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Archives, Models, and Methods for Critical Approaches to Identities: Representing Race and Ethnicity in the Digital Humanities


This dissertation addresses the cultural politics of representation in digital archives of various histories of racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. It critiques the discourse of realism in both digital and archival representations of knowledge about minoritarian identities through case studies that explore the possibilities and the limitations of digital tools and platforms for the minoritarian critique of the archive as the all-encompassing site of knowledge. The first case study presents a digital 3D model of an East Los Angeles public housing complex famous for its numerous murals painted during the Chicana/o movement of the 1970s. Informed by the theorizations of identity formations as spatial practices, the 3D model functions as an immersive digital archive that documents the dialectics of the barrio as represented by the murals. The second case study reimagines the archive of Edward S. Curtis's The North American Indian (1907-1930), an influential yet controversial ethnographical work on the Native Americans in the early twentieth century. It critiques the essentialism of this extensive work of photographic documentation by exploring the multi-modality and non-linearity of Scalar, a content management system developed by digital humanists, and through experimental network visualizations that expose the racial logic and the socio-cultural context of The North American Indian. The following chapter analyzes the discussions around race and ethnicity in the Library of Congress Flickr Commons project as an example of the current Archives 2.0 movement. It challenges the notion that user participation in social media platforms of archival institutions signifies progress towards democracy, and argues that Archives 2.0 is rather more useful as evidence of the mutually constitutive nature of the familiar binary of history/memory. The closing discussion unpacks the rhetorical dimensions of the data and the map of Digital Harlem: Everyday Life 1915-1930. It discusses the epistemological consequences of the project's reliance on mostly legal records to create an extensive database meant to portray the "everyday life" of the Harlem Renaissance. Throughout these sections, by moving away from the multiculturalist celebration of diversity, this dissertation seeks beyond the minority's inclusion into the archive, in order to imagine new modes of representing difference in the current moment of the "digital archive fever."

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