Monday, April 03, 2017

Locating Digital Humanities in India: the Emergence of DH in the Global South #digitalhumanities

Courtesy of Pad.ma project (http://pad.ma/)
In my research, I approached digital humanities from a cross-cultural perspective.  In my examination of the field of DH, I can't but help notice the immense scale of the project, the sheer difficulties of not only defining the parametres of what constitutes digital humanities among institution, but also the lofty challenges of defining it among countries.

In a very interesting research report by Puthiya Purayil Sneha, she concludes that locating DH in India as a futile project.   This is particular so, as conversations around the internet and digital technologies have been located within the domain of the developing information and communication technologies in India.   In the Global South, digital usually means rhetoric about the potential to address and even resolve social and economic problems - anything digital translates to “good” and “beneficial.

The ICT-fication, as Sneha put it, of education has been a major objective and challenge within the larger DH vision, specifically because of access, namely the quality of access and the lack of connectivity.  There is an emergence of independent, online archives, seen as a fallout of the hegemony of state-funded archives though, particularly early key projects such as Bichitra, Tagore’s works at Jadavpur University, and Pad.ma.

However, in terms of the logistics of technology, Indic scripts is a persistent problem for digital initiatives in India.  Though in Bengali work has been done to address this by a keyboard software called Avro which stores conjunct letters preserving their separate characteristics - general searching the “anglicized," funding for research and development, maintenance, and sustainability is difficult to obtain.

The research infrastructure has been primarily for the natural sciences - humanities often end up being inadequate, in terms of financial and intellectual investment.  For example, in the case of Bangalore, with so much infrastructure at its disposal, there has been minimal development in the humanities.   And other places like Kashmir, there is strict regulations of access to the Internet due to security concerns.  Consequently, the need to have an archive metadata tool that can work with different Indian languages at the moment is difficult, if not impossible.  So even with technology a concern, there are other key points in consideration:
  • Post-Colonial Considerations - The “incompleteness of the archives” is not well preserved by British administrators before independence.  Still a contentious among archivists and historians, the viability and usefulness of this incomplete history of India produces problems for academic research of the digital humanities in India.
  • Small Steps by the Academic Institutions - Indian Institute of Technology at Indore and Hyderabad have engaged in DH and cultural informatics - through modules in existing courses and seminars.  Small steps are being taken in this very early era of DH in India. 
  • Academic Cultural Resistance - Just as with Western scholars, there is resistance from humanities departments ranging from lack of expertise to concerns about too “technological”
Indian researcher Radhika Diwan is currently conducting research into the state of digital humanities in India, tracing the history and development of Indian DH and reviewing prominent DH projects and the analysis and data collected through the interviews with DH scholars.  So the future is bright, with prospects of more to come.

Monday, March 20, 2017

My Stroke of Insight - By Neuroscientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor


A dear friend and mentor of mine had suffered a tragic stroke recently.  A stroke is the last illness anyone would want: the debilitating consequences can take a lifetime to heal, a lifetime changes within a fraction of time.  I'm truly at a loss for the suffering that my friend faces.  As a librarian, I do what I do best in times of tragedy: I read and understand what I'm up against.   I am reading as much about stroke and strategies for recovery.   I'm fortunate to come across My Stoke of Insight, a brain scientist's personal journey through stroke, and her process of recovery as I know it's one of the important titles in the field.   I read the book and here are the important points about stroke patients and what we need to remember. If you find it useful, please share it with others, especially with caregivers who have friends and loved ones who suffered a stroke.   Here's how Bolte Taylor recalls in her journey to healing:

1. I desperately need people to treat me as though I would recover completely (Regardless if it would take 3 months, 2 years, or 20 years, or a lifetime, I need people to have faith in my continued ability to learn, heal, and grow)

2. Honour the healing power of sleep (Value sleep, as it physically heals cell; Brain is the ultimate authority on what it needs to heal itself)

3. I need people to love me, not for the person I had been, but for who I might now become (At the essence of my soul, I am the same spirit. But with brain wiring now different, I might have new interests, likes, and dislikes)

4. I need those around me to be encouraging. I need to know that I still have value. I need to have dreams to work toward. (Accept me as the person I am at the moment, permit me the freedom to evolve as a right hemisphere dominant personality)

5. I need people to celebrate the triumphs I make everyday because my success, no matter how small, inspire me (focus on my ability, not my disability)

6. I need people to come close and not be afraid of me (I desperately need their kindness; I need to be touched, stroke my arm, hold my hand, or gently wipe my face)

7. I need my visitors to bring me their positive energy
(I appreciate when people come in for just a few minutes, take my hands in theirs, and share softly and slowly how they are doing, what they are thinking, and how they believe in my ability to recover. It's difficult for me to cope with people who come in with high anxious energy. Extremely nervous, anxious, or angry people are counter-productive to my healing)

Sunday, March 05, 2017

One Belt, One Road, and Beyond - A Look at the Collections of Libraries, Archives, and Museums

I'm pleased that my research partners from across the Pacific Ocean, Dickson Chiu (University of Hong Kong) and Patrick Lo (University of Tsukuba) will be giving a talk at the University of Hong Kong Libraries.   Our book is a labour of love (perhaps more labour than love it seems at times).
The genesis of it come from a common theme that we hear too often about the challenges and trials of librarians who face continuously shrinking budgets, increased workloads, and the constant change in information technologies.  But as we gradually worked our way through these discussions, we realized that such themes go beyond just libraries, but includes cultural institutions as archives, museums, and to a certain extent, art galleries – what is now more commonly known as a whole as LAMs.

One might ask, why focus on LAMs? We argue that the present convergence is actually a return to traditional unity. These three institutions share epistemological links dating from the “Museum” of Alexandria and continuing through the cabinets of curiosities gathered in early modern Europe. But over time, as these collections expanded, they became more specialized and their storage separated according to the form of information that emerged in around the nineteenth century, and as a result, these institutions professionalized and intellectual societies and educational programs materialized that further crystallized the formal separation.  We have come full circle.  For us to focus on only one but not the other would be to give an incomplete picture as to the continued merger of LAMs. Our book is thus based on a series of direct interviews with different practicing librarians, archivists, and museum curators across the world who specialize in East Asian collections.

In trying to examine the dynamically shifting role of the cultural institution in the context of managing information, cultural and knowledge exchanges, and collaboration on a global scale, we want this book to serve as a reference guide for students, scholars, researchers, and professionals who manage East Asian collections, and enable them to gain a glimpse of the vast amount of treasures available for their research and other scholarly activities. As LAMs began their histories mainly as collecting institutions with mandates to preserve and make accessible primary sources valuable for researchers, we want to show in this book how we are coming full circle again with the merger of practices and techniques of managing collections across cultural institutions.

When we sought a title for this book, we were careful to live up to the promise of “World’s Leading Librarians, Archivists and Curators.” Of course, it can be a subjective process in labeling who exactly are “leading,” but we strove to select those who are considered experts in their field, those who have published extensively in there area of literature, who have amassed many years of experience in management of their collections, and also those who have won awards or acclamation from their peers. We did not make our selections in haste; we also carefully selected interviewees based on a geographical spread that best represented various countries across the world to justify the global focus of our book. So that is why we went on a journey to interview experts from Berlin State Library, Bavarian State Library, the British Library, the British Museum, the National Library of France, the Vatican Library, the National Library of Denmark, the National Archives of Japan, the National Taiwan Library – just to name a few.

In the context of this book, East Asian collections not only refers to those housed and managed by library, archive, and museum (LAM) professionals who are ethnically of East Asian descent, but also their American as well as European colleagues, who have devoted their careers to safeguarding cultural heritage collections of immeasurable values. We conducted our research using a mixed-methods approach using semi-structure surveys through face-to-face meetings, Skype, and also by email depending on preferred mode of access by our interviewees. Upon completion of transcribing our interviews, we followed up with our interviewees for clarification and approval for publication of the text.  We're looking forward to finally having this monograph out and available.  Expect a June launch to come.  

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Screwmaneutical Approach to Digital Humanities and Digital Scholarship

Image courtesy Duke University
I've attended many Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI)'s over the years, and have come to realize that digital humanities is neither a field, a discipline, nor a methodology.  Humanities cannot be done with computers, nor is it computer science performed on topics of interest to the humanities.  There's much debate within academia about the merit of digital scholarship.  While some have called digital humanities as a "misappropriation," others have even referred to its as "Twitter as scholarship."

 DH is currently caught in an existentialist dilemma despite the resulting dynamic dialogue between emerging technology and humanistic inquiry.   Although DH comprises a scholarly humanities community of practice that is engaged in a wide variety of projects but that collectively values experimentation, collaboration, and making, it is a contentious label that signifies elitism and is characterized by a fetishization of technology and a lack of critical reflection. However it is defined, DH has had a significant impact on the academic landscape for more than a decade. Micah Vandegrift takes a page from Stephen Ramsay and calls for a "screwmaneutical approach," one which of re-imagines the place and role of the library is not simply as a place to get the right answers, or be directed to the correct resource, and that means browsability and playfulness.  As Vandegrift put its,
"the“serve ‘em and send ‘em along” model is no longer serving a patronage whose information needs include planning, building and executing projects that utilize the strengths of librarianship."
He recommends some excellent steps to take for those interested in diving into this area of DH.   I've added some of my own an in a more holistic approach.  I hope as a community of practice that this is useful:

1. Attend academic department events - scholars present their work at colloquia

2. Sign up to the department listservs and keep up with its social media

3. Connect with councils and committees - campus-wide initiatives

4. Get involved in online DH social networks - how about #digitalhumanities?

5.  Follow Digital Humanities Now

6. THATCamp - a Humanities and Technology Camp that is an open and relatively inexpensive meeting where humanists and technologists learn and build together in sessions proposed on the spot.  There are camps across North America
7.  Blogs - Lisa Spiro's blog is just one of many who delve into this topic

8.  Join ACRL's Digital Humanities Humanities Discussion Group - Perhaps the most involved academic library group.

9.  Digital Research Tools (DIRT) wiki 

10.  Follow the scholars - Is there a better way than using the web and keeping up with the latest researchers in the field of Digital Humanities by following some of the most involved scholars?