Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Digital Humanities and African American and African Diaspora Studies

It has been more than one week since I last posted on my blog. Sorry, I am inudated with "end-of-the-semester fiascos." Plagiarized essays, reappearing bodies that have been absent from the classroom for weeks, and grade-begging students have tested my last nerve. I realize that somewhere on my forehead there must be stamped the phrases "mom," "she's easy," and "push back and she'll collapse" because my students are really pushing the envelope this semester. They are attempting to get away with as much as possible without putting forth the least amount of effort.

To relieve the end of the semester doldrums, I attended the Digital Humanities and African American and African Diaspora Studies Conference at the University of Maryland this past weekend. It was fantastic to see humanities scholars conducting courses in virtual world using "Second Life," digitizing film footage from the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in Georgia, and communicating with a product developer from ProQuest about the need to digitize Black World/Negro Digest and The Michigan Chronicle. The conference reinvigorated my desire fully to integrate technology into my teaching, and not just Blackboard and the internet, but also developing digitized course sites.

But there was one comment that left me a little concerned. The comment dealt with the purported absence of blacks in technology. Specifically, one scholar argued that she organized the first Afro Geek conference to create a space for African American technology Geeks to exchange ideas because they needed to reinforce that Blacks were engaged in technology. Now, maybe I'm old and there is a generational disconnect (no, I'm not that old, uh hum) but I am surprised that although this scholar acknowledged the origins of the internet from "the military-industrial complex," I am certain that her insistence on the absence of blacks in technology speaks loudly to her ability to utter academic buzz words without understanding the meaning behind those words.

The military industrial complex, among many things, also represents a critical mass of Black engineers and computer scientists who worked on the internet and other aspects of bringing documents into the purview of digitization. Because Black engineers and computer scientists coming out of college before the 1970s met widespread discrimination in private industry, they often had to accept positions with the federal government and with the defense department and related branches of the armed forces. So when humanities scholars assert that there was, and continues to be, an absence of African Americans in technology, this reinforces for me the disconnect between the humanities and technology. I think that it would behoove someone (not me,I'm too busy) to investigate those anonymous black technologists who worked in various branches of government to develop the internet and other apparatus related to our current digital age.

As an aside, when I was a child because I was raised in a racially segregated, but highly technological environment in Detroit, ALL of the computer scientists and engineers that I knew were, not white, but African American. Although my self-referentialty is not reality, a scholar's blatant statement that there is a digital divide between blacks and whites, ignoring the contributions of blacks to the development of technology, frightens me and reinforces the purported absence of Blacks in a field in which they have had a substantive contribution. And all by a black scholar who has not bothered to do her homework, but has used her own self-referentiality as a basis for reality.


Mozart Guerrier said...

Sometimes people love to discuss disparities because they assume that that's what people want to talk about. Unfortunately, the assume the bull their audience isn't in the know.

Great Blog!

I really enjoy it.

Randall Horton said...

this is the kind of erasure that occurs time and time again. History is not silent, it speaks to us all the time. We have to listen and want to hear.

M. L. Simms said...

Thanks for the comments. If anyone out there knows of a book about the contribution of black computer scientists to the development of the internet and related technologies, please let me know.