Mapping Caribbean Concepts

Below please find session abstracts followed by discussion questions.

“Working the Digital Spatial Humanities Among Crumbling Archives”
Angel ‘Monxo’ López Santiago (Hunter College)

Working the digital spatial humanities among crumbling archives The Caribbean is ¬with perhaps few exceptions¬ by structure and design a geography of neglected and fragile memories and archives, the result of chronic official underfunding and general disinterest. Indeed, we can argue that the history of the Caribbean and its diasporas is in part the history of hidden histories and crumbling or very fragile archives. Using digital humanities methods to supplement traditional knowledge in, on, for and about the Caribbean and its diasporas, or engaging in digital work as its own original endeavor, feels in a way like ‘moving on too fast’, while archives about the region and its diasporas crumble away and remain invisible. The only way of facing this tension is, I hold, through a politicized approach. Using the digital mapping work I have done on the Memoirs of Bernardo Vega as an example, I want to argue for a digital humanities, and specifically spatial humanities work, that underlines the need for more traditional archival work (not less), and argue that Caribbean digital humanists and spatial humanists must use their research efforts to call for the stabilization and growth of more traditional forms of scholarship in our field; something that, as many other things about the Caribbean and its people, lie forgotten, invisible or incomplete.

“Creole City, Creole Citizenship: Mapping Kingston in Kerry Young’s Pao”
Marta Gierczyk (University of Miami)

This project employs thick mapping in the ArcGIS platform to interrogate the role Kingston’s cityscape plays in negotiating creole citizenship in twentieth century Jamaica. By visualizing the astute spatial awareness and geographic precision with which Kerry Young traces the city, its transformations, and characters’ mobility, the map reveals Pao as at once a recovery project of Kingston’s lost Chinatown district and an analysis of the unspoken intimacies and tensions of Jamaica’s creolized society. This rendering of lively movements through physical urban space in the text emerges as telling in a threefold manner. First, it unsettles the figure of an isolated, fixed in place Chinese shopkeeper. Second, it captures the social, political, and cultural evolution of Kingston through a dispersal of Chinese Jamaican diaspora across the country and overseas. Finally, it cuts across the fantasy of felicitous creolization by encoding racial and class tensions and disappointments of post-independence Jamaica into neighborhood divisions and uneven dynamics of mobility-fixity. This digital approach allows us to pose and answer otherwise inaccessible questions not only about the text itself, but also about the promises of limitations of a Caribbean city in negotiations of national belonging, citizenship, and democracy.

“In The Same Boats: Toward an Afro-Atlantic Intellectual Cartography :: Beta Scope”
Kaiama L. Glover (Barnard College), Alex Gil (Columbia University Libraries), Alyssa Vann (Stanford University)

Despite the oft-expressed aim of transcending borders, the study of Global South intellectual production has been stubbornly balkanized, its limits and contours largely determined by the elsewheres of Empire. Caribbeanist scholars in particular often find themselves in the position of negotiating nation-language frontiers that are the persistent legacies of colonialism, thus constrained by the implicitly Euro-centric foundations of contemporary university training. In response to this phenomenon, I have been working with a team of technologists to develop In the Same Boats. This digital humanities project consists of a series of interactive bio-bibliographical and content-rich maps that trace the movement of seminal intellectuals of the Caribbean, the wider Americas, and Africa throughout the Atlantic world. It aims to chart the extent to which Afro-Caribbean, Afro-American, Afro-Latino, and African cultural actors may have been in both punctual and sustained conversation with one another – attending the same conferences, publishing with the same journals and presses, active in the same political groups, elbow-to-elbow in the same Parisian cafés and on the same planes, literally and metaphorically in the same boats – as they circulate throughout the diverse spaces of the Americas, Africa, Europe, and beyond. Rendering visually the points of spatio-temporal intersection among these figures, ITSB pushes against the monolingualism and attendant border-drawing that too often keep Caribbeanist, Latin-Americanist, Africanist, and Afro-Americanist scholars from engaging in transnational and transcolonial dialogue. An ongoing, open-access, collaborative venture, ITSB allows specialists of the diverse linguistic regions of the Afro-Atlantic to integrate their research into a networked cartographic archive.

Questions for Reflection
Roopika Risam (Salem State University)

Angel “Monxo” López Santiago’s paper speaks to the material challenges faced by archives in the Caribbean and its diasporas. How can digital humanities contribute to the development of a stronger infrastructure for the crumbling archives of the Caribbean and its diasporas?

When embracing mapping projects, how do we negotiate the challenge of making mapping platforms accessible in low bandwidth environments, which is the case in many communities in the Caribbean? What choices should we make when designing projects to ensure broader accessibility for these projects?

Critical cartographers have called attention to the socio-political factors that influence mapping. As Mark Momonier’s book How to Lie with Maps suggests, maps are easy to manipulate but they present seemingly objective representations of reality. What lies do your maps potentially tell and how do you negotiate them in your project?

Language – notably the dominance of English in scholarly discourse – is a critical issue, particularly when we consider the significant linguistic diversity of the Caribbean and its diasporas. How have you attended to the challenges of language, both in the primary source material that informs your projects and when considering the multilingual audiences for your work?