WK1: Concrete Strategies and Cultural Heritage Needs

Santa Barbara’s statement on Collections as Data and Posner’s piece “What’s next: The radical unrealized potential of Digital Humanities” paired together well for me, particularly in terms of digitally representing communities, assessing community needs, and the complexity that tends to result when we center human experience through these representations.

Last year I was putting together a website that would tell the history of Michigan’s Filipino Cultural Center which could help promote fundraising efforts while also laying bare the difficulties of building and then sustaining community centers in the midst of urban redevelopment. New to the process of digital creation, I followed online examples of those documenting urban parts of Detroit, especially in terms of documenting and honoring heritage sites. After speaking with community members, I quickly realized that they viewed place differently than how most sites would frame cultural sites. Also, their center wasn’t quite the physical parts, printed constitution, formalized minutes, or any of the other hard objects that legitimized themselves in the eyes of the city, but a space that served as a nexus for the fulfillment of a specific set of cultural values. How does one represent that digitally? Can or should it be represented digitally?

Chasing these questions means spending a good deal of time with community members, members who are often—at least in my experience—convinced that digital anything was for the efficiency of collecting membership dues and printing out excel sheets. So when Santa Barbara’s statement on Collections as Data brings up the idea that “concrete strategies should be pursued to engage community need,” I wondered what that might look like – what would it look like for specific cultures and communities, especially.

Finally, even if the community’s needs and digital tools’ affordances align, I was thinking audience was the next giant arbiter for whether something gets created (if it wasn’t already factored into what digital can do for their needs). I think of the film example in Posner’s piece wherein the only people remaining in the audience were the women who were so complexly represented in the film. How would one then create a digital project that could negotiate very disparate audiences (in my case, scholars, sponsors, and Filipino community members) without alienating one or both in the process?

These were just a few thoughts I kept circling back to throughout this week’s readings and even more strongly as I read Jules’ speech “Confronting Our Failure of Care Around the Legacies of Marginalized People in the Archives.” For my project, I’m thinking about maybe exploring  that “concrete strategy” of assessing community need in light of digital work. Within my own work, I want to know what that might look like for a specific cultural community and how their orientation to digital  work shapes or can be shaped through the assessment of community needs.

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