Digital Forays: Rewind, Repeat, Rehash: History, Materiality, and “Digital Colonialism”

Digital Forays in Middle Eastern Studies // A year-long series 2020–2021:
This year-long series starts from a simple premise: What does it look like to think, engage, and do research in this digital age?  This is not a call for researchers to simply produce digital outputs—but we live in an ever-increasingly digital world. In order to better activate our scholarship, and to grasp the terrain in which our research questions unfold, we must reimagine our methods, modes of collaboration, and how to participate in a quickly changing digital landscape. See full series overview.

Even TeenVogue gets it: “if you take away imperial plunder, what else do you [the art world] have to offer?” Yet then how do we make sense of a 3D life-sized reconstruction of the arches of Palmyra, destroyed by ISIS, but now on a tour through Western Capitals as a spectacle reclaimed through digital methods? We lament the “loss” of this heritage—but we laud the tools that helped us “preserve” and recreate it. The Middle East is continually framed as a space where archeological/heritage sites aren’t preserved. All the while, the past is being reconstructed, mediated, and circulated by new tools, models, visualizations—and digitized by what often amounts to new practices firmly grounded in the same shadows: Orientalist tropes and (neo)colonialist methods.

If we conceded that “digitization is not repatriation,” how might this work the other way in an increasing “post-custodial” model of Western museums and archives? If a large (resource-rich) library goes to Yemen (“endangered archive”) to digitize a collection, but then extracts those files under terms of co-ownership, how do we understand and place this in histories of Colonialism, Orientalism, and the false premise of digitization=democratization? On the other hand, can this allow for meaningful preservation in archives that are falling into disarray?

This panel will open up a space to think critically about the digital tools and approaches of heritage making in the region. Digital technologies can shroud and conceal other profits, motives, and lurking tropes from eras past—this week we explore three perspectives on digital tools that are making possible what we mourn, preserve, and remember.

Join the Kevorkian Center with Saima Akhtar, Morehshin Allahyari, Roopika Risam, and discussant Nanna Bonde Thylstrup on Thursday, December 3, 2020, at 12:30 pm (EST) to think through these questions and discuss together issues of materiality and “digital colonialism.”

To register please follow the link: bit.ly/NYUKevoDF123
**Event is free but registration is required.**

Saima Akhtar is a Postdoctoral Associate in Computer Science and The Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage at Yale University. There, she works on Project Anqa, named for the Arabic word for phoenix, which is a program created to counter the loss of cultural heritage throughout the Middle East, most notably in Syria and Iraq.

Morehshin Allahyari is an artist, activist, writer, and educator.

Roopika Risam is Chair of Secondary and Higher Education and Associate Professor of Secondary and Higher Education at Salem State University. Her research interests lie at the intersections of postcolonial and African diaspora studies, humanities knowledge infrastructures, and digital humanities. Risam is the author of New Digital Worlds: Postcolonial Digital Humanities in Theory, Praxis, and Pedagogy (Northwestern UP, 2018).

Discussant: Nanna Bonde Thylstrup is Associate Professor of Digital Media and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. Her research and teaching focus on aspects of datafication, technology, and culture. She is particularly interested in how digitization and datafication are changing cultures, social and material relations. Her most recent book, The Politics of Mass Digitization, is published by MIT Press in Spring 2019. Nanna is on the editorial board of the Journal of Women, Gender, and Research. She is active in several research collectives including the Uncertain Archives Research Group.

Event is co-sponsored by NYU Program in Museum Studies, Grey Art Gallery, and DUKE-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies.

Accommodation requests related to a disability should be sent to kevorkian.center@nyu.edu by November 26, 2020. A good-faith effort will be made to fulfill requests. A captioned version of this presentation will also be made available within a month to our Youtube page.

Starts 12/3/20 12:30 pm
Ends 12/3/20 2:00 pm
Participants Saima Akhtar, Morehshin Allahyari, Roopika Risam, Nanna Bonde Thylstrup
Location Online - Zoom (Eastern Standard Time)
Cost Free of charge


Program Types: Webinar