This critical analytical reflection on the course originally appeared on Kaden Kirtley’s website.
The biggest theme of the course for me this semester was the importance of representation. I have been aware of the ongoing conversation around representation in movies and television for women, people of color, different sexual orientations, etc., but I had not been as aware of the different conversations regarding representation in more non-fiction arenas. Throughout this class, that has been the biggest thing that stood out to me week in and week out, whether the topic was African American history, indigenous culture, or other people groups across the globe who had lost the opportunity to tell their story themselves.
Representation in cultural heritage is at the focus of much of the current conversation about the subject. Accurate and representative cultural heritage is dependent on providing a voice for those who belong to that culture and that view is one that has recently become more widely accepted. Earhart writes that “We are at a moment where we need to think about how the exploitation of data is related to historical exploitation of people(s).” I think that this conversation about representation has picked up steam in the past ten to twenty years in a way it had not been talked about in the twentieth century.
One of the first assignments for this class was to listen to a lecture on Cultural Heritage Present and Future by Columba Stewart. One quote during that lecture stood out to me then and has informed my reading and processing of all the readings since. “To know what is most important to such people, to understand the questions they asked and what gave them purpose and identity, we need to read their manuscripts.” This idea that the most important part of cultural heritage is providing the space for cultures to share their stories in their words has stuck with me since. One thing that I have noticed throughout this semester is how many “cultures” I have seen are actually an amalgamation of multiple cultures and are not reflective of the actual groups. “Asian”, “Native American”, “South American”, and “African” cultures have been combined together a lot of times as representative of those people while Eurocentric nations get more specific treatment such as “Italian” culture versus “French” culture versus “German” culture.
In her article Mechanized Margin to Digital Center, Nicole M. Brown writes “Because many of the English language digital humanities text analysis projects locate themselves within the American and British literary canons, even when incorporating ‘the great unread’, there remains an implicit embedded privileging of whiteness surrounding the theorization and application of computational methods.” This touches on another side of representation, it’s not just that cultures are not represented in conversations about what their culture is, it is also about what society talks about and views as important. And is there representation there?
This class has been full of good resources for cultural heritage representation. The Colored Conventions Project, Mukurtu, La Gazette Royale, the Black Homesteaders, and the links to different indigenous created video games among others have all highlighted cultures telling their own stories. While the digital revolution has created challenges for cultural heritage, it has also paved a way for cultural repatriation for different groups that have made these projects possible.
This class has helped me to look at the importance of representation in new ways. Having characters who look or act a certain way is not the representation needed. Representation means equipping people from different cultures to create and tell their own stories in their own ways, both fiction and non-fiction. Only when cultures are equipped to tell their stories and represent themselves is true representation found. That takeaway of representation being cultures having the opportunity to tell their own story is what I took the most from this class.
EARHART, A. E. (2018). Can We Trust the University?: Digital Humanities Collaborations with Historically Exploited Cultural Communities. In E. Losh & J. Wernimont (Eds.), Bodies of Information: Intersectional Feminism and the Digital Humanities (pp. 369–390). University of Minnesota Press. https://doi.org/10.5749/j.ctv9hj9r9.23Stewart, C.(October 7, 2019). Cultural Heritage Present and Future. National Endowment for the Humanities. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-kcZ50nn5M&t=758s Brown, Nicole M., et al. “Mechanized Margin to Digitized Center: Black Feminism’s Contributions to Combatting Erasure within the Digital Humanities.” International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing, vol. 10, no. 1, 2016, pp. 110–125., https://doi.org/10.3366/ijhac.2016.0163.“La Gazette Royale – a Journey through Haiti’s Early Print Culture.” La Gazette Royale D’Hayti, https://lagazetteroyale.com/.“Home.” The Colored Conventions Project, 22 Apr. 2021, https://coloredconventions.org/.Beer, M. C. (2020, February 25). The next chapter of indigenous representation in video games. Polygon. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from https://www.polygon.com/features/2020/2/25/21150973/indigenous-representation-in-video-games.
Source: Critical Analysis Reflection