The Caribbean, broadly understood, encompasses an archipelago, vast continental regions and a growing global diaspora. For Caribbeanists, the challenge has always been to work in many languages and across a dispersed archive. In recent years, the Digital Library of the Caribbean (DLoC) has lead a multi-institutional, multi-national effort to digitize archives dealing with the region. Prominent Caribbean academic journals have begun their move to digital formats. Many informal communities have begun collaborating and engaging in debates in social networks and personal blogs. In this poster, I outline in more detail the current challenges and opportunities that the new technologies bring to the academic life of the region. In particular, I address the following question: What would a Caribbean digital lab look like? Drawing from my experience as a fellow of the Scholars’ Lab and NINES, I argue that the Caribbean Digital Lab of the future must be a combination of both. Despite the fact that the task of digitization and aggregation of vulnerable Caribbean archives remains the number one priority , I argue that the region also needs an R&D agenda, an educational component and an outreach arm in digital humanities.
The poster outlines the four components I see as crucial for a future Caribbean DH Lab.
NINES and 18th Century Connect have recently united under the banner of an umbrella organization, ARC, which hopes to welcome many other organizations under its purview. The ARC model provides a set of solutions to three problems in digital scholarship: a) Bringing together specialized digital projects with traditional digital archives under one rubric, one search box; b) Providing peer-review credentials to digital formats; and c) Organizing the digital research of sub-disciplines in the humanities. A Caribbean Digital Humanities Lab (or series of labs) could represent the work of Caribbean Studies at the ARC table. One of the unique contributions of a Caribbean NINES-like aggregator and digital peer-review operation woulb be the fact that the ruling metaphor for the subject of study of Caribbeanists is regional as opposed to temporal. For the region, the construction of a trans-national, polyglot peer-reviewed aggregator would fascilitate the task of discovery and collaboration between Caribbeanists worldwide.
Computer programming has the unique distinction of allowing anyone with a computer, access to the internet and time to become proficient at it and contribute new technology to the world. While the resources required to digitize all archives in the Caribbean will prove to be a major challenge for our generation, developing new tools and digital projects appropriate to the needs of the region can be within the range of a trans-national digital humanities lab. Research and Development has become a sine-qua-none of contemporary digital humanities worldwide. In order to be true contributors to the advancement of the humanities worldwide, a Caribbean DH Lab must include an active team of developers and designers working on projects that are both pertinent to the region and of universal application. Given that the archives of the region are made vulnerable for many reasons – political, economic, meteorological, linguistic – I argue that the set of solutions that original digital projects born out of a Caribbean DH Lab can offer could provide alternative perspectives on problems familiar to peers in other regions. In order to argue my point I will briefly talk about the technological challenges of two possible projects: a) A multi-lingual archive of plantation records; and b) A geo-temporal project tracing the development of creole languages in the region.
A Caribbean DH Lab, as most of its peers, must be attached to the educational mission of universities in the region. In order to foster a culture of digital humanities that can be sustained across generations, the lab must be able to provide opportunities for emerging scholars to learn and practice digital humanities at the highest order. Training in digital humanities skills can also serve as a way for young scholars in the region to diversify their portfolios and help them face the challenges of the global economies of the 21st century. In order to achieve this goal, I will argue, the Caribbean DH Lab of the future must secure funding for pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships, organize speaker series and seminars and involve emerging scholars in its projects directly.
Although our networking technologies have made it possible for us to collaborate in ways that were unimaginable before, many challenges persist for multi-institutional and polyglot collaboration to take place. In this section I will delineate what these challenges are in three categories: funding, language and politics. I offer a set of tentative solutions that all coalesce around the idea of outreach. In order for the Caribbean DH Lab to succeed, I will argue, it must have a strong and well-informed outreach team that can help it get off the ground and sustain itself. Because of the fragility of government funds in the region, our lab must be able to negotiate effectively with private and international sources. Because of the language barriers the outreach team must be able to communicate effectively in the major languages of the region.