Marisa Parham interviewed by Melissa Dinsman in part 6 of “a new series exploring the role of the digital humanities, as well as the digital in the humanities as it currently exists in the US academy” for the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Yes, I know. The same LARB that has managed to embroil itself in two not-quite-as-progressive-as-they-think-they-are-where-are-the-people-of-color-editors scandals at the exact same time–one around the digital humanities and the second around its treatment of writers of color. Yes, I know. Google for details, if you care to.
That said, Parham is excellent here and the work Five College Digital Humanities does is important and it is poc/qtpoc facing. Please do read on….
On digital things as black things —
“One thing I’m interested in is what I think of as the deep roots of the digital in Black cultural expression. But thinking about this means identifying how digitality —signals that are lost, found, glitched, compressed — influences all kinds of texts, even prior to electricity — so taking the idea of the digital itself as a thing.”
On digital humanities and the neoliberal university —
“When it comes to how projects are often grant funded and the ways in which projects often require you to develop teams that will ensure long-term project sustainability and growth, digital humanities people need to learn to look at their work as production, as an enterprise. This is difficult because it brings “business thinking” into scholarly work; however, I am not convinced it was not already there. And if you look at the kinds of battles scholars have had over the 20th and 21st centuries around publication rights, marketing, audience, freedom of speech, academic freedom, there is a way in which all those concepts are equally tied up in one’s right to imagine one’s own work as belonging to oneself. The question is, who actually has control?
On diversity and academia —
“It is really fascinating to me when scholars want to pick up something about, for instance, Asian-American or African-American life and you realize that they have never sought out an area studies course in their lives, despite opportunities to do so, or they fall back on citation practices that reify myths about the “absence” of diverse voices. You definitely see this in the digital humanities in that people have already constrained their scholarly range and, in today’s academic world you’ve chosen to be constrained, whether you admit it or not. You’ve made choices not to take these types of courses or to turn away from certain exposures and conversations, and have thus decided that they weren’t important. It’s a strong statement, but I believe it. We’ve made this world.”
On black folk doing digital things —
“There’s a way in which the notion that the technological has nothing to do with people of color is embedded in society. It runs deeply. This perspective stems from three different inaccurate beliefs: 1) we take the technological for being futurist, and it’s not, 2) we often think of technology as frivolous, and it’s not, and 3) even if one and two were true, Black people deserve frivolity and the future. So on the one hand you get the institutional argument for how technology and the digital will make the humanities more relevant while simultaneously claiming that certain populations don’t need the digital. When you put those contradictory statements together what underlies them is the question of who counts as at the center of an inquiry. Who can participate in an inquiry? Looking at this from a Black perspective, and an African-American perspective specifically, you are looking at a diverse community that has always had a profound relationship with new technologies, usually because African-Americans are always looking for the next new thing, because the past was pretty crap [laughs]. Black communities around the world are innovation engines, but Blacks are never seen as innovators. They make something new but are never seen as inventors. This is just a racialized version of men become chefs and women become cooks.”