Recently, I’ve been feeling very grateful to be a part of this year’s cohort of Praxis Program Fellows. While it’s only been a few weeks (at the time of me writing this), as a third-year PhD student with new and demanding responsibilities, I feel that the Scholars’ Lab space is becoming one of the few environments where I can breathe, slow down, and reflect on where I am and where I want to go in terms of both my personal and professional interests. And it’s exciting! It can also be nerve-racking at times, especially since the irony of me committing myself to learning about the different aspects of digital humanities for a year is not lost on me.
Cue Dramatic Backstory: Not so long ago, when I was just an undergrad at a small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere, I was a Computer Science major. And the summer before I started undergrad, I attended Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute (CSSI). Both a hands-on, project-based introduction to CS and a program dedicated to cultivating diversity, inclusion, and community in the tech world, CSSI left me with a passion for project design and management that unfortunately dwindled over the course of my undergraduate career. Long story short, I struggled; I couldn’t keep up with the rigor and expectations of the CS program, and ended up dropping the major after two years. A choice that, even now, I don’t regret. Having always had a love for literature and history, I graduated with a B.A. in American Studies and a concentration in Africana Studies instead. And now almost two years later, I’m an English PhD student specializing in Black diaspora literature, culture and history. And I’m a Praxis Fellow.
You may be thinking at this point: Why? Why are you doing this to yourself? Did you not learn your lesson the first time? To answer the last question, no, no I didn’t learn my “lesson.” Didn’t learn or retain much in fact, which is why I’m here haha. All jokes aside, although this may sound sappy, I think of Praxis as my second chance at learning important technical skills but now for the purpose of enhancing my research and its potential for public impact. Before UVA, I knew little about the digital humanities (and honestly had not known UVA to be the top hub of digital humanities when I was applying). I didn’t know that just like literature and storytelling, digital projects have also been understood as modes through which the suppressed voices and histories of the African diaspora can be both represented and re-presented against the dominance of the Western gaze. In fact, there are a number of really cool projects that have been done within African American digital humanities, Caribbean digital humanities, and the “digital Black Atlantic”1 as a whole, such as: Nikole Hannah-Jones’s The 1619 Project, Nicole Willson’s Famn Rebèl, Marlene Daut’s The Haitian Atlantic: A Literary Geography, Vincent Brown’s Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761, and Siobhan Meï and Jonathan Michael Square’s Rendering Revolution: Sartorial Approaches to Haitian History.
Honestly, my “dream goal,” as I embark forward in the Praxis Program, is to eventually work towards developing a project similar to the ones above. And while that may be ambitious for someone like myself, so far, with the unwavering support of the Scholars’ Lab, it doesn’t feel impossible.
In the introduction to their recent volume entitled The Digital Black Atlantic, editors Roopika Risam and Kelly Baker Josephs define the digital Black Atlantic as a body of interdisciplinary scholarship that examines the connections between African diaspora communities and technology, and that centers digital humanities approaches to Black Atlantic studies, as well as Black Atlantic (i.e. transnational, intersectional) approaches to the digital humanities. Risam, Roopika, and Kelly Baker Josephs, eds. The Digital Black Atlantic. U of Minnesota Press, 2021. ↩