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Editors' Note: February 2024

Editors' note on the February 2024 issue of Reviews in Digital Humanities, guest edited by Sritama Chatterjee

Published onFeb 26, 2024
Editors' Note: February 2024

Editors’ Note

Roopika Risam and Jennifer Guiliano

We’re delighted to share the February 2024 issue of Reviews in Digital Humanities. This exciting special issue, “Indian Ocean Digital Humanities,” is guest edited by Sritama Chatterjee. Chatterjee draws on her expertise in oceanic studies to bring a fresh perspective to Reviews.

In many ways, this special issue exemplifies exactly the kind of work we hope to create space for in the journal. The cutting-edge projects showcased here, along with the clarion vision that Chatterjee provides in her introduction below, change how we understand digital humanities through oceanic studies and insist on the importance of digital humanities in oceanic studies. Embedded in the reviews are also important insights to support the development of postcolonial and decolonial approaches to digital humanities more broadly. Chatterjee’s decision to focus on Indian Ocean digital humanities in particular emphasizes the importance of taking into account the specificities of geography and history in digital humanities.

We hope you enjoy this month’s thought-provoking issue!

As always: if you are interested in editing a special issue of Reviews or exploring the possibility of a partnership, drop us a note! You can also submit a project for review, nominate a project you admire, volunteer for our reviewer pool, and tell your colleagues and students about the journal.

Questions? Thoughts? Concerns? Contact the editors, Jennifer Guiliano and Roopika Risam, by email or through the Twitter hashtag #ReviewsInDH.

Guest Editors’ Note

Sritama Chatterjee

I am a scholar of Indian Ocean literary studies, who is trained in postcolonial studies, environmental humanities and feminist methods. While researching for my dissertation, “Ordinary Environments and Aesthetics in Contemporary Indian Ocean Archipelagic Writing,” which articulates an environmental aesthetic of the ordinary not driven by crises-oriented approaches in three Indian Ocean archipelagos (Sundarbans, Andamans and Chagos), I came across the debates surrounding domain .io in the United Kingdom. For context, .io is a web domain that the United Kingdom uses for its Indian Ocean Overseas Territories, especially Chagos. Chagos, as a plantation colony, has been witness to histories of enslavement. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the population of the largest inhabited island, Diego Garcia, was systematically made to leave the island and, ultimately, deported so it could be leased out to the United States by the United Kingdom for a military base. The Chagos diasporic population is currently present in Mauritius and the United Kingdom, with their advocacy for the right to self-determination accelerating in recent years. Reports surfaced that the United Kingdom has been profiting off the sale of .io domain without the consent of the islanders. The revenue generated from the sale of .io is not used towards the development of the Chagossian community. I found myself reading numerous legal cases, calling for accountability and demanding redirection of the profits towards uplifting the Chagossian community.

I use this example of the .io as an entry point to underline that settler colonialism around the internet and web-space continues to take new forms and spaces, especially in relation to the situated nature of oceanic and archipelagic spaces. As a trained postcolonial studies scholar, unpacking this case of internet colonialism led me to study legal cases, corporation and press reports, and an emerging body of scholarship on postcolonial digital humanities. I have been interested in studying patterns of internet colonialism in the Indian Ocean archipelagos and modes of resistance to it — though none of this makes it to my dissertation — and this approach and methodology cannot be encapsulated by project-driven approaches of digital humanities work.

This is a critique, a limitation, and an invitation for a special issue on Indian Ocean digital humanities that looks at select projects of the Indian Ocean world. The critique is of an academic knowledge system that prioritizes project-based models of output and dissemination. The limitation is the desire to work towards creating new models of academic sustainability within the conditions of knowledge production. The invitation is to consider how the projects covered as part of this special issue can signal broader patterns and structures of colonialism and the possible ways the digital can be a trickster to not only resist that oppression but also offer alternative ways of being, living, and mobilizing.

What is Indian Ocean digital humanities? How can we productively mobilize its potential to articulate a just future for the Indian Ocean world?

I am always wary of providing definitions, but provisionally, Indian Ocean digital humanities is a sub-field of study that combines the materiality of oceanic geographies and the infrastructures of the digital to advance forms of knowledge that traces solidarities, connections, and feminist kinships across places and times. Indian Ocean digital humanities provides a robust critique of digital imperialism while setting new terms of engagement with the digital. This issue foregrounds a digital that is located within a nexus of human, place and multispecies assemblages, and any conversation of Indian Ocean digital humanities needs to center this nexus. The actors of Indian Ocean digital humanities, by no means exhaustive, are songs sung by Yemeni women, migrants who have experienced circular migration, Afro-Asian conference attendees beyond Bandung, and even scholars speaking on the Indian Ocean world.

We also hope that the capaciousness of the digital allows Indian Ocean digital humanities scholars to experiment with form and methods. The projects covered as part of this special issue take up the question of form in multiple ways, especially in the Aquarium of Curiosities project that experiments with fluidity or the data visualization maps of the Afro-Asian Networks Visualized project. These are by no means forms exclusive to Indian Ocean digital humanities, but advancing Indian Ocean projects raises two questions: first, is there a possibility for the situated and fluid (though in limited sense) nature of Indian Ocean digital humanities to reconcile in form? And second, if the digital affords the scope to rethink networks of data in the Indian Ocean world in different ways, what does the specificity of “Indian Ocean data” offer for rethinking networks of infrastructure and representation?

What I outline below are a set of common themes and questions that the projects covered in this issue raise: 

First, a significant contribution of this special issue is rethinking what new cartographies of the Indian Ocean world are made possible by the engagement with the digital. The Global Yemen Project and the Afro-Asian Networks Visualized focus on tracing Yemen as part of the Indian Ocean cultural circuit and identifying Afro-Asian solidarities through oral poetry and conference proceedings, respectively. Collectively, they interrogate what constitutes data in the Indian Ocean. In today’s time, when data regimes are used for border surveillance and control, what alternative, ethical modes of engagement with data ethically can be made possible by imagining radical geographies in the Indian Ocean?

The second contribution of this issue is a focus on what the rich oral cultures (as opposed to the written word) of the Indian Ocean world foreground about the digital. Orality is an expansively conceived term in the issue, whether the voice of the migrant workers in The Migrant Diaries, the scholarly voices in the Indian Ocean World Podcast or the oral poetry of Yemeni women. These voices are distinct and raise questions about ethics of representation, whose voices count as scholarship, and how soundscapes can build feminist kinships. Therefore, the contributions in this issue ask: what are the potentials and limits of thinking with sound as a digital mode for Indian Ocean scholarship?

The third key feature is the emphasis on multilingualism of Indian Ocean digital humanities. Recent calls have been made for practices dedicated to working with non-Latin scripts and data. While the “data” covered in this issue’s projects is mostly multilingual, there remains scope to develop practices and methods, to work with multilingual data that is also presented in a multimodal format, such as in Migration Diaries or Afro-Asian Networks Visualized. How can the multilingual nature of projects in the Indian Ocean world illuminate methods for developing forms of digital humanities that are sensitive to challenges of working with non-Latin scripts?

Fourth, Indian Ocean digital humanities is a constantly evolving area of study, so its relationship with adjacent fields such as postcolonial studies and environmental humanities are also tenuous, offering an opportunity for scholars to strengthen their relationship with these fields. This is particularly evident in Rahul Gairola’s review of the Aquarium of Curiosities project where he invites scholars and practitioners to think through how to invoke the situated, context-specific, and social justice mindset of postcolonial digital humanities projects, as opposed to a “free-form” format.

As I write this introduction, I am also aware of the predominantly human focus of the digital humanities projects covered in this issue. When environmental humanities scholars, practitioners, and activists are working towards a multispecies understanding of oceanic geographies, Indian Ocean digital humanists would do well to pay attention to how our work in the digital domain can be more attuned to how we engage with the more-than-human.

Editing this special issue had its challenges and difficulty. Initially when I proposed the issue, the thematic focus was “Oceanic Digital Humanities” with the goal of bringing together multiple projects across oceanic geographies to build a transoceanic conversation about the role of digital. However, the projects that finally made it to publication are all Indian Ocean studies projects. This is partly because sometimes we did not get responses from project directors, or they did not see their projects aligned with oceanic humanities. Considering that my own intellectual community and roots are in the field of Indian Ocean studies, it’s little surprise that I received the most positive responses from scholars and practitioners in this field. As a result, I embraced the thematic shift for the special issue. But it also made me reflect on my precarious position as a graduate student editor and the amount of community building work that we still need to do to make transoceanic dialogue possible.

Reviews in Digital Humanities has seen a special issue on the The Digital Black Atlantic focused on the book of the same name. I hope that this special issue on the Indian Ocean will extend the dialogue about oceanic digital humanities and act as a provocation to colleagues to consider the questions raised in this issue.

In this issue, we feature:

  • Aquarium of Curiosities, a digital archive on the southern seas, directed by Isabel Hofmeyr and Charne Lavery, and reviewed by Rahul K, Gairola;

  • Indian Ocean World Podcast, which explores historical trajectories of climate change, directed by Gwyn Campbell, Philip Gooding, and Sam Gleave Riemann, and reviewed by Saronik Basu;

  • Afro-Asian Networks Visualized, a data visualization project exploring internationalism between 1945 and 1965, directed by Rachel Leow, Su Lin Lewis, and Carolien Stolte, and reviewed by Oishani Sengupta;

  • The Global Yemen Project, a digital collection of oral poetry by Yemeni women, directed by Gokh Amin Alshaif, and reviewed by Sam Liebhaber; and

  • Migration Diaries, a digital archive of migrants' stories from the Northern Indian Ocean, directed by Aarthi Sridhar and Annu Jalais, and reviewed by Neelofer Qadir.

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