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Roopika Risam Keynote at Fall Welcome Event

By Bill Quinn

Roopika Risam, Salem State University, began the new year for the NULab and DSG with the keynote speech at Northeastern’s Digital Scholarship Fall Welcome event. Her talk, “Reconstructing the Global Du Bois: Notes on an Investigation,” discussed the preliminary stages of her work exploring W. E. B. Du Bois’s career through digital tools. Although the focus of Risam’s current work seeks to shed light on the untold story of Du Bois’s efforts to address the global color line, it also emphasizes the need to make good on the theoretical promises of DH more broadly by attending to the gaps of cultural study.

Many biographies of Du Bois establish a bifurcated narrative of his life. His early career and his early successes revolve around his writings as a researcher in Germany, graduate of Harvard, author of The Souls of Black Folk, and as the editor of the NAACP’s news outlet, The Crisis. These biographies, however, often construct the latter half of his life as one in which he takes the “other path,” a path of socialism, eventually communism, and advocating for separatism. Risam points out, however, that this record fails to recognize Du Bois’s consistent position on anti-colonialism and regularly positions his early efforts as antithetical or at least incongruous to his later.

Using two separate approaches, Risam renders visible the understudied aspects of Du Bois’s career. Her first approach maps Du Bois’s correspondence in time and space. These letters draw attention to the global network Du Bois was working in and his efforts to address race, colonization, and decolonization. One letter, in particular, discusses the intrusion of US corporations in West Africa and the encroaching effects of neo-colonization. These visualizations add new dimensions to Du Bois’s work in addressing the global color line in terms of decolonization.

Risam then looks at the persona of Du Bois from another angle. She uses bibliographic information gathered from the MLA International Bibliography to show how Du Bois scholarship is and is not being used. Her citation analysis serves as a starting point to look at how historical arguments have constructed a particular narrative of Du Bois’s life and work. If Risam’s first approach considers the work of Du Bois, then her second approach attends to the work of scholars writing about Du Bois. The conjoined approaches highlight the ways that scholarship as privileged certain materials over others and sustained a particular portrayal of Du Bois over the years.

Risam ended her talk with a consideration of recovery projects within digital humanities. There is a larger, ongoing discussion of what recovery means within and beyond DH and the implications and consequences of such work. What are the affordances and limitations of “recovering” histories? Can “recovery” entail the apolitical erasure of lived experiences and realities? Is “recovery” the correct term or do digital methods attempt something else in the practices of the humanities? Risam’s talk segued into a discussion of recovery and rendering lost and neglected histories visible.

Following Risam’s keynote, the event hosted two rounds of lightning talks on works from Northeastern faculty, staff, graduates, and undergraduates. The vast and diverse range of research included accessibility in technology (Sari Altschuler), data science and reproducibility (Laura Nelson), news from The Northeastern Visualization Consortium (Michelle Borkin), and digital syllabi for journalism (Aleszu Bajak). There were also a number of big data projects working with citation analysis (Greg Palermo), mapping (Cameron Blevins), word embedding models (Sarah Connell), two projects working on newspaper publications (Ryan Cordell and Jonathan Fitzgerald), and two projects using network analysis (Nick Beauchamp and Rory Smead). Lastly, two projects explored new ways and methods to represent documents through TEI and XSLT (Thanasis Kinias) and Virtual Reality (Matthew Harty).

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