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Digital Humanities in India- Mapping Changes at the Intersection of Youth, Technology and Higher Education

Posted by Sneha PP at Feb 21, 2014 10:00 PM |
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As part of the collaborative exercise on mapping the field of Digital Humanities in India, a series of short-term research projects were commissioned by HEIRA-CSCS, Bangalore in November 2013. A day-long workshop was organized at CIS on January 28, 2014 to discuss the learning from these projects and explore questions for further engagement with the field.

The Researchers at Work (RAW) programme at CIS, in collaboration with the Higher Education Innovation and Research Applications (HEIRA) programme at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore has initiated a short-term project to map the nature of work being done in the field of Digital Humanities (DH) in India. The mapping exercise comprises of conversations with key people working in higher education, digital technology, media, digitization and archival practice and other allied fields, and an overview of institutions and research undertaken in DH in India. The project also includes a series of short-term commissioned research studies on emerging digital habits, socio-political participation, citizenship and identity politics and new modes of research and pedagogy in the humanities in India.  A brief description of the studies is as follows:

  1. LGBT Youth and Digital Citizenship – this study explores the concept of digital citizenship with a focus on how youth from the LGBT community engage with digital technologies such as social media, mobile phones and radio to negotiate questions of identity politics, activism and citizenship in cyberspace.
    • Researcher: Ditilekha Sharma, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
  2. Mapping the nature of Content on Wikipedia - analyses the nature of content produced on Wikipedia, with a focus on the representation of women and gender-related topics to explore if online knowledge platforms contain and perpetuate a systemic gender-bias.
    • Researcher: Sohnee Harshey, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
  3. Feminist Activism and Use of Social Mediaan ethnographic exploration of social media platforms to explore how feminist activists have engaged with digital technology and if this has allowed for a redefinition of political organization and new forms of activism within the movement.
    • Researcher: Sujatha Subramanian, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
  4. Confessions in the Digital Agelooks at the rising trend of ‘confession pages’ on social media, most of which are located in an educational context, and explores the manner in which the digital space and its assumed anonymity has reconfigured this practice and the interaction between youth and technology.
    • Researcher: Rimi Nandy, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
  5. Survey of Digitised Materials in Bengalian extensive survey and report of printed digitized materials in Bengali across a few selected themes. The objective of this exercise is to map the nature of available digitized materials and explore possibilities of their use in the higher education classroom.
    • Researcher: Saidul Haque, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
  6. Mapping the Digital Classroom - maps the changes in classroom teaching-learning practice with the advent of digital technology – how do students and teachers respond to the use of digital content and technology in the classroom, how are these resources/tools accessed, used and shared and what are the changes necessitated in curricula and pedagogy as a result.
    • Researchers: Shrikanth BR, Jain University, Sushmitha Sridhara, independent researcher and Vijeta Kumar, St. Joseph’s College of Arts and Sciences, Bangalore

HEIRA-CSCS has engaged with some of the above questions as part a four-year project titled ‘Pathways to Higher Education (supported by the Ford Foundation), which looked at the problem of quality of access in higher education for students from disadvantaged sections of society. The present collaborative mapping exercise aims to build on some of the learnings from this project, particularly with respect to the linguistic and digital divide in higher education. The short-term research studies were commissioned by HEIRA as part of this initiative, to be conducted across multiple locations in India over a period of two-three months beginning from Nov/Dec 2013.

Workshop on Digital Humanities

With the objective of bringing together the above researchers, other stakeholders in DH and higher education, and the larger team at HEIRA-CSCS and CIS for a discussion on the projects and to explore future directions, a day-long workshop was organized at CIS on January 28, 2014. The workshop included detailed discussions and feedback on the research projects, as well as a larger group discussion on questions and themes pertinent to digital humanities research in the Indian context.

A key concern was that of defining the field itself, and the problems of conflating DH with the existing fields of research such as cyber culture or digital culture studies. The need to directly address the question of technology itself was also seen as pertinent to research in digital humanities, in terms of method and content. This brought up related questions such as how one imagines the internet or the larger digital space, what it enables and the modes of representation that are already available, and the new conceptions of the self, citizenship, activism and forms of identity that are generated in this space. More importantly, does technology change the way in which some of these questions are asked was a crucial point of discussion.

The possibilities of these modes of learning being introduced in the classroom and whether they can transform traditional teaching-learning practices were also discussed to some extent. This was particularly taken up in relation to Wikipedia as a collaborative knowledge repository, along with the larger debates around representation of knowledge and questions related to politics and activism around or generated by alternative knowledge practices. The importance of the ‘link’ as a deeper conceptual category (here in the context of the internet, say the hyperlink), and the possibility of it becoming a site of politics itself was a suggestion that came up in the discussion. The de-territorialisation of knowledge that a discursive space like Wikipedia allows is important in understanding and further problematising knowledge production practices, which would form a key aspect of DH research. The importance of distinguishing information from knowledge was also emphasized, and more pertinently, the problems of attribution of an authority to knowledge that has been collaboratively produced and with verification were other questions taken up for discussion. Wikipedia then could be seen as an incipient form of knowledge, wherein verification is inherent in the technology that is used in the process of knowledge production. The possibility of using the data that Wikipedia can generate to then reframe some of these questions were also discussed to some extent. The notion of data, or rather ‘big social data’ and how that can be used to now study cultural and social practices is a central premise in DH, and it was generally agreed that this needs to be addressed in a substantive manner in future engagement with these questions.

A related question was that of the archive, and more specifically the model of the collaborative and public archive that is becomingly increasingly prevalent given the proliferation of gadgets and new technologies of digitization. While this is a positive move with respect to preservation of materials, particularly in regional languages, accessibility to these materials online, and more importantly their use in scholarship still continues to be a problem, which needs to be urgently addressed. Digitisation needs to therefore make the material more flexible and active – our imagination of the archive also needs to follow an ‘outward logic’ of producing new layers of knowledge around material rather than an inward one of just preservation.

The workshop also addressed some very pragmatic concerns related to methodology and the manner in which one frames a research enquiry about the digital space - including sketching the domain of enquiry and formulating research questions that can adequately explore and capture the nuances of changing social-cultural practices in the digital realm. While the problem of defining DH as a new domain of enquiry still remains, the discussions helped bring to the fore what could be pertinent and substantive areas of further engagement in the field.

Click here to find the workshop schedule.

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Sneha PP

P. P. Sneha is Programme Officer with the Researchers at Work (RAW) programme at CIS. She can be reached at <[email protected]>.