Duarte: Network Sovereignty

However, the black digital humanities forces us to move backward before moving forward in thinking about tools, to first consider how the very foundation of the humanities are racialized through the privileging of Western cultural traditions. It then asks us to assess whether those tools would still be used in the same manner had they been developed to explore the texts that were and are marginalized through the racialization of the humanities.
Gallon, “Making a Case for the Black Digital Humanities)

One of the most compelling ideas that I have encountered this semester is that the digital humanities is a chance to “reboot” the humanities, if you will. Throughout the last several weeks, I have been wrestling with the implications of such an endeavor: implications for my scholarship, the field of English, for early modern studies. As Kim Gallon asks us to consider, who is and who is not a digital humanist has real stakes when funding might depend on the term (para. 4). As such, if I am going to consider myself a digital humanities scholar, I have to be willing to make digital work count–not only making use of digital affordances for traditional scholarship, but to branch out and challenge those traditions.

What does this look like? In “Making a Case for the Black Digital Humanities,” Gallon lays out a “technology of recovery”:

I would argue that any connection between humanity and the digital therefore requires an investigation into how computational processes might reinforce the notion of a humanity developed out of racializing systems, even as they foster efforts to assemble or otherwise build alternative human modalities. This tension is enacted through what I call a “technology of recovery,” characterized by efforts to bring forth the full humanity of marginalized peoples through the use of digital platforms and tools…

…The black digital humanities probes and disrupts the ontological notions that would have us accept humanity as a fixed category, an assumption that unproblematically emanates in the digital realm.

Of course, Gallon goes on to discuss how scholars should practice, and are already practicing, these technologies of recovery within the humanities. This week, I found another voice, similar to Gallon’s, arguing for the same work.

In Network Sovereignty, Marisa Elena Duarte lays out her method of “reframing” for approaching intersections between Native and Indigenous communities and information and communications technologies (ICTs). According to Duarte,

One goal of reframing is to show the complexities of social problems that members of a privileged class deem endemic and inherent to reservation life. Reframing means deciding which historical factors shape the background of a problem and what conditions shape indigenous possibility within the contemporary moment.

A natural synthesis between Gallon and Duarte immediately stood out to me while reading Network Sovereignty, but it was only when I returned to Gallon that I realized how closely their ideas are connected. The “re” in both Gallon’s “recovery” and Duarte’s “reframing” is a nice way to conceptualize how both authors are essentially prioritizing a historicity in humanities approaches to technology. For Gallon, that means exposing whiteness inherent in humanities disciplines and approaches, and challenging dominant scholarship conventions with regard to canonization, etc. Where Gallon speaks about such broad disciplinary moves, Duarte has the chance to act on the idea of “reframing,” both broad and specific, in her book. Through the process of historicizing broadband access, she is able to link digital technologies with access concerns, colonial narratives past and present, public policy, ecology, and Native and Indigenous culture. Working at these intersections and more, Duarte is able to reveal whiteness and colonial modes of thought–just as Gallon advocates–which have been imported into the world of science and technology: she highlights, as one example, how difficult it can get those working in such fields to recognize the need for Native and Indigenous communities to have fast and affordable internet access.

Duarte’s approach is so well thought-out and executed in Network Sovereignty that it has helped to transform, in my mind, the ideas put forth by Gallon into something that I can see in action and relate to my own work. Certainly, when it comes to teaching in DTC, Duarte provides a model for historicizing and problematizing dominant narratives about technology and culture. I can model this for students and ask them to engage in thinking about colonial narratives which are embedded in our notions of technological determinism and “progress.” Where I am working with born-digital scholarship, I would like to make sure that it continually recognizes the default assumptions inherent in digital systems. As an early modernist, however, I will likely be working a great deal with or adding to archives and other structures which pre-date the web and will need to be transitioned online. I should take that point of transition as an opportunity to historicize not only the traditional academic print culture from which such materials come, and its colonial roots, but the entire enterprise of privileging certain works and literary traditions over others, a problem which Gallon highlights. I will continue to think about how these goals can specifically play out in my work.

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