In the past decade, several universities including Yale, Georgetown, and the Maryland have publicly announced initiatives to unearth, institutionalize, and make amends for their exploitative pasts. JUEL, for instance, was a precursor to the founding of UVA’s President’s Commission on Slavery and the University — one of the first to initiate an institutional project to reclaim the university’s history of slavery using DH tools. Despite these effort, universities’ reflections on their racist pasts, from my view, cannot be disconnected from civic reflections on their shrines to those who protected the system of slavery. I can’t help but wonder if including more Black Studies scholarship could help to fill in lingering gaps in the scholarship, while pushing us to reckon with problematic pasts.
The intersection of McInnis’s keynote address and the Hemings article raised questions about how I construct my own research, particularly around the political decision to be very intentional in including Black Studies scholars in my collaborative work. I wonder, do we as Digital Humanists, contribute to the violence done to the enslaved when we fail to include Black Studies/Black Digital Humanists in designing of our DH projects? Similarly, how far we are willing to go in our discursive efforts of restorative justice?
While DH is often a collaborative space, one that lends itself to public engagement, Black DH challenges us to recognize how the work of restorative justice starts not at the finished product, but from the beginning, in both the questions we ask and the scholars we collaborate with. As such, the reclaiming of Black bodies of the past requires us to ask about Black bodies of the present by inviting Black scholars and Black methodologies into our work.
Everyday Black Americans continue to challenge how the news media distort history and contemporary events in ways that cloud the ugly truth of white supremacy. Academics have the opportunity to do the same in our research. By centering Black Studies and Black Digital Humanists more specifically in the reclamation of history, the academy could take a more active lead in the public conversation about racism.
—Kevin Winstead, Doctoral Candidate and Graduate Assistant to the AADHum Initiative