Colonialism, Slavery, and the Archive: Old and New Practices
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Video of a panel on old and new practices of archiving and curating among scholars and writers, activists and artists, engaged in the histories and legacies of colonialism and slavery. This panel was presented as part of the Mellon Sawyer Seminar in Comparative Global Humanities.
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Welcome and good afternoon everyone.
This is the third session of our Mellon Sawyer Seminar
entitled "Colonialism, Slavery and the Archive: Old and
New Practices" and I'm very pleased to welcome you.
My name is Lisa Lowe I am the director of the Center for
the Humanities here at Tufts.
This session concerns the question of archives and archival research,
which of course lies at the heart of original literary and
historical work, offering us a unique chance to do research based upon often
unpublished primary source materials.
Archives are of course collections of materials, text, documents and
artifacts kept and preserved by organizations like universities, churches,
corporations or historical societies.
Yet, in as much as the archive refers to collected papers,
we also use this term to refer to the epistemological parameters for
knowing, reading and making legible the past.
In this session, our distinguished speakers will be discussing the interests
that constitute archives and our research.
And they'll address questions such as,
is knowledge produced by an authorizing state or agency?
How does a collection sanction or advance the national interests of a state?
Or uphold a particular concept of history, knowledge and consequently citizenship,
gendered or racialized personhood, or who can belong to that society?
If the official archive naturalizes colonialism and slavery, for
example, the ownership of people or the denial of humanity to the colonized or
the enslaved, what does it mean to try to recover lost histories in those archives?
I have the pleasure of introducing our three speakers and the two moderators.
Professor Vincent Brown is the Charles Warren Professor of History, African and
African American Studies and
Director of the History Design Studio at Harvard University.
His research, writing and teaching, and other creative endeavors are focused on
the political dimensions of cultural practices in the African diaspora,
with a particular emphasis on the early modern Atlantic period.
He's a native of Southern California, he was educated at UC San Diego,
where I actually taught with his parents.
[LAUGH] And he received his PhD in history from Duke University
where he also trained in the theory and craft of film and video making.
He's been the recipient of many fellowships,
including the Mellon New Directions Fellowship, the Guggenheim Fellowship,
the National Humanity Center Fellowship.
He's the author of numerous articles, and reviews, and scholarly journals.
And the principle investigator, and curator for
the animated thematic maps, slave revolt in Jamaica 1760 to 1761,
a cartographic narrative which I think we'll be visiting during the session.
And he was producer and director of research for the television documentary
Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness, which received many awards.
His first book, The Reaper's Garden: Death and
Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery was co-winner of the Merle Curti Award, and
received the 2009 James Rawley Prize and the 2009 Lewis Gottschalk Prize.
Professor Elizabeth Maddock Dillon is professor and
chair of the department of English and co-director up at Northeastern University,
and co-director of the Northeastern Lab for text maps and networks.
She teaches courses in the fields of early American literature, Atlantic theater and
performance, and trans-Atlantic print culture.
She's the author of a brilliant book, New World Drama,
The Performative Commons in the Atlantic World, 1649 to 1849.
Which won the Bernard Hewitt Award for outstanding research
in theater history from the American Society for Theater Research.
And also, her first book, The Gender of Freedom, Fictions of Liberalism and
the Literary Public's Fear, which won the Hayman Prize for
Outstanding Publication in the Humanities at Yale University.
She's the co-editor with Michael Drexler of the newly published
The Haitian Revolution in Early United States, Histories,
Geographies and Textualities.
And she's also a co-director of the Dartmouth Summer Institute in
Vivek Bald is a scholar, writer and
documentary film maker whose work focuses on histories of immigration and
diaspora, particularly from the South Asian subcontinent.
He's a professor at MIT and the author of Bengali Harlem and
the Lost Histories of South Asian America, published by Harvard University Press.
And co-editor of The Sun Never Sets,
South Asian Migrants in an age of United States Power.
His films include Taxi-vala/auto-biography, a 1994 film,
and Mutiny, Asian storm British music made in 2003.
Professor Bald is currently working on a transmedia project aimed at recovering
the histories of the peddlers and seamen from British colonial India,
who settled in the US in communities of color during the Asian Exclusion era.
This project consists of the Bengali Harlem Book as well as a documentary film
and a digital archive called The Lost Histories Project and
an oral history run site.
He's also working on a second book, The Rise and Fall of Prince Ranji Smile,
Fantasies of India at the Dawn of the American Century.
He is, as I said, Associate Professor of Comparative Media Studies and
writing at MIT and a member of MIT's open documentary lab.
Our two moderators and commenters, our own faculty Professor Kris Manjapra,
Associate Professor in the History department and
Professor Kendra Field, Assistant Professor in the History department.
Our format will be that we'll hear from our speakers, and
then we'll take a short break where you can share some refreshments.
And then, we'll come back and both Professor Professors Manjapra and Field
will give some comments and questions to open our discussion for the afternoon.
Well, I'll thank you Lisa for that very generous introduction,
I'm really happy to be here.
I also wanna thank Kris Manjapra as well as Lisa Lowe for
the invitation to come, Kendra Field.
And my co-panelists as well, Elizabeth Maddock Dillon,
Vivek Bald, thank you very much, it's always nice to be with you.
We have been doing different kinds of things together over the last couple of
years and it's always a pleasure to have the opportunity to think with them.
I also wanna thank Khalil Tire, for helping to organize our visit today.
I'm really excited for this discussion, and I'm gonna speak briefly as a result,
because I really wanna hear the conversation that we have and
I'm hoping to learn as much as I can from that.
In part because I'm convinced that creative archival practice can encourage
innovative historical scholarship and that is my primary field, history.
Were that the challenges the boundary of conventional challenges of boundary of
conventional methodology and historiography.
There's a special concern of my own as a multimedia historian of slavery
with a stubborn interest in exploring histories of common people,
who left few documents of the kind routinely archived for preservation.
Only by wrestling creatively and
collectively with the difficult archival problems presented by these histories,
I think we can hope -- it's only by doing that that I think we can hope to find new
avenues for pondering and representing history's most vexing subjects.
When we do, we find that the archive is not only the records bequeathed
to us by the past, it's also the tools that we use to explore us.
Division that allows us to see its traces, and
the design decisions that communicate our sense of history's possibilities.
Recently, I pursued this challenge by attempting to map the history of
the greatest slave revolt in the 18th century British Empire.
In 1760, some 1,500 enslaved black men and women,
perhaps fewer to probably many more, took advantage of Britain's Seven Years War
against France and Spain to stage a massive uprising in Jamaica.
The United Kingdom's most profitable and
strategically important colony in the Americas at the time.
Over the course of 18 months the rebels killed as many as 60 whites and
destroyed many thousand pounds of property.
During the suppression of the revolt, over 500 black men and
women were killed in battle, executed, or committed suicide.
Another 500 were transported from the island for life.
Colonists value the total cost to the island at nearly a quarter million
Historians trying to explain the event must contend with a long tradition of
singling out black violence as explosions of disorder without justification or
Such descriptions of black freedom struggles as riots and
rampages have provided a handy justification for denying legitimate
claims to political participation and rights, as with more recent disturbances.
People at the time debated whether the Jamaica rebellion was a spontaneous
eruption or a carefully planned affair.
Historians still debate the question.
Their task made all the more difficult by the lack of written records produced
by the insurgents themselves.
I wanna suggest that we can improve our knowledge by examining
the revolt's spatial history.
The historian Richard White has succinctly characterized spatial history as the study
of movements of plants, people, animals, goods and information over time.
With movement, interaction, and
transformation, patterns are made and remade.
And given the importance of such spatial relations in time,
historical analysts need to find an iconographic lexicon or visual language,
that may discover and illustrate such spatial practices and processes.
This calls for a new historical cartography.
Seen now less as a techno-scientific form of observation than as
a rhetorical practice that can define, clarify and
advocate visions of the world that might otherwise go unarticulated.
Cartography visualization can be, says Richard White,
a fundamental part of historians' analytic process, a means of doing research,
generating questions and reviewing historical relations.
This is how we can use spacial history to reevaluate the received stories
upon which we build our own versions of the past.
So the animated thematic map that Professor Lowe referred to,
narrates the spacial history of the Jamaican Revolt, breaking
its movement down into the networks and circuits that defined its progress.
To teachers and researchers, the presentation offers a carefully curated
archive of key documentary evidence produced in the period.
To all viewers, the map suggests an argument,
about the strategy of the rebels, about the tactics of counterinsurgency.
About the importance of the landscape to the course of the uprising and about
the difficulty of representing such events cartographically with available sources.
Composed from several 18th century diagrams, a terrain map and
an estate map form the base maps for
our narration, which graphically depicts a chronological database of locations.
Contemporary accounts of the revolt, drawn from diaries, letters,
military correspondence and newspapers, yield the descriptions of the positions,
movements and engagements of rebels and counter-insurgents.
These locations were cross-referenced with multiple sources whenever possible.
Latitudes and longitudes were then reckoned by correlating the base maps with
I think that resolution's probably too low for you to read any of the actual
information in that database, but you'll have to trust me.
That's a locational database.
The symbol design in which fading tracer lines track
the movement of units tries to account for the uncertainty of much of the data.
Early iterations of the map which featured symbols such as push pins
Inappropriately signified too much clarity, but
then blurred circles would be confusing for users.
Solid lines tracking movement did not reflect the nature of guerrilla warfare.
In which rebels dispersed over the landscape in loose formations and
their pursuers hunted rumors and chance sightings.
Yet without some kind of traces between the points, it became difficult for
the map to suggest that the movements were directional at all and
we knew from our research that they were.
So the graphics we use ultimately attempt to balance intelligibility with ambiguity
while maintaining viewer sense of the interpretative character of the database.
Now, mapping the revolt and its suppression illustrates something
that is difficult to glean from simply reading the textual sources.
The colonists and imperial officials who produce the historical record were
universally unsympathetic to the rebellion.
So the written record skews our understanding toward the perspectives of
But we learned something else by plotting the combatants' movements in space.
Tracing their locations over time,
it's possible to discern some of their strategic aims, and
to observe the tactical dynamics of slave insurrection and counter revolt.
The uprising encompassed three major phases of sustained action alongside more
dispersed and sporadic skirmishes.
The first was the revolt in Saint Mary's Parish that you see here,
generally named Tacky's Revolt after one of its principle African leaders.
This was followed by a much bigger revolt on
the west side of the island in Westmoreland Parish.
And finally, survivors of the Westmoreland insurrection trekked across two parishes,
raiding estates along the way.
These campaigns adapted to geographical constraints.
On the windward side of the island, the north side, heavy rainfall and
dense vegetation limited movement more than on the leeward side,
where the drier climate allowed for greater mobility.
Still, within each phase of the rebellion the routes travelled by the rebels through
woods, mountains, hills, swamps and rivers indicated strategic objectives.
Viewed on the map, the insurrection appears to have been the product of
genuine strategic intelligence, one that utilized Jamaica's distinctive geography
and aimed toward the creation of alternative enduring societies.
Recognizing a real threat to the maintenance of the colony,
the British mounted a rapid and diversified response.
Drawing upon the highly coordinated efforts of the regular military,
the haphazard and decentralized tactics of the local militia, and
the rough-hewn warfare of marooned allies,
each of which traverse the landscape in distinctive ways.
Now, there are obvious limitations to
plotting a turbulent slave revolt on a map like this.
By using British maps that highlight the placement of forts, towns and estates,
our maps tend to reify colonial geography.
Even more fundamentally, cartography itself presumes the natural existence of
points on a grid as much as history naturalizes the timeline.
So these are both ultimately folk ways for representing space and time that have more
in common with slave holder's epistemes than with those of their slaves.
The spacial schemas of the rebels, their landmarks and pathways, and
their sense of timberality are probably irretrievable in cartographic form.
Moreover, maps orient viewers by offering an orderly aerial view.
But gazing down from above makes it hard to see chaos and confusion,
the most essential features of a protracted insurgency.
Of course, if this limitation arises from the sources,
it also reflects the nature of guerrilla warfare, itself.
Uncertainty was, after all, the rebels' best weapon.
So quantitative reports must be taken as impressionistic.
Like words, numbers produced during disorienting events were the products
of bewilderment, fear, and rumor.
So if the map draws a clearer picture of the extent and
contours of the insurrection, it cannot convey the ambition, desperation,
shock, dread, cruelty, blood lust, and sheer mayhem of the experience.
These are matters best left to the historical imagination of viewers and
Let me finish with a few general thoughts about what I learned from making this map.
First and most fundamentally, employing analytic thematic cartography
can help us to address historical questions.
In this case, we can be more confident, I think,
that the Jamaican uprising of 1760 and 61 was carefully planned,
coordinated in its distinct regions and phases, if not over the entire island, and
executed with attention to the particular features of the local landscape.
Second, this kind of mapping reveals a more complicated and
nuanced picture of power as spatial practice.
With the geography of sovereignty appearing less like the territorial
claims of imperial maps and more like the enclaves of association and
quarters of control described by Lauren Benton's history of European expansion.
Such a view illustrates space as a production of human relationships and
perspectives, rather than as a static context.
Mapping this insurrection has also compelled me to think about the
possibilities of the digital humanities for the kind of history that interests me.
Beyond their engagement with archivists,
historians don't always produce collaborative work.
However, few historians have the requisite skills and
experience to perform all the various roles involving creating multimedia works.
As I was painfully aware during my own association with the cartographers
that Axis Maps, who coded this map here.
Collaborative scholarship will necessarily make up a greater proportion of our
Finally, scholars working in subaltern history rarely have the kind of big
databases that inspire projects in text mining, topic modeling,
And I now believe that this may be more a virtue than a limitation.
Without big numbers to crunch, scholars must exploit the potential of digital
tools to craft scholarly designs that appreciate the interdependency of
interpretive knowledge and aesthetic expression.
In this way, I think we may produce an enlightening synthesis of quantitative
approaches in social science, the interpretive bent of the humanities, and
the creative wonders of the arts, thanks.
So let me just join Vince in saying what a pleasure it is to be here.
And I am grateful to Lisa and Chris for inviting me and
looking forward to Kendra's comments.
A pleasure to be with Vince and Ubek and talking about these ideas.
is actually a piece that is forthcoming in the journal American Literary History.
That's very much about these questions of colonialism, slavery,
So I'm gonna read bits of this and then talk through some bits of it too,
to try to fit into our timeframe here.
So I'll start in with the introduction,
which is titled The Coloniality of Knowledge in American Literature.
Transladio Studi, and let me say by way of introduction that I
really want to juxtapose this term translation to poetics, right?
So there's a way in which the digital archive is seen as translating
as sort of merely translating existing materials.
And I wanna insist that actually, there's a poiesis there.
There's a creation, or a bringing forth, to use Heidigger's term.
And on top of that, translation is never particularly simple anyway.
So, not to downplay how complex that is.
The term translatio studii, literally the transfer of translation of knowledge
is one that speaks as well of western imperial triumphalism.
From the medieval origins of the term to its 18th century
association with the movement of the seed of culture from Greece and Rome,
to Europe and ultimately to America.
Closely associated with translatio imperii
the celebration of an imperial movement of power from east to west.
The term translatio studii resonates both with respect to the turn to the archive
in American literary studies which is my field.
And with respect to the history of the colonialism,
an empire embedded on those archives.
In short the notion of a transfer of knowledge
in the Americas is deeply enmeshed with the politics of empire.
The intimate relation of these two terms, translatio studii and
translatio imperii makes visible what we might call the coloniality of knowledge.
The extent to which the forms of knowledge and
power are deeply related to one another in American archives and in our uses of them.
The large scale remediation of archival materials into digital forms
that marks the latest turn in literary and historical scholarship must also,
I wanna argue, be viewed in relation to both translation and imperial domination.
So this assertion that power shapes the archive is in no way a new one.
Theorists of the archive from Derrida to Foucault to Hartman and
Michel have persuasively and powerfully described how power informs the archive.
And the extent to which the archive itself manifests the entwined nature
But, as Annlar Stolar points out,
the knowledge power nexus is forged both by way of the contents of the archive.
That is, the decision as to whose lives and
records are considered worth preserving, and also their form.
An archive is not, and this is quoting Stoller an inert site of storage and
conservation but is rather a site of knowledge production, end quote.
The coloniality of knowledge is lodged in this grid of intelligibility
in the ways of framing information that determine what constitutes facticity.
What constitutes and does not constitute the human.
The form of an archive, what comprises an item, how the coordinates or
metadata of an item are defined such that the item can serve as a unit of knowledge.
Speak of and construct what Stoller describes as
the legitimating social coordinates of epistemologies.
In the case of American literature's turn to the archive, the issue of coloniality
is particularly pressing not simply because of the colonial origins of the US,
but because of the ongoing nature of that history in the present.
Coloniality here names the ways in which colonial forms of power and
knowledge extend from the period of European colonization of America
we might put an even more exact point on the nature of colonial power.
Colonial power works implicitly or explicitly.
Distinguished human life that's worth sustaining from quote,
A division that's used in turn to justify and enact the extraction of labor and
resources from colonial sites for the purposes of capital communication.
Furthermore, the colonial modes of racialization and dehumanization that
operate in the service of capitalism are not simply a thing of the past.
As Lisa Lowe argues in a recent issue of social text.
Quote, the operations that pronounced colonial divisions of humanity,
settler seizure and native removal.
Slavery and racial disposition, and
racialized expropriations of many kinds are processes, not sequential events.
They're ongoing and continuous in our contemporary moment.
Not temporarily distinct or as yet concluded, end quote.
So, in some while the colonial period maybe stored away in the past,
coloniality has the capacity to shape both how activities,
how archives were created and how they're understood today.
Further, given the coloniality of archives themselves,
the fantasy of recovering a past that infuses so
much archival research is one that may well give us pause.
And in fact, that's kind of the thrust of Lisa's piece in social text,
the title is History Hesitant.
And she does a beautiful job of helping us think about that pause.
The new availability of digital archives gives the coloniality of archives
additional fuel and force.
Particularly when we imagine archives as sources from which to simply draw
So I used this term translatio studii to point to the very long history of
empire that's created and shaped early American archives and
to its residents in our current digital scholarly moments.
This newest translation of analog materials into digital form
enables unprecedented speed and access, yet that enhanced access is not innocent.
Remediated digital archives are not divorced from the structures of power,
knowledge, and authority that inform analog archives or from new and different
iterations of authorizing power that are masked as mere transfer into digital form.
The forms of remediation that digitization enacts, the translations that occur
across an array of relations from source to analog archive, from analog
to digital archive, from archival form to scholarship, each require our attention.
So in what follows, I wanna argue that the translation,
the of digital archives, holds both peril and promise for
the creation of new knowledge in America literary studies.
Digital archives can reproduce and even reinforce the coloniality of knowledge but
by engaging with the affordances of the digital for
reconfiguring archival structures.
At the level of form they also present an opportunity for
engaging in freedom dreams of decolonization.
And here I'm using Robin Kelly's term.
pursuing the possibility of the decolonization of knowledge production.
That I focus on here is the Caribbean.
And the digital project that I'm involved in now is called
the Early Caribbean Digital Archive, a wonderfully collaborative Project.
And I'm happy to say that two of the graduate students who do
fabulous work here are in the audience.
Raise your hands, Liz and Donya.
So I'm grateful for, really,
the collaboration that we have working on this.
So the geography of the early Caribbean is one that's fractured by empire.
The imperial regimes of England, Spain, the Netherlands, and France all asserted
sovereignty over Caribbean islands or portions of them from 1492 forward.
The resources of the Caribbean were extracted from its soil by forced labor
and shipped to European cities.
As were the written and material records of Caribbean life.
So, currently one can find more archival material related to the early Caribbean in
the repositories of Europe and the US than on Caribbean soil.
The British Library, for instance, has longer runs of early Jamaican newspapers
than does the National Library of Jamaica.
And in fact, if you want to conduct research in
the National Library of Jamaica You have to pay a daily fee.
Oops, I'm sorry I missed.
didn't think this picture was that funny, so okay.
[LAUGH] So when you work there you have to pay a daily fee to plug
in your computer to cover the electricity cost.
Because the library simply doesn't have the resources to provide free access to
electricity to its patrons.
In contrast to the strained budgets of the Jamaican Library,
Yale University, which houses important Caribbean collections is now,
Is now completing a $70 million, two year renovation of its rare book library.
This differential in resources derives from a deep historical connection.
It's not just an inequality, it's a history that's built that inequality.
Significant portions of the wealth that built and sustained, yeah,
were derived from the Caribbean and Africa by way of a slave trade.
For instance, and here we'll go back to this, Nice man with the round face,
Colonel Phillip Livingston, the first endowed professorship at Yale college.
The Livingstonian Professorship of Divinity was the result of a 1745 gift
from this man who was a leading importer of slaves to the United States from
So we don't need to look far to find the connections between existing
impoverishment of Caribbean cultural resources And
the wealth of European in US ones.
Further accelerating this inequality is the effect of differential
resources on the creation of digitized collections.
In the US and in Europe, archival materials related to dominant national
histories are the most likely targets for early and large scale digitization.
The papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, for
instance, are all the subject of major digitization projects.
Those of enslaved and indigenous peoples in the Caribbean are not.
The contents of the archives are also determined in multiple ways
by the knowledge regimes of imperialism.
The British library for instance holds 40 copies of 15 different English language
editions of Brian Edwards, the History and Civil of the British Colonies and
the West Indies Published between 1793 and 1848.
Edwards was a post slavery plantation owner in Jamaica for more than a century
and in fact still today his tax served as the authoritative history of Jamaica.
Together with his account of the geography, climate, colonial history and
agricultural production of Jamaica, Edwards' text includes a poem attributed
to his tutor Isaac Teale which is titled The Sable Venus, An Ode.
The poem is 24 stanzas long, praising the sable queen of love
as the white sibling of the white Venus of classical tradition.
And this is from the quote from the poem quote.
The loveliest limbs her form compose, such as her sister Venus chose.
In Florence, where she's seen, both just alike, except the white.
No difference, none at night, the beautiest dames between.
So as these lines indicate, the sable Venus is primarily a figure of sexual
allure available for in the dark, that is for unforeseen sexual alliances.
What we might also wanna just call rape.
From the second edition forward,
Edward's history includes an engraving of Sable Venus.
This is the engraving here, which depicts an African woman in transit to America.
This is an image of the middle passage.
Just so you can see a contrasting one,
that's also a different representation of the Middle Passage.
The engraving depicts a woman in transit to America.
Arrayed as the Goddess of Love, poised, contra-postal upon a half shell and
escorted across the ocean waves by cherubs, dolphins,
and the gods Neptune and Trident.
The Voyage of the Sable Venus, engraving that appeared in Edward's History,
was produced by William Grainger after a painting by Thomas Stothard.
Sable Venus then is the product of the imaginative labor of at least four
white European men, Teal, Edward, Stathard, and Granger.
a gauzy collective fantasy that authorizes the rape of black women by white men.
And one that serves as the frontest piece of the most authoritative account of
the history of Jamaica, at least through the 19th Century.
Edwards puts the bodies of enslaved women to work in his history in other ways
The fourth volume of the history offers a pro slavery
ethnography of Africans in Jamaica.
Here Edwards describes the torture to death of two rebellious slaves.
And suggests that death was not particularly painful to them given quote,
unconcern with which people of Africa manifest at the approach of death.
To bolster his claims, he cites the words of one of his slaves, a woman named Clara.
people are not killed in the Caribbean as they are in Guinea.
But, interestingly, there's a footnote concerning Clara.
And he talks about her here, Clara, a most faithful and well disposed woman.
And here I wanna point out that while he's busy talking about
how she reinforces his idea that the Caribbean is a kinder,
gentler place for enslaved people than Africa,
she also gives an account of the practice of inoculation against yaws in Africa.
A practice that Edwards clearly views as appalling,
but that speaks to us as contemporary readers of the kind of medical knowledge
that slaves such as Clara brought to the Caribbean.
But given the structure of the book and the conventions of cataloging,
which attribute metadata to illustrations and not to footnotes, the figure of
the Sable Venus has a distinct prominence, and the image has been widely purveyed.
Clara, on the other hand, remains present only in a footnote.
The next kinda point that I wanna make is that there's been a lot of work done about
the question of absence, right, of lost archives.
And what do you do with the absence of enslaved voices in the archive?
And my feeling about this is that there is, yes, on the one hand,
the technology of the archive, the technology of literacy in English,
a literacy that was forcibly denied to slaves,
excludes enslaved people from being producers of the archive.
what's interesting is that colonialism required the labors of slaves, right.
And so it required the presence of slaves, and those individuals
are present in the archives, even despite the efforts to erase them.
And that's why I think there is this opportunity for
what I'm gonna talk about in terms of remix,
of rethinking ways in which to read that presence in the archive.
So the colonial archive is defined by a fundamental contradiction.
Given the silence forced upon them,
slaves are absent from the archive as producers of official knowledge, even as
they are present in, and central to, the archive as producers of economic value.
The inter-radical presence of enslaved peoples in the archives makes it
possible to read, narrate the dehumanization and
active bicoloniality, and to create a counter archive.
So what does this counter archive look like, and how do we get there?
Acts of juxtaposition, decontextualization and recontextualization,
what I call remix and reassembly, allow the archive to tell a different story
from the one that colonial knowledge regimes reproduce.
Deforming the archive also enables creative revisions of the metadata used to
access the archive, thereby changing what counts, and is available as, knowledge.
In literary terms, the return to the archive with scissors
has perhaps most brilliantly been engaged by NourbeSe Philip in her work, Zong!,
which I'm guessing many of you are familiar with.
A book length poem, and this a page from the poem, that cites and
remixes the language of a court case concerning the infamous 1781 massacre
on the slave ship Zong, during which 133 slaves were thrown overboard and
drowned for the purpose of gaming insurance payments for their deaths.
A second example of this is Robin Coste Lewis's National Book Award-winning
collection, the title poem, Voyage of the Sable Venus,
which turned specifically to the figure of the Sable Venus in the archive.
The poem is, and these are Lewis's words, comprised solely and
entirely of the titles, catalog entries, or exhibit descriptions of
Western art objects in which a black, female figure is present, end quote.
Lewis's searing poem of found titles places the coloniality of
the archive on display, and questions it by means of recontextualization.
Lewis's work of assemblage extracts the Sable Venus from a text such as
Edward's History, where her figure was used to naturalize empire and
white male access to enslaved black women.
And, instead, uses this figure to narrate the profound complicity of museums,
library and archivists in creating and
sustaining knowledge practices of racial and sexual domination.
So with respect to scholarship and the digital archive, then,
how might we think about, similarly,
about this work of poiesis in the terms which Philip and Lewis engaged, as well.
In the field of media archeology, scholars have made the case that the digital
archive is not simply a site of more capacious or more accessible storage.
Instead, the translation from analog to digital
involves a fundamental shift in the way meaning is created through the archive.
Lev Manovich, Wolfgang Ernst and Jussi Parikka contend that the narrative
motive understanding that characterizes the analog archive, or even the codex
form that we're so familiar, shifts in digital media to a different model.
For Manovich, this model is the database.
And Ernst, in turn, emphasizes the algorithmic or
computational nature of the digital archive, an archive built in bits.
The shift from narrative to algorithmic ontologies foregrounds the fundamentally
combinatory nature of meaning, itself.
We make meaning by placing words, or bits, in relation to one another.
In the digital archive, these relations are more subject to disassembly and
reassembly than in the analog archive because of the mechanism of the media,
And, hence, this passage that I think is terrifically important.
Algorithmic objects are objects that always come into being and
They do not exist as fixed data blocks.
So that any digital account is going to be necessarily
engaged in this kind of recombinatory, remix process, no matter what it is.
Narratives in the analog archive, then, must be
reconstructed in the digital archive in order to be accessed as narratives.
Materials in the digital archive thus invite us, and even force us,
to attend to the construction and deconstruction of historical narratives.
Now, I think I've probably overstayed my time here.
But let me just give you one example of what this looks like in the early
Caribbean digital archive.
This is the archive that we're working on at Northeastern.
So one of the categories that we put in that archive is embedded slave narrative.
So we have Clara's narrative in there as a standalone narrative.
And Clara's narrative there without the name Brian Edwards on it.
So this capacity to, I'm gonna
read this last passage because I think it says it well.
The particular ease with which the digital medium can disassemble and
reassemble texts, as with the case of Clara's embedded slave narrative, lends
itself to locating and recontextualizing embedded slave narratives.
If the form of the archive sustains, I'm sorry.
No longer embedded within a text under the name Brian Edwards.
Albeit necessarily linked to it with identifying information.
Claire's narrative stance both alone and in relation to the next context
of other embedded slave narratives that form a collection of texts.
In this sense, we are undoing the stitches that bind the codex and disturbing
the pride of place according to the author's name on the spine of the book.
We are manifestly deforming the book, as well as engaging in a form of
scholarly poetics that aims to bring forth new knowledge.
An emphasis on poetics as it occurs in the archives is not an abrogation of
responsibility to archival accuracy and truth-making but an engagement with it.
And a deeply humanities oriented one, at that.
Just as the creators and curators of the EDCA, and
her I also cite Vince's work on the slave revolt in Jamaica.
And the [INAUDIBLE] one early African-American Print Project,
just as all of those projects make choices about how to represent and
encode information, so too does the British Library.
The Library, World CAT, the Library of Congress and
the Oxford English Dictionary.
Given that we live in a world where the formal aspects of technology increasingly
shape what counts as knowledge, what's speakable or unspeakable or
what's invisible and visible in the search algorithms that we
now use to sort through the flood of information to which we have access.
We need all the more modes of humanity's analysis that ask us
what acts of making are at stake in digital translations.
Thank you all for coming.
It's great to see such a full room.
I wanna echo the thanks to Lisa, Chris, Kendra, Kalila.
And the advantage of going after Elizabeth and
Vince is that I have the benefit of their resonance between all of our work.
And so I thank you for that.
And so as Lisa mentioned in the introduction to us,
much of my scholarly and creative work over the last several
years has focused on two groups of South Asian migrants.
Who came to the United States between the late 19th and mid 20th centuries.
And lived within African-American and
Puerto Rican community in New York, New Orleans, Detroit, and elsewhere.
I've been obsessively tracing these migrants, their trajectories and
their cross-racial life-making, through multiple archival sources and
through interviews with family members and descendants.
Both of these groups of migrants were Muslim men from Bengal,
who came to the United States via eastern ports.
The first was a group of peddlers of silk embroideries who
started coming to the US in the 1880s to sell their wares to
tourists In places like Atlantic City and New Orleans.
Taking advantage of a turn of the century craze over what was called Oriental goods.
They established an extensive network that stretched from Calcutta
to the US Northeast, throughout the Southern states and into the Caribbean.
And although most cycled back to India to their villages,
a small number set up shop in New Orleans, married local creole of color and
African-American women and settled into the neighborhood of Treme.
This is Motzid Ali and Ella Blackman Ali.
The second group of early South Asian
muslim migrants were workers on British steamships who jumped ship in New York,
Baltimore and Philadelphia starting in the 1910s.
And set up clandestine networks to access restaurant and
other service sector jobs in Manhattan.
And industrial jobs as far away as Detroit, Michigan and Columbus, Ohio.
Like the peddlers, this was a transient population.
And most of the shipworkers ultimately moved through onshore networks and
different jobs and returned to their villages in East Bengal.
But here again, a small number of men stayed in the US,
settled into local communities of color, particularly in and around New York.
And married women from their adopted neighborhoods.
So that by the 1940s and 50s, they had created a unique,
largely undocumented but broadly multi-racial community.
Made up of South Asian Muslim men, their African-American,
Puerto Rican and sometimes Italian wives and their mixed race children.
As a result of these two migrations, by the mid-20th Century,
there were Bengali African-American and
Bengali Puerto Rican families living in Treme, New Orleans.
In Charleston, South Carolina, Galveston, Texas, West Baltimore,
Chester, Pennsylvania, Black Bottom and Paradise Valley, Detroit.
In Central and Spanish Harlem, the Lower East Side,
Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island and New Jersey.
In fact, by 1950, there were already grandchildren of turn of the century
Bengali peddlers living as part of black communities in New Orleans,
Charleston and other seven cities and as far away Central America.
The people at this center of this research,
peddlers from what is now in Indian West Bengal and
shipworkers from what is now Bangladesh, have been absent and unaccounted for
prior accounts of South Asian immigration to the United States.
These prior accounts focus primarily on Punjabi immigration to the West Coast
in the period between 1904 and 1924, a history of that for
a number of reasons left stronger traces in the archive.
Prior accounts of South Asians in the US also largely took for
granted or took immigration laws at their own word.
That is because the US enacted severe anti-Asian immigration laws
in 1917 that weren't fully lifted until 1965.
Scholars assumed that significant immigration from the subcontinent
simply did not occur between 1917 and 1965.
So there's a way that these most from migrants from different parts of Bengal
who were in fact a presence in the US, by the hundreds if not by the thousands.
Both before and during the Asian Exclusion era, remained unknown to South Asian and
US historians simply because nobody was looking for them.
There are, of course, other reasons that their histories
were previously lost to the narrative of South Asian America.
Most of these men were sojourners, rather than immigrants who,
as I mentioned, eventually went back to their villages
in the subcontinent leaving no lasting traces of their time in the US.
These men were also either undocumented or
operating in the gray areas of of the anti-Asian immigration regime.
As such, they did not follow the iconic immigrant pattern of creating
visible ethnic enclaves in major cities and recreating families and
communities in Little Indias.
quietly integrated into existing communities of color.
I also have always suspected that the peddlers and seamen were ignored,
because the few Indian historians in the 1960s and
70s who did appear to have heard about the lascar sailors who married black women.
Thought of them as a small group of anomalous figures who had
exited from the South Asian-American narrative by virtue of their marriages.
All that said, I think it's important to think of the peddlers' and
the shipworkers' position in the archives as a function of their position,
vis a vis the nation states that were producing these archives.
Producing the ship manifests, census sheets and so on, as a means of
broader surveillance, imperial administration and social control.
The Bengali Muslim ship workers and peddlers were living with a compromised
legal status in the cracks and fissures of both British and US Empire.
To the British they were criminalized as maritime deserters, and
to the US they were criminalized as illegal aliens.
The majority of the peddlers and ship jumpers, thus by necessity,
had to disappear into their respective neighborhoods.
And live, as we say now, in the shadows of the immigration laws.
This of course presents a challenge to the historian.
The histories of these early South Asian Muslim migrants, the African-American and
Latina women with whom they partnered,
and their interracial families primarily exist in two places.
First, in the fragmentary archival documents scattered across
many different archives in locations across the globe.
And second, in the stories, memories and
personal photographs of these families, children and descendants.
Who are, themselves, spread out,
with little remaining connection to one another.
Much of the work of my book consisted in locating and
stitching together the first of these, the scattered archival documents,
into a historical narrative that was previously absent.
In some senses, I was guided in this process by the past work
of the Subaltern Studies Collective.
In the 1980s, Subaltern Studies scholars transformed Indian historiography
by reading colonial archival documents between the lines and against the grain.
To recover a sense of the agency of Indian peasants and
workers engaged in everyday forms of resistance against the British.
In my case, in addition to critically reading individual archival documents,
much of my work on the book involved a kind of cumulative process.
And this as we'll see, also echoes some of what Vince was saying about his project.
Amassing hundreds of census records, ship manifests, marriage, birth, and
Finding the same people, groups of people,
or populations turning up in different locations over time.
Plotting out voyages, filling in the blanks, enabled me to get a sense of
the individual and collective trajectories of South Asian peddlers and seamen.
And understand the shape, spread and functioning of the networks that they
built across the US Northeast, and Midwest and South.
gave me a sense of their choices in agency as migrants navigating to imperial powers.
I've lost my myself here, okay.
Two imperial powers that sought to limit their movements and control their labor,
as well as the choices in agency of members of local populations.
The African-American, Puerto Rican, and other communities, and
particularly the women from these communities, that harbored these men and
provided them the possibility of building lives.
The work of the book therefore was to build upward from this massive documents,
And to find the human stories that the documents told individually and
cumulatively, as a kind of archive culled from within the archive.
I'll try to briefly walk you through some of this work to illustrate.
In the early stage of the project I didn't yet
know anything about the peddler network.
I knew that there were Bengali Muslim ship
workers who had jumped ship in New York.
And I had found a number of marriage certificates, like this one,
that showed that these men were marrying African-American and
Puerto Rican women in Harlem, and on the Lower East Side.
But while I was going through these marriage records in
New York Municipal Archives, searching for
grooms with common Bengali Muslim surnames, such as Ula, Udeen, Mia, and
Ali, I came across the records of two brothers named Bahadir and Rosdam Ali.
Both had married African-American women in Harlem in the early 1920s.
But the brother's places of birth were neither East India nor
Calcutta, as I had seen on other documents.
One had been born in Waveland, Mississippi and
the other in New Orleans, Louisiana around the year 1900.
And while their father had an Indian name, Mosid Ali,
their mother was listed as Ella Blackman.
Among other things, this prompted the question, who was this Mosid Ali, and
what was he doing living in New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century?
This prompted me to look at US Federal Census Records from New Orleans
in 1900 and 1910 and 1920, searching for the name Ali.
This revealed that Mosid Ali was not alone.
There were in fact multiple interconnected groups
of Bengali Muslim men living in New Orleans and listed as peddlers.
They steadily grew in number between 1900 and 1920.
And a small number married African-American and Afro-Creole families,
into those families in the neighborhood of Treme, as I mentioned.
Subsequent searches of the census found men from
the same group in Galveston, Savannah, and Charleston.
Then when I searched a database of Ellis Island passenger arrivals,
I found the same men arriving in New York on passenger ships from Liverpool and
Southampton, as early as 1895.
Once a year, like clockwork, at the beginning of each summer.
Here again, they were listed as peddlers, but they were not headed for New Orleans.
They were on their way to Atlantic City and Asbury Park.
It took some time, but a series of other discoveries,
one paragraph story in a Chicago newspaper about Hindu peddlers in New Jersey.
A local history of Atlantic City that emphasized The boardwalk town's place
as the premier summer holiday destination for working and
middle class northeasterners, and a series of British ship records.
And I'll scroll through these.
That traced the men's full global circuits, ultimately made clear that these
men were selling Indian embroidery to American tourists in New Jersey,
and a series of other winter destinations across the US south and the Caribbean.
But as I collected more and
more archival traces of this network, one ship manifest in particular struck me.
It is the same one I showed earlier from 1897.
But I hadn't noticed at first that in a very light handwriting in
one column of the manifest was the word deported next to all 12 peddlers.
And what I came to understand, again, through a small newspaper clipping,
is that they had been deported under what was called the Alien Contract Labor Law.
Which was a law passed in 1895 as a sort of extension of the Chinese Exclusion Act,
that was aimed at excluding Asian laborers.
By excluding American employers from bringing in
contract workers from outside the United States.
So these men because they were traveling in this big
group got the attention of folks at Ellis Island, and
were put in detention under suspicion of being contract laborers.
As I dug into this particular incident,
I discovered that the deportation was not the end of the story.
After being shipped back to London, half of the men signed on with a group of
miners, on their way from Liverpool to South Africa,
which was another location where men from their network were selling their goods.
So they were clearly signing on as minors as a way of getting there.
But then my assumption was that they would then escape from that commitment,
whatever it was, and sell their goods in South Africa.
So that they wouldn't have a complete loss that year.
And also within just a few years every single one of these men made their way
back into the United States and started popping up on other archival documents.
But now they travel in groups of two or three rather than 12 or 15,
avoiding suspicion that they were contract workers.
And in one case that I found, Ahadir and Rostum's father Mosid Ali written here
as "Mock-Sad" Ali [LAUGH] traveled to a Canadian port instead of to Ellis Island.
And then made his way across the more porous US Canadian border by train,
ultimately returning to his family in New Orleans.
I emphasize all this because what we have here, as I mentioned,
are documents of state surveillance and border control.
But in these documents as we collect them and as we stitch them together,
we start to see a story of South Asian migrants actively
maneuvering and navigating through the global controls
of two of the most powerful imperial powers of the day, or the most powerful.
So this was the kind of work that went into the book.
And we can talk about this later,
but after the book came out,
something really interesting and unanticipated started to happen.
One after another, the children and descendants of people I had found
in the archives and written about in the book started contacting me,
over email, Facebook, through my website, even via Twitter direct messages.
So of each new person I started collecting new stories and
new elements of the visual record of the history that I've been writing about.
The photographs that had been tucked away in shoeboxes,
in closets, in the attics and in the yellowing albums.
As new people stepped forward, not only did the number of potential subjects for
the linear traditional documentary, which I've been working on as well, expand,
but I began to get a sense of the possibilities for a web space and
the web based experience.
I also found myself in the position of putting people
back in touch with each other.
The children of mixed Bengoli African American, Bengoli Puerto Rican.
Families who knew each other as children and are now in their 60s and 70s.
Which again has provided a sense of possibility for the web project
as a platform not just to collect stories and images, but to reconstitute
aspects of a community that existed for a brief moment 50 or 60 years ago.
So I'll just take you quickly through some of the aspects of the web
based project which is still very much in process.
Let me see if I can click out of this.
[COUGH] So, the web-based part of the project,
what I'm calling the Lost Histories Project,
is centered on the idea of creating a semi-curated, but collectively produced,
and scalable space for the descendants of mixed, to South Asian, African-American,
Puerto Rican Families to share stories, memories, reflections and photographs.
To essentially reveal through their individual and family stories,
a larger history of early South Asian Muslim immigration and settlement.
Of cross-racial and interracial community and collective life-making.
So there are a couple of design imperatives that we started with.
With, and one, I'll click through to enter,
one is the idea that the design should be as simple and straightforward as possible,
also that it be, as I mentioned before, sort of infinitely scalable.
So for example, as you scroll through here, different images slide in
from the side, each oneof whicc Connects to a different family story.
And so, in terms of scalability, all one needs to do is just keep adding more and
more stories and it can grow as more people come forward with their stories.
Similarly, within each story, there's the capacity for and
a design centered around sort of infinite number of pieces of media.
Where there is images, video and
usually include video from the documentary that maybe did not
make it into the documentary where we can edit slightly longer pieces for this.
It also includes things like personal archives.
So, for example, in the case of one of the women who we've interviewed for
the documentary, Helen Ullah.
She had married a man from Sylhet, in what's now Bangladesh.
And she still had every single document.
Well, in addition to this document that is a list of family members and
villages, so that his family could reconnect to the family back home.
But in addition to that, you have every piece of paper from
the process of Sadulah going from being undocumented to documented.
Including his green card, police kind of document saying that
he had never been involved in a crime, all of this.
So these kinds of These kinds of state archival documents
that now really recontextualize as a family archive that gives us
a sense of what this experience was like at an individual level,
this very fraught process, right.
And I'll just show you very quickly.
One of the other things, as I mentioned, that we are trying to do here is to use
photographs, not as evidence, but as the beginning point.
Not the end point, but a beginning point for further storytelling,
so that people would be able to add and annotate photographs.
And to do so either, we're just building this out, but to do so either by
typing in text saying, this was my uncle, or I remember this event, or whatever.
Or by clicking on this button and actually recording a story in audio that then would
go into kind of a queue, and eventually be clickable from the photograph, itself.
So, again, the idea is to use these as they are a kind of archive.
But they're also a prompt to further storytelling and
the creation of a further, larger archive.
So I'll just finish, I went on way too long, but I'll just finish
with just some of the thoughts, kind of meta thoughts about this.
So in a sense what I'm describing here are three connected archival practices that
are aimed at recovering the histories, as much as possible, of the colonized,
racialized, and criminalized,in this case, Asian immigrants, whose entry into
the country and whose day to day presence within its borders was criminalized.
First, the practice of culling fragments of a subaltern presence
from official state documents, and assembling them into their own archive.
Second, the practice of critically reading these documents for a sense of the lives,
trajectories, and decisions made by these subjects.
And, third, the practice of building a new archive through the images, stories,
memories and ephemera of the colonized, racialized and criminalized.
One that is allowed to exist in its multiplicity and multivocality, and
even in its contradictions.
And, okay, so I'll just finish by saying at the heart of all of these
practices are assertions about what counts as an archive,
what counts as history and, of course, who counts as subjects of history.
[APPLAUSE] Thank you for this wonderful and
All right, thank you much, and thank you to our wonderful panelists, and
to Lisa and to Chris for bringing this together.
So I am not going to even begin to attempt to summarize all that we just heard.
I'm gonna leave that for our Q&A.
But what I think I can do is maybe build upon
a thread that we left off with Vivek's words.
And it's also something that we talked about on Monday.
So a subset of the folks in the room are a part the Mellon Sawyer Seminar, and
we meet every other Monday.
And this Monday we read, hi, Patrick.
This Monday we read a number of pieces by our panelists, as
well as by David Scott on the archaeology of black memory from Small Axe.
And we talked in our session with the fellows,
that included postdocs as well as faculty, largely from Tufts,
about kind of the relationship between the old and new.
And the relationship between official and unofficial, and
many other kind of vague and interesting binaries.
So I'm gonna, [LAUGH] I'm gonna talk a little bit about old and new stuff.
And then open it up for the few questions that came out of that discussion about
your works and about what we heard today.
I'll just talk for five minutes or so.
So we've been thinking in preparing for this panel about old and
new practices of archiving among scholars and writers, also among activists,
artists and those engaged in the histories and legacies of colonialism and slavery.
And at first, this began as a discussion of the really exciting new approaches,
some of which we've heard about today to archival practice, to evidence and
narrative, exemplified by the really brilliant scholarship of today's speakers,
Vince Brown, Elizabeth Dillon and Vivek Bald.
In the course of dialogue with Lisa and Chris about this, this brought up for
me kind of a history of older archival practices, intellectual traditions, and
disciplinary developments that, themselves,
were shaped by the impact of slavery, colonialism and, indeed, segregation.
So I will say that my own work, like Vivek's, is also family history work,
which is probably why I end up thinking about a lot of old ways of collecting,
those boxes in the attic, and that sort of thing.
And it's also work on my own ancestors, so
that brings up questions about objectivity and evidence and so forth, what counts.
I love those questions that you ended with.
So some of the moments that are on my mind whenever I enter, say, state archives,
the more quote, unquote official stuff,
are moments about access that emerge from within the black
intellectual tradition that's at the core of some of our concerns today.
So, for instance, the wonderful, important scholar, JA Rogers,
who worked as a Pullman porter, and turned over his wages to the white
train conductor on the train in order to ask him to enter the library for
him since he was not allowed to enter the library.
They would go city to city, Chicago and other cities, and the white conductor
would look at him like he was crazy, and say, well, you're wasting your wages.
And he'd go in anyway and get the documents that he wanted for him.
Produced a large number of books as a result of that.
John Henrik Clarke, walking up three stories to Arthur Schomburg's office in
search of quote, black books, and what he called the lost pages of our people.
John Hope Franklin, who has recounted over the course of his life, and
the basic logistics in being an African American scholar in the Jim Crow South.
So being seated in an empty room at the Raleigh Archives, being quote,
snuck into segregated archives in Baton Rouge on V-J Day in 1945,
allowing him to do his research secretly while the rest of the town celebrated.
Or not being allowed to use the bathroom at the archives of Duke university,
where he later became a professor.
And yet, it seems to me, access to official or state archives is not for
the most part, or at least for this moment, who knows what happens come next
week [LAUGH] my most pressing daily concern [LAUGH].
[LAUGH] So for good reason today, many of us are much more concerned with questions
that have emerged as a result of, or in the midst of, your own scholarship, and
with the opening up of these kinds of archives in the post- Civil Rights era,
So questions about archival silences,
which span all three of the works today, about voice and about erasure.
Questions about what counts as evidence, who counts, and
about scholars' relationship to what we study.
So what comes to mind for me are Sterling Stuckey's 1968 article,
Through the Prism of Folklore, when he pioneered the use
of folklore as a window into the quote, inner lives of enslaved Africans.
Or argues for the use of poetry, song, and
movement as historical evidence in some of the works that we read of yours for
Monday, talking about the body as a memory machine.
And also, more recently, the works of,
let's say, the late Leslie Brown, Robin Kelley, Saidiya Hartman,
along with powerful questions raised in Fitz Brown's 2009 article,
which we read for Monday, that urge us to think carefully about what we do when
faced with archival silence, right, or what we perceive to be archival silence.
What do we think about filling that space with, if anything?
So, during Monday's discussion in our own efforts to think about responses to this,
we were thinking about official and unofficial.
And I found myself kind of pushing back on any sort of kind of binary between
official and unofficial largely because of the realm of family history.
So, in thinking about my own work on African American migration,
in my own ancestor's migration, I realized it took a number of
years before I realized all the stories I'd heard, that were oral history stories,
that themselves I kind of argue to make count, were stories about men.
And that the keepers of these stories, at least the spoken ones were largely women,
and these were freedom stories.
These were stories about slavery and freedom.
They were stories about, that our family took pride in, right as quiet and
not so quiet, freedom fighters who escaped lynchings, purchased land, built schools.
And these were things that were so powerful, I'd say, for a large part of
the 20th century that it took a long time to kind of see how completely
the 20th century of respectability and the legacies of the Jim Crow era.
Really had almost entirely erased women's experiences of this particular moment,
including especially experiences of sexual violence.
So, I suppose this brings me to an interest I'd like to put on the table here
which is intercommunal dynamics.
Can we draw out and indeed celebrate kind of community
archival practices as we read for Monday and by the work of David Scott.
He talks about Robert Hill's archive in the UNIA.
Whilem also keeping our eye on intercommunal politics, conflict and
The layers of intersectionality of that are necessarily part of even the most
imaginative, creative and liberatory archives as we might call them, right?
So, I think of E Francis White's quote,
where she writes the stories that we refuse to tell do matter.
So, to conclude, like all of us I think in this room and my own work with the past,
I'm shaped not only by my training as a professional historian, but
as a human being engaged in collective practices, in family formation,
in storytelling, in curation and in cultural traditions.
And so, I think as people concerned with the past, and as many of us as historians,
it's important to incorporate into any discussion of new practices,
also reconsideration of the old.
The ways in which human beings have consistently collected, archived and
curated behind closed doors, as a matter of survival and creative expression.
The relationship between history and memory.
The relationship between a diversity of individual and collective pasts, and
a vast world of meaning-making that goes beyond written words and text.
So, this picks up on some of what we've read from Monday in terms of
David Scott's work on archiving as generational knowledge, and
what I might think of as archiving as a form of community-building, right?
And collective preservation.
And specifically as historians of African, and as scholars of African diaspora
cross-disciplines, documenting this sort of will to remember.
And its kind of complexity and
also, its power may be one of our most important tasks.
So, I wanna leave with three questions that came out of our discussion on Monday.
And I think pick up on the themes from today.
Number one, what do scholars do?
This came out of, I can't remember who,
but someone in our discussion on Monday said, what do we do when
it appears to be there is no archive or the perception of no archive?
What do you do with that?
Two, how might we think about the relationship between old and
new archival practices knowing that those terms are a bit ambiguous?
What do we think about the relationship between old and
new media as reflected in today's work?
curious to know what kinds of spaces and intersections have perhaps emerged in each
of your campus communities in relationship to this work that you're doing.
So, have there been institutional shifts necessary or, happy surprises that
resulted through the work that you're doing on your campuses and
are there any kind of lessons learned you might be able to share beyond any one
of our individual institutions.
[APPLAUSE] >> Thank you, Kendra.
I just wanted to say a few things and
then, Let's talk and then, we'll have our discussion.
One observation I wanted to make given that
this is a Mellon seminar in the comparative global Humanities.
Is just to try to make a connection between that larger project and
our discussion today from what are three wonderful panelists have contributed.
And I wondered whether in fact these concerns of slavery and
colonialism are central to the innovative work with in
the digital humanities and within history.
Because these processes, i.e., the processes of slavery and
colonialism, are inherently dependent upon logics of subterfuge,
logics that inherently, intrinsically are always masking,
veiling, obscuring, and disavowing their very existence.
And so, is that the reason perhaps, why when historians or
anthropologists or literary scholars turn specifically or
especially to the themes of slavery and colonialism.
We see in that work, the need, the pressing need,
to come up with new kinds of techniques to visualize,
to reveal, to question these deep crypts of history.
So, that's one observation that I have.
Another question that comes from that, however, is, if the study of slavery and
Or in fact, central, could we say, to a project of the comparative
global humanities because they are, when we think of epistemology,
they are in fact, trying to trace the ways that our naturalized and
normal epistemologies are actually based on subterfuge,
or actually based on a kind of logic of artifice.
Whether the digital humanities as we see it being practiced today
in academia is actually moving this agenda forward in general,
or do we see it as perhaps the project of digital humanities
written large as it's being institutionalized,
as it's being practiced, as it's being taken on by institutions.
Or does it, in fact, tend to collude with disavowal?
So, what I mean is what kinds of texts overall, in general, are being digitized?
What kinds of questions overall,
in general, are being asked through the digital humanities?
And furthermore, what kinds of histories Overall are being potentially
sidelined through the very institutionalization of quote, unquote DH?
And for three scholars who are making such important
contributions to digital humanity practice, but more importantly,
to thinking about the central location of the study of slavery and
colonialism to the way we reinvision the humanities.
I wonder what your views are of that, if this is a problem.
And how you operate within the framework of digital humanities and
the humanities given this kind of situation.
Another question relates specifically to the digital humanities for me.
And I very much appreciated the way that Elizabeth defined digital humanities for
us as both a practice of translation as well as
a practice of poesis and these going hand in hand.
If we wanted to drill a little bit more,
we could perhaps say that the digital humanities, or
the work of involving digital languages and meta data in our humanities projects,
always requires the interaction with machine language.
It always requires the translation, or the migration, and
the fragmentation of humanistic material into binary code and
then moving from that binary code to new forms of representation.
And so if we just were to focus on that particular operation of this
necessary involvement with the machine and
we were to draw on McCluen's work, his thesis that in fact, and
of course this kind of Marxist, Marxian kind of critique that more and
more human life becomes the organic material that connects machines.
I wonder how we think of the digital humanities in that terms as a way of
thinking critically about our own involvement.
And then finally, I had a question about, not so much a question but
an observation that in all of your work,
the term that came to my mind over and over again was imagination.
What I saw you all doing was in fact fertilizing our imagination,
to allow us to not just return to things in the past that have been understudied,
but to do what in fact literature does, what poetry does.
Which is to give us a material contact,
almost a tactile understanding of life that is distant from us, right?
So this very interesting way in which the digital and the material are in fact so
interwoven in your work, the digital does not signify abstraction.
You're actually pushing us towards materialization, and
I wondered whether you'd see the practices of the digital humanities,
as it involves machine language, as somehow in a spectrum, or
held within a certain set of other forms of practice that historians and
humanists might use increasingly in order to materialize the past,
in order to expand our imagination.
So what are the cognate forms of practice that go along with these practices?
And would you agree that the digital humanities may,
Part of its power is the emphasis on the visual, on the ocular.
But are there other practices that may be cognate to this that in fact may invoke or
evoke other senses, especially the sense of hearing?
And perhaps there are others that may help to make the past material.
So those are my questions.
>> [APPLAUSE] >> There's a lot there,
so where do you wanna start?
>> You have an idea for where you want us to start?
Why don't you [INAUDIBLE] about?
There's so much overlap in the three
projects [CROSSTALK] reading for
absences in the archive at and contra.
And let me just start with what things Elizabeth was saying.
I found really wonderful your passionate statement that,
though the archive that structured by colonialism and
enslavement of human people dehumanizes the enslaved, it's also important for you
to say that they're not absent from the archives and that they can be read in it.
And I think Quebec is also saying that as well.
Despite criminalization, racialization,
exclusion of these migrant peddlers between two powerful empires,
there's a way in which the archive does speak their story [INAUDIBLE]
reassemble but in the engage and create community.
And I think with your photography,
you're definitely saying despite the fact that we are using
the British Colonial Archive to find where the battles, where they were.
The rebels were suppressed.
What the mapping does, is actually give us a full view of their ingenuity,
their cunning, their intelligence of their strategy.
Even though that's not identified in the British Colonial Archive itself.
So I'm gonna paraphrase in a way.
You're all using digital humanity's techniques
to read old archives in new ways.
To what extent is the digital use again, Elizabeth's comment,
does the digital contain both promise and peril?
And what, in your view, are those promises and peril?
>> Maybe we can start by tracing out the way I think of history and
show the effects of that on the way I think of the archive and
archival practice and archival reading.
So we often talk of history not as the things that are out there
that happened in the past but
as the relationship between the present and what happened in the past, right?
There is no past to speak of until you have a question about it,
until you have a need to invoke it.
Which makes us participants, right,
in knowledge about the past fundamentally, always.
I think the same thing about the archive, right?
If we even want a singularize it.
Brent Hayes Edwards, who's been doing a lot of work on archives recently,
doesn't even think we should use the term, the archive,
to refer to any particular set of traces left from the past.
Because they're so many and so varied that there's no way to singularize it and
There's no singular logic to the archive.
I would only add to that that because we are part of the archive,
the archive also includes the questions that we ask of the past, right?
And, as I said, the kinds of tools that allow us to see it, right?
And those tools were changing all the time and the imagination that
we use to see those traces to recombine them to remix them in particular ways and
to make arguments or tell stories based on that to kind of make that concrete.
There's a paper that I love about Masai villages in 19th century East Africa.
And there are no traces of these villages because they were built from cow dung,
So there's not an archive there that one might wanna use to
know what Masai architecture was like.
But recently, the technology exist, has been created to look at small organelles,
right, in grasses called right?
And a is a kind of tiny organelle that can't be seen by the naked eye, but
it can be seen by the microscope and now can be seen through aeography, right?
And they concentrate themselves in grasses.
And because these houses were built out of cow dung,
the organelles are especially concentrated where the cow dung was placed, right?
So now using these new tools,
looking at the we can see the Masai floor plans from the 19th century.
That was not part of the archive.
Twenty years ago, 30 years ago.
It is part of the archive that we can see now.
Again, the archive is living, changing, we're a part of it.
It includes the way we look at it,
what we'd wanna find there, and the tools we have to answer our questions.