diaspora intellectuals (such as Aimé Césaire), and WOC feminists. Decolonial theory is rooted in postcolonial theory, but challenges postcolonial studies for using European points of reference.

(Digital) Methodology of the Oppressed

Decoloniality lends itself to pedagogy and methodology in the way that it seeks to question history and hegemonic structures. M. Jacqui Alexander and Chandra Talpede Monanty (1997) comment: “Decolonization has a fundamentally pedagogical dimension—an imperative to understand, to reflect on, and to transform relations of objectification and dehumanization, and to pass this knowledge along to future generations” (xxviii-xxix). One of the ways that decolonial theory approaches such a dimension is through what Emma Pérez (1999, 2003) calls the “decolonial imaginary.” It is through the decolonial imaginary that we can push back against colonial legacies that structure our lives, the decolonial imaginary, writes Pérez (2003),

… can help us rethink history in a way that makes agency for those on the margins transformative….The colonial mindset believes in a normative language, race, culture, gender, class, and sexuality….I propose a decolonial imaginary as a rupturing space, the alternative to that which is written in history….How do we contest the past to revise it in a manner that tells more of our stories? In other words, how do we decolonize our history? To decolonize our history and our historical imaginations, we must uncover the voices from the past that honor multiple experiences, instead of falling prey to that which is easy—allowing the white colonial heteronormative gaze to reconstruct and interpret our past. (123, emphasis mine)

What, then, does coloniality, postcoloniality, and decoloniality have to do with DH?

Koh, Adeline. “Why the World Needs #DHPoco, Part 2.” #DHPoco: Postcolonial Digital Humanities Tumblr. no. 32. 5 Dec. 2013. http://dhpoco.tumblr.com/

Coloniality insists on the preference of Western ontologies and epistemologies and attempts to erase all non-Western forms of existing and knowing. It delegitimizes non-standard and non-Western languages and tries to put people and histories into strict categories related to language, nationality, gender, religion, etc. To approach DH from a decolonial methodology is to question whether your project reinforces coloniality/colonial thinking and to challenge yourself to delink your project from colonial structures.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Who?
    • Who is being represented? Who is speaking? Whose history is it? Who is making the choices? Who is working on the archive? Who can access it? Who owns the items? Who houses them? Who is given credit for the work?
  • What?
    • What sort of items are being included? What types of knowledge are considered archivable? In what format/language are they? What is the medium/tool used to present/preserve/disseminate? What are possible ethical concerns?
  • How?
    • How are these choices being made? How are these items being categorized/tagged/labeled? How are they displayed?(Does it make sense to display this way?)

Another great resource for thinking through decolonial and postcolonial DH is the Social Justice and the Digital Humanities site, which emerged from a 2015 Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching (HILT) course taught by Roopika Rosam and micha cárdenas.

You can enter into conversations about DH, decolonial theory, archives, and social justice on social media using related hashtags such as: #usLdh (US Latina/o Digital Humanities), #transformDH, and #DHpoco (postcolonial digital humanities).

Works cited

Alexander, M. Jacqui, and Chandra Talpede Mohanty. Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures. Routledge, 1997.
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Richard Philcox, Grove Press, 2004.
Lazo, Rodrigo. “Migrant Archives.” States of Emergency: The Object of American Studies, edited by Russ Castronovo and Susan Kay Gillman, 2009, pp. 38–72.
Pérez, Emma. “Queering the Borderlands: The Challenges of Excavating the Invisible and Unheard.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, vol. 24, no. 2/3, 2003, pp. 122–31.
—. The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History. Indiana University Press, 1999.
Social Justice and the Digital Humanities. http://criticaldh.roopikarisam.com/. Accessed 17 Nov. 2017.
Further Reading
Césaire, Aimé. Discourse on Colonialism. MR, 1972.
Gaertner, David. “Why We Need to Talk About Indigenous Literature in the Digital Humanities.” Novel Alliances, 26 Jan. 2017, https://novelalliances.com/2017/01/26/indigenous-literature-and-the-digital-humanities/.
Gil, Alex. The (Digital) Library of Babel. http://www.elotroalex.com/digital-library-babel/. Digital Humanities Summer Institute, Victoria, B.C.
Joseph, Etienne, et al. “Decolonising the Archive (DTA).” Decolonising the Archive (DTA), http://www.decolonisingthearchive.com/. Accessed 8 Nov. 2017.
Kreitz, Kelley. “Toward a Latinx Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Remixing, Reassembling, and Reimagining the Archive.” Educational Media International, vol. 0, no. 0, Oct. 2017, pp. 1–13. Taylor and Francis+NEJM, doi:10.1080/09523987.2017.1391524.
Postcolonial Digital Humanities | Global Explorations of Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality and Disability within Cultures of Technology. http://dhpoco.org/. Accessed 4 May 2013.
Risam, Roopika. Beyond the Margins: Intersectionality and the Digital Humanities. Vol. 9, no. 2, 2015. Digital Humanities Quarterly, http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/9/2/000208/000208.html.
—. “Revising History and Re-Authoring the Left in the Postcolonial Digital Archive.” Left History, vol. 18, no. 2, 2015, pp. 35–46.
Sandoval, Chela. Methodology of the Oppressed. University Of Minnesota Press, 2000.

Storify PDF: Incubator: Decolonizing Digital Humanities


Lorena Gauthereau is a CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow at Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage at the University of Houston. Find her online at https://lorenagauthereau.wordpress.com.