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Editors' Note: April 2024

Editors' note on the April 2024 issue of Reviews in Digital Humanities, guest edited by Leah Junck and James Yékú

Published onApr 27, 2024
Editors' Note: April 2024

Editors’ Note

Jennifer Guiliano and Roopika Risam

Welcome to the April issue of Reviews in Digital Humanities.

Last week, the digital humanities community experienced another tragic loss: Dr. Bill Hart-Davidson, Associate Dean, Research & Graduate Education
Professor at Michigan State University (MSU). As numerous Twitter tributes attest, Bill was an incredibly generous mentor, colleague, and friend. His collection, Rhetoric and the Digital Humanities (2015), with Jim Ridolfo, was an incredibly important one that brought together the histories of computers & writing and humanities computing. But more importantly, Bill was exceedingly kind, particularly in his encouragement of early career scholars, which we both greatly benefited from. We send our condolences to Bill’s family and to his colleagues at MSU.

Here at Reviews, we are hard at work with planning. We’re actively working with the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) to ensure the long term sustainability of the journal. Our editorial team is moving both our special issues and our topic issues forward. Tieanna and Stacy have been revising our workflows and building out our documentation. And, Jennifer and Roopsi are getting things in place for summer. This year, we’re trying something new: we’re prepping all of our summer issues early so our team can take a break from June 1st to August 31st. 

Our goal with this isn’t just to give everyone a moment but also to recognize that many academics need summers to recharge, finish long-delayed work, and process the academic year. For Roopsi, it’ll be time for research trips and seeing family. Jennifer has a co-authored monograph that’s been sitting half-finished for 8 (!!) years that has to get done. Tieanna will be graduating and starting a new job working in community engagement for the Boston Public Library. Stacy will not only continue unpacking boxes from her move to Toronto this past semester, but she’ll also be getting to know her new city. And Miranda will be house-hunting. 

As always, as we’re planning ahead, we want to extend our thanks to those who’ve gotten us here. The project directors, reviewers, special issue editors, topic editors, Sherr Lo and Mariesa Kubasek at NFF, and everyone who has engaged with Reviews deserves a big thank you from us. 

This month, we especially want to extend our appreciation to Leah Junck and James Yékú for this month’s special issue, “African Digital Humanities.” Their work shares examples of some of the amazing projects and possibilities from scholars on the continent. We especially appreciated their commitment to not replicating the colonial power dynamics that so often shape conversations about digital humanities in African contexts. We hope you enjoy their issue as much as we do.

Do you want new issues of Reviews delivered to your inbox? Subscribe to our mailing list! Want to nominate a project for review or submit your own? Drop us a note at [email protected].

Guest Editors’ Note

Leah Junck and James Yékú

This special issue on digital humanities in Africa is long overdue, but it comes on the heels of important developments that marked significant milestones in African digital humanities. Because narratives of origin matter, it is crucial to begin with institutional history and catalytic events. The first of these took place in the context of the DH 2019 conference, when the Lorentz Center at the University of Leiden hosted a workshop with digital humanities scholars from Africa, whose views are overall underrepresented in the discipline. This gathering brought together scholars from Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and other African countries to explore the connections between digital and computational media and African humanities scholarship and gave rise to the Network for Digital Humanities in Africa

Around the same time, the Kansas African Studies Center and the Institute of Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Kansas (KU) were laying the groundwork for a series of activities that would culminate in initiatives such as the African Digital Humanities program, which hosts the now-annual Symposium on African Digital Humanities. Like the DH 2019 workshop that sought to articulate specific developments in digital humanities on the continent, the KU program has been at the forefront of multicultural and inclusive digital humanities research that pivots on African cultural heritage and production, pinpointing local voices and communities. The 2024 iteration of the African digital humanities symposium, organized by the KU team and the University of Ghana, took place in Legon, a suburb of Accra. The symposium was organized around the theme of African agency and digital technologies with participants from the Digital Humanities Association of Southern Africa (DHASA), the Center for Digital Humanities at the University of Lagos, and others who seek to strengthen this research trajectory. 

However, even these stories hardly capture the longue durée of digital humanities in Africa. In Nigeria and South Africa, for instance, scholars working in linguistic and media research have used computational methods and tools to understand linguistic patterns and the larger cultural record on the continent long before the emergence of what would later be recognized globally as the distinct field of “digital humanities.” To fully appreciate this rich history of computational methods for studying linguistic data, as well as the cultural and literary production on the continent, additional research is needed. 

While several digital humanities projects that are Africa-focused can be easily found in different institutions in North America and Europe, such as Apartheid Heritages, Digital Nollywood (both in the U.S.), and the Dambudzo Marechera Archive (in Germany), we wanted to curate projects that are specifically based on the continent and that use interactive digital tools to preserve the cultural and institutional memories of different communities. Hence, this special issue offer recognizes the wide-ranging and ongoing histories of digital transformations on the African continent. Importantly, the projects included highlight the potential for activist uses of technological platforms by local communities and how local histories and archives have, over the years, been made visible through the affordances of digital media.

In this issue, we review: 

  • Open Restitution Africa, a data platform focusing on the repatriation of African artifacts, directed by Chao Tayiana Maina and Molemo Moiloa and reviewed by Dominique Somda;

  • Paint Me Black, a project exploring African fractals, directed by Augustine Farinola and reviewed by Frank Onuh;

  • African Digital Heritage, a Nairobi-based non-profit organization at the intersection of storytelling, culture, and technology, directed by Chao Tayiana Maina and reviewed by Ama Bemma Adwetewa-Badu; and

  • Pollicy, a digital initiative that aims to bridge the gap between government and citizen in southern and eastern African countries, directed by Irene Mwendwa and reviewed by Titilola Aiyegbusi;

Dominique Somda’s review underscores the pertinence of projects like those hosted by the Open Restitution platform, particularly their engagement with the restitution of African material cultures and heritage. Addressing the ongoing decolonial efforts to have European museums return African artifacts in their holdings, she stresses the project’s commitment to transparency and open access, recognizing the importance of providing Africa-centric data and knowledge to various stakeholders as a crucial step towards a shift in perspective. This shift involves questioning who holds the authority to identify heritage within European or American collections and who determines the priorities, temporalities, and modalities for the important work of restitution.

Similarly, in examining Paint Me Black, Frank Onuh writes of the importance of presenting counter-narratives to rectify historical misrepresentations and dispel enduring misconceptions about the African past and the continent’s cultural heritage. Paint Me Black illustrates African art as intricate knowledge systems that interweave complex mathematical, aesthetic, and philosophical elements. 

Ama Bemma Adwetewa-Badu’s review explores how African Digital Heritage, a Nairobi-based cultural organization, blends humanistic principles with technological innovation and fittingly highlights how the platform captures the nuances and fluidity of heritage. The process of remembering is important, Adwetewa-Badu cautions, reflecting on the platform’s stark digital representation of Britain’s detention camp in Kenya. Rather than the data visualization of the Empire’s carceral violence, the project foregrounds anti-colonial narratives and the resistance of freedom fighters. This strategy is important and reiterates Roopika Risam’s view about postcolonial digital humanities as involving the designing of new workflows and “building new archives, tools, databases, and other digital objects that resist the reinscriptions of colonialism” (Risam 4). 

Titilola Aiyegbusi explains how Pollicy’s mandate and undertakings thread together data advocacy, digital literacy, and inclusion through in-person programs, playful online projects, and a range of other resources crucial for a strong positioning in an increasingly data-driven world. With new technologies, disproportionately designed and harnessed by powerful actors and frequently proving to perpetuate harmful cultural and gender stereotypes, it becomes particularly imperative to draw attention to projects that seek to bridge these gaps. Among Pollicy’s important work is the digital initiatiev VOTE: Women, which equips women politicians in Africa with critical data skills that can be recruited to push back against patriarchal politics.

That digital humanities projects should not be designed in a manner compelling the reconsolidation of colonial violence and epistemologies was something we had in mind as we combed around for African digital humanities projects. Overall, the various projects seek to transcend boundaries — through digital means, conversations, and by valuing sources of knowledge and remembering the perspectives they galvanize. Nonetheless, reviewers also call for reflection on the challenges associated with leveraging digital resources in this manner, including issues related to sustainability, data preservation, and long-term accessibility of resources.

Works Cited

Risam, Roopika. New Digital Worlds: Postcolonial Digital Humanities in Theory, Praxis, and Pedagogy. Northwestern University Press, 2019. 

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