Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Reflections on the “Space & Place in Africana/Black Studies” Institute

By Kenton Rambsy

Scholars Kim Gallon and Angel David Nieves directed the NEH-funded “Space & Place in Africana/Black Studies” digital humanities institute from June 6 – June 24. The institute makes a significant intervention in the field of Black Studies by training junior and mid-level scholars with resources to enhance research projects in the digital humanities. With an increased emphasis on the digital humanities, especially in the last five years, scholars are in need of specific training that makes them competitive in a constantly changing/evolving digital world.

[Related: #NEHBlackSpace – Space & Place in Africana/Black Studies]

I served as an institute faculty member during Week 1 of the institute—“The Spatial Humanities: Understanding Space and Place in the Humanities.” In my presentation, I talked about using text-mining software to analyze short fiction by black writers. I also talked about the significance of geography in the field of African American literature and led the participants in a hands-on demonstration where we used text-mining software to analyze distinct linguistic patterns among southern writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and others.

Also in Week 1, we had presentations from professors Scott Nesbit (Visualizing Emancipation), P. Gabrielle Foreman (Colored Conventions), Stephanie Y. Evans (Africana Memoirs), Bryan Carter (Digital Harlem), and Moya Bailey (Digital Humanities Projects). The scholar and activist Kimberly Ellis (Dr. Goddess) also presented. 

During Week 2, “Digital Applications & Research Methods in Spatial Humanities: Moving From Theory to ‘Making,’” participants gained more information about how to explore tangible resources to develop digital humanities projects related to space. In Week 3, “Individual Project Development in the Spatial Humanities,” participants began constructing their own projects with the help of institute faculty.

The institute presents notable short term and long term outcomes. In terms of immediate goals, approximately 20 Africana/Black Studies scholars, graduate students, librarians and archivists were immersed in the latest digital humanities theories, methods, and practice for three weeks. Participants gained information to take back to their home institutions to encourage increased attention to Black Studies and digital humanities.

In the long-term, the institute formed the basis of an important network of black studies digital humanists who can collaborate on projects in the future. A follow-up workshop will take place on April 14-16, 2017 at Hamilton College in upstate New York. The institute provided offers participants opportunities to further develop their individual projects and consider new collective ones.

A notebook on digital humanities
Reflections on Seshat: A DH Initiative at Howard University  

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