Sunday, March 25, 2012

Digital Humanities and the Study of African American literature

James Neal, a tremendous digital humanities resource on twitter, will be pleased when I let him know that I organized and am moderating a panel on digital humanities and African American literature at the upcoming College Language Association (CLA) annual conference. The panel will include presentations by graduate students who incorporating technology practices into their studies of black literary art and culture.

A few years ago when I wrote my first blog entry on technology using the phrase "digital humanities," James discovered my site, commented on my ideas, and encouraged me to start posting on twitter. It was his prompting that led me to sign on to the social media site. The interplay between my blogging and tweeting have certainly increased my productively as well as my interest in pushing for more African American literature-digital humanities conversations.

Earlier this year, a panel that I organized at the Modern Language Association (MLA) conference focused on race and digital humanities. At MLA, my panel was the only one out of 58 digital humanities to focus specifically on African American concerns. By contrast, the panel at CLA will be the only one to focus on digital humanities at a conference devoted primarily to African American literature.

Generally speaking, it would seem that one organization addresses digital humanities without much attention to black literature, while the other organization highlights black literature without much focus on digital humanities. To be fair, numbers and more specifically the lack of people in particular areas might account for inattention to some issues.

MLA is a quite large organization with more than 30,000 members in 100 countries, but the organization has relatively few African Americans and African Americanists, which explains why the numbers of scholars addressing race and digital humanities is so small. CLA, by comparison, is a really small organization, and few of the members are at institutions that have the resources to support the most expansive kinds of digital humanities projects (There are, no doubt, exceptions.).

I'm hopeful that we'll see changes in the coming years--more attention to African American literature among digital humanities scholars at MLA and more attention to digital humanities among African American literary scholars at CLA. For now, it's probably important to raise awareness that the absences exist.

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