The Shadow

It took me a few hours, but something about this week’s readings seemed deeply familiar. I haven’t read T.S. Eliot in more than twenty years, but I found a portion of the last section (V) of his poem “The Hollow Men” to be incredibly relevant to this week’s readings.

…Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom…

T.S. Eliot “The Hollow Men” excerpt

In this section, Eliot refers to the Shadow. Many have tried to interpret this wording over the years, but the one interpretation that is simplistic and suits my needs reads – a recognition of a void or lack of representation of a portion of the world as a whole. This representation of a void in the depiction of society as seen in the Shadow is especially important to keep in mind in reference to the digital humanities and this week’s readings about incomplete stories, histories, and portrayals of different community subsets.

While reading this week’s assignments, I was especially struck by the concept about incomplete histories. The process and politics of digitization as explained in “The Politics of Digitization” by Misty DeMeo are the result of a number of contributing factors that include the depletion of funding for archives and museums. As funding and inevitably personnel dry up, difficult decisions have to be made as to what to keep and what to get to later in the process of digitizing the unprocessed archives. Although DeMeo is careful to not dismiss the growing politics behind digitizing raw materials, she encourages her readers to effectively search and remember to include the histories of marginalized populations. She doesn’t want them to become the Shadows portrayed so eloquently by T.S. Eliot.

On the other hand, Lauren Klein’s “The Image of Absence: Archival Silence, Data Visualization and James Hemmings” is an interesting voyage into the discovery of a real life Shadow named James Hemmings. Although her piece is about so much more than reminding us as digital humanitarians to remember to include the histories of important missing individuals, it’s an important point to discuss. Her approach is to teach us how to find the Shadows and then guide us through the tools we can use to digitally represent them. Her work is challenging and possible because of the existence of the digital platforms available to academics.


The last line of Amy E. Earhart’s “Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon” is especially important this week to the question of access. “If, as Jerome McGann suggests, ‘the entirety of our cultural inheritance will be transformed and reedited in digital forms’, then we must ensure that our representation of culture does not exclude work by people of color.” Earhart is also calling on the digital humanities community to remember that our culture is an amalgamation of many subsets and to not represent them all appropriately would be to do a disservice to the marginalized populations and to the community as an entity.


The larger questions of marginalization and how history has portrayed those practices are relatively recent phenomena. It’s important to ask the questions of access, portrayal, and representation as the technology progresses too. We can’t get overly excited about the technology, but we must also remember that humanitarians and historians are important human connectors of the data to the outside world. Strides have been made in many venues to democratize the humanities of the world, but if we rush to keep up with the technology, we will invariably create some Shadows and risk marginalizing and alienating people further.

T.S. Eliot saw the Shadow 91 years ago when he wrote “The Hollow Men”, and we would be remiss if we didn’t look for it now.

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1 Response to The Shadow

  1. I love how you connected T.S. Eliot to these articles like that. It is so fitting and sums up the messages of the articles so poetically!


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