By: Skylar Locke
In the introduction of Roopika Risam’s novel, New Digital Worlds: Postcolonial Digital Humanities In Theory, Praxis, and Pedagogy, Risam focuses on this central idea that “humanities and sciences can meet as equal partners in digital humanities” to create a new digital realm that is diverse, culturally inclusive, and does not reproduce the racist, sexist, and biased ideas embedded in our museums, libraries, education systems, etc (Introduction, 21).
Before technology was invented, people depended on the foundation of literature, music, art, philosophy, and history to educate themselves. I will refer to this level as the foundation of humanism. This level is dominated by White men that have the power to decide what stories and information can be learned. This created a level that has predominant issues of racism, sexism, and single perspectives that are extremely biased and limit the reality of people’s lives. After technology was invented, the foundation of humanism began to be transcribed into a digital cultural record that consists of online databases, virtual libraries and museums, interactive maps, etc. Risam states “the opportunity to intervene in the digital cultural record⸺to tell new stories, shed light on counter-histories, and create spaces for communities to produce and share their own knowledge should they wish⸺is the great promise of digital humanities” (Introduction, 5). Instead of taking the foundation of humanism that is embedded with single stories and reproducing it to the digital cultural record, Risam wants to create a digital world that is filled with multiple, complex stories that is culturally inclusive.
As I was reading Risam’s introduction to her novel, I was reminded of this danger that Chimamanda Adichie portrays in her TED talk as “the danger of a single story”. According to Adichie, the danger of a single story is “[showing] a [person] as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” In the foundation of humanism, White men created stories that only show certain races and people as “one thing, over and over again”. Risam does not want this bias to continue into the digital cultural record. In Risam’s introduction, she states “the digital cultural record is in danger of telling the story of humanity from the perspective of the Global North” which will result in cultures “whose languages are underrepresented, histories are suppressed, and stories are untold” (Introduction 4,6). Risam believes that in order to push against these single stories embedded within our history and literature, we must change what proceeds into the digital record.
After doing further research on Roopika Risam, I came across a blog post that was written in response to a workshop and lecture that was given by Risam. The writer of this blog added a quote from Risam that I wanted to share with you all: “If we want to be sure that communities who have typically been marginalized in knowledge production are part of the digital cultural memory of humanity, we have to do the work to put them there. And we can do it – with our knowledge in the humanities, with attention to the ethics of curation, digitization, and display. We can create usable digital projects that expand representation and that are contextual, pedagogical, and informed” (Losh).
- In Risam’s introduction, she mentions a couple of digital projects that have been created to help educate people on certain social problems. For example, the twitter #blacklivesmatter, the twitter #prmapathon, The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, and Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America. What other digital projects have been done? If you do not know any, feel free to do some research on this question.
- If you were to create a digital project such as a map or a hashtag to start your own digital movement that would help diverse society, what would you create and why?
- Before reading the introduction by Risam, did you believe that humanities and sciences were two separte things that should not be combined? If so, how has your perspective changed after reading the introduction and my blog post?
Adichie, Chimamanda. “The Danger of a Single Story”. TED, July 2009.
“Introduction .” New Digital Worlds: Postcolonial Digital Humanities in Theory, Praxis, and Pedagogy, by Roopika Risam, Northwestern University Press, 2019, pp. 3–21.
Losh, Liz. “Roopika Risam on Digital Humanities and Social Justice.” Roopika Risam on Digital Humanities and Social Justice, 3 Apr. 2017, dh.blogs.wm.edu/2017/04/03/roopika-risam-digital-humanities-social-justice/.