Access to Digital Humanities in Danger?

Our readings this week discussed the digitization of material that theoretically make information and knowledge more accessible to the public. I say theoretically because in practice various institutions are constrained with funding and publication contracts so they cannot digitize a lot of their materials. Here, accessibility becomes more of an idea than an actual goal or actuality.  Furthermore, in “Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon” Amy E. Earhart discusses the race gap in the canonization of the digital humanities. Here, access to materials  and information is again problematized because the information is ‘censored’ in a sense since projects/works that focus on people of color, marginalized communities, and displaced persons do not make up most of the canon. Part of the problem, as stated by Earhart, is that most of the funding for individuals/projects are perpetuating technological preservation through the reproduction of technological advancements in the canon of digital humanities. of 141 grants for startups awarded by The National Endowment for the Humanities about 29 for “diverse communities” and 16 for “preservation or recovery of diverse community texts” (Earhart). Earhart reminds us that digital space is not so free and inclusive through the project of canonization in the digital humanities and the recent projects that have been taken up. What is the digital humanities without the humanities?

This conversation is very helpful in deciding how and why I want to conduct my research project for this class and for my eventual dissertation. My research focuses on bringing the Nuyorican/Puerto Rican experience in the tri-state area to the center.

Another problem that Misty De Meo highlights in “The Politics of Digitization: History, Archives and the Problem with Treating Every Problem as a Tech Problem” is the risk of greatly reducing public access to archives without digitizing them. Without physical access and the archives being undigitized, the archival materials sort of become extinct because they are becoming greatly unavailable. She insists, the problems lie in “greatly reducing the number of professional archivists employed, cutting back on reading room hours and on staffing for reading rooms, preventing many researchers from being able to access collections in-person, eliminating interlibrary loan services that made collections available nationally” in Canada (De Meo). These cutbacks are intended to create more digital access. Isn’t there something at stake here? Considering that “only 0.5% of the organization’s archival content is digitized and no clear roadmap exists to make up for this” I think so (De Meo).

What are the importance of archives? It seems as though the people issuing budget cuts have forgotten that archives hold valuable and rare materials that are pertinent to specific moments and histories. If people are no longer able to access them physically, they must be digitized. According to De Meo’s article, a modicum of the archives are digitized, thus acessible, and due to the cuts on staffing they risk being available in both digital and physical spaces. As a graduate student and researcher, I am seriously concerned that it is becoming more exclusive and difficult to access archival information. I rely on being able to access archives in person because so much work is not digitized.

Furthermore, I question our production of and access to knowledge if dominant histories are continuously being shared on the ‘free’ internet but hidden stories remain in the dark locked away for few to witness or share. De Meo reminds us: “Aside from academic research, archival records are also critical for marginalized groups to shine a light on the injustices they’ve suffered and to provide evidence with which to seek reparations. In Canada, for instance, the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission has relied heavily on access to archived governmental records in order to uncover the truth about Canada’s residential school system” (De Meo). We’re doing a disservice to the communities and people of our nations if we keep their stories in locked away. Our current political climate implies that budget cuts for the humanities will continue. What happens if we do not prioritize inclusivity in the digital humanities, or the digital humanities at all?



About ohh_kei

I'm a New Jerseyan who loves to read, write, dance, hike, and learn. As the daughter of Puerto Rican migrants, I enjoy learning about different peoples and cultures. I look for narratives of migrants/immigrants that discuss struggles within immigration, identity formation, assimilation and being bi-cultural in the United States. I currently am pursuing my PhD in American Studies at Rutgers University.
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2 Responses to Access to Digital Humanities in Danger?

  1. trapanesed says:

    Thank you for your contribution. Earhart has a point that sustainability seems to be a problem with certain archives; however, to imply that that NEH is guilty of some sort of bias is inaccurate. Earhart needs to be more specific about what she means by diverse communities. A quick search on the NEH webpage reveals the following grants have been approved from 2014-2017: Illuminated Hebrew Manuscripts from Renaissance Italy: A Means to Acculturation without Assimilation, The Role of Devotional Music in Modern Tunisia, University of Alaska Museum of the North Film Preservation Assistance, Gregory Allicar Museum of Art Collection Storage Enhancement and Restaurant Ownership and Civil Rights History in Chicago. These were the first five approved projects and every one deals with a diverse community.


  2. lornaebner says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. Your line, “Here, accessibility becomes more of an idea than an actual goal or actuality,” is very powerful and concise. Though there is a lot of diversity in NEH grants, there is certainly a skewed percentage of grants that are allotted to projects that express diversity, versus those that promote “popular history.”
    The segment you bring up about being a researcher and having to confront dwindling archival access is both accurate and rather terrifying. Especially thinking about the processes by which materials are digitized. In doing your research, what ways do you plan to combat this growing scarcity? Have these articles changed the way you think about internet research, or the way you approach digital archives?


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