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Main | Resources | 2012 Roundtable | Contact | Contact Members

Digital Humanities Caucus

What can American Studies do for DH, and vice versa?

[The following is an edited version of Alexis Lothian’s excellent notes. You can find her notes on her site: ]http://www.queergeektheory.org/]

Implied in the question “what can American Studies bring to DH?” is the idea that we are recruiting. I am an American Studies scholar and a digital humanist and indeed, we need you. Our 21st century task as scholars is to oversee the remediation of our past. If we don(tm)t do it, somebody else will. Google books has already stepped up to the plate, but their work is not scholarly and leaves much to be desired. We scholars come to the past with critical acumen, with patience and discipline, with the attention to detail that Google doesn(tm)t have. As we build a new form of consciousness where a particular kind of past is dominant, some archives and forms of knowledge have fallen by the wayside, these archives have to fight again for attention, even if they won our institutional struggles and found a space in the age of print. In the new world we must play catch up… again.

I work in particular with Caribbean archives and they are vulnerable ” salt, sea, heat, politicians and insouciance are just some of the threats they face. These are records that tell us the story of slavery, of anticolonialism. American Studies attention to the task can help.

And, why does DH need American Studies?

Well, l don’t believe DH is undertheorised. It just doesn(tm)t have the theory that we like in American Studies. DH has many lively debates that could be called structuralist, even poststructuralist, hermeneutical and the list goes on “but not inflected in the way that we inflect our theory.

Walter Mignolo, who could be said to be an American Studies scholar, for example, said that we need to see maps a little differently. Google Maps and other digital map providers have the words United States, Mexico etc stamped on them. This is a particular vision of history. We need to attune ourselves to other visions of space, argues Mignolo. DHers like interactive maps: well, maps depend on a vision of space. DH needs to hear the voice that says we don(tm)t need to come in with a preconceived notion of what the world looks like, and this is just one example of the sort of contribution and optics that AS can bring to DH. We can shift, the way that American Studies shifts, the way that the word America disappears under your feet.

Digital Humanities offers a path for us to take over the means of production of our own knowledge. In American Studies we produce a particular kind of knowledge that can only thrive from that power.

By Alexander Gil, Thu, December 06, 2012 - 4:37 pm

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