• Siri mek mi speak like ah freshwater Yankee
    Halcyon M. Lawrence (Towson University)
  • Resisting Recolonization: Big Data, Vast Early America, and Black Digital Humanities
    Amanda Zilla (University of the West Indies, St. Augustine)
  • Is the Digital in Digital Black Atlantic the Digital in Digital Humanities?
    Roopika Risam (Salem State University)
  • Moderator: Kaiama L. Glover (Barnard College, Columbia University)

Siri mek mi speak like ah freshwater Yankee\ Halcyon M. Lawrence (Towson University)

Developments in speech technology have launched us into a new practice of oral customs facilitated by voice assistants that respond to a litany of commands: change, review, set, create, play, cancel, and on. Premised on the promise of natural language use for speakers, these technologies encourage their users not to alter their language in any way for successful interactions. Yet, for large groups of persons who attempt to use these technologies, virtual assistants are unresponsive and frustrating. If you speak English in dialect or a foreign accent, speech technologies practice a form of othering that is biased and disciplinary, imposing a form of post-colonial assimilation to standard accents that “silences” the speaker’s socio-historical reality. To understand the innate bias of speech technologies, is to understand both the socio-economic context in which these technologies are developed and the long history of assimilation that non-native speakers of English have practiced in order to participate in global economic and social systems. This continued assimilation is particularly egregious given that the number of second language speakers of English has already exceeded the number of native English language speakers worldwide (Crystal 2003). The result is the sustained marginalization and de-legitimization of accented speakers of the English language. In this talk, I will discuss recent developments in field of speech technology and point to empirical work that is being done to ensure that “technology support for other cultures is not a feature of software design, but a core principle” (Nasser 2017).

Virtual Reality as Narrative Medium: Potentialities and Problems for Caribbean Implementation\ Amanda Zilla (University of the West Indies, St. Augustine)

In recent times, there has been an increase in research regarding virtual reality (VR) technology and its uses catalysed by its growing affordability and accessibility in North America and Europe. This has led to the exploration and implementation of VR technologies for digital archiving and storytelling. Authors such as Khaled Hosseini are currently involved in the writing of narrative(s) suited for the medium. But this work has not adequately assessed the feasibility of implementing VR in the Caribbean. This is notwithstanding the fact that the region has produced narratives of great complexity, which address regional social, cultural, historical and political issues. This inquiry is also prompted by a material phenomenon: the recent import of VR hardware into the region. As such, it is both an assessment of virtual reality as a narrative medium in the Caribbean region, and a materialist engagement with the advantages and disadvantages of VR implementation. The advantages are the widening of the audience and the shift in the manner of interaction with Caribbean narratives facilitated by the opportunity for “storyliving” versus traditional storytelling and the “digitalising” of scribal narratives. This allows narrative to be preserved and circulated through various mediums. Despite the merit of its implementation, the challenges of implementing this technology in the region exist. These challenges include the digital divide and its correlation to digital literacy and the ethics of engagement illustrated through the relationship between simulation, narrative and experientiality. This assessment will serve to enhance ongoing studies within the Caribbean Digital Humanities regarding literary art and its praxis within the region.

Is the Digital in Digital Black Atlantic the Digital in Digital Humanities?\ Roopika Risam (Salem State University)

Drawing on my experience co-editing the volume The Digital Black Atlantic for the Debates in the Digital Humanities series (University of Minnesota Press) with Kelly Baker Josephs, this talk explores the challenges of producing a volume on African diaspora digital humanities. From series editors who struggled to see the difference between our proposed volume on the digital black Atlantic and another proposed volume on global digital humanities to difficult editorial choices we encountered, the process of assembling the volume raised the critical question of how “the digital” travels throughout the African diaspora, changing and being changed by local contexts for digital knowledge production. I explore this question in my talk, arguing that the fluid and flexible articulation of the digital that has emerged from our work on this volume offers an important challenge to how the digital is understood in dominant white academic cultures of the Global North. Whereas the digital in digital humanities points to instrumental and material approaches to humanities scholarship, the digital in digital black Atlantic, I suggest, adds a conceptual dimension grounded in the histories of African descended communities that emphasizes the encoding of memory, rhizomatic networks, and the process of becoming into the digital. The roots and routes of the digital in the African diaspora - from Nigeria to Dominica to South Africa to the United States to Jamaica and on - offer a critical transformation of digital humanities praxis that, I argue, is a practice of cultural survival necessary to ensuring a central place for the African diaspora in the digital cultural record.