Monday, April 03, 2017

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

Courtesy of project (
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

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.