Exploring the Caribbean in DH: A dLOC as Data workshop series

Much as archipelagos—a journal of Caribbean digital praxis pushes us to recognize, scholars of the Caribbean “are called upon now, with some urgency, to adapt our investigative and pedagogical methods to an academic climate deluged by a superabundance of information and analysis.” This ‘digital turn’ comes with much possibility, of course – just as the pages of archipelagos attest – but it can also be a daunting turn to navigate. In the hopes of encouraging more Caribbean-focused digital humanities scholarship and collaboration, the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) was pleased to present Exploring the Caribbean in DH: A dLOC as Data workshop series throughout Summer 2021.

This workshop series welcomed anyone interested in either Caribbean Studies or digital humanities. It plotted and explored the landscape of data sources in Caribbean Studies, and provided space to think about and discuss how to identify and use various Caribbean data sources. Across the various workshops, participants worked with dLOC’s own collections – getting a sneak peak at the dLOC as Data project in the process – and other resources to develop new skills and explore new possibilities for digital inquiry. The series explored various technical, conceptual, and ethical considerations for such work as well.

This series was sponsored by the Collections as Data initiative, a Mellon Foundation-supported program.

Workshop Descriptions & Resources

Foundations: Delving into Newspaper Data
June 4, 2021
Facilitated by Dr. Schuyler Esprit

This workshop uses the DLOC Newspaper collection to explore the critical role of primary source data in archival research. The session will help participants think through the following questions:

  • What unique approaches and insights does newspaper data offer about the Caribbean?
  • What broader research questions about the Caribbean’s sociopolitical and cultural complexity emerge from analysis of the countries and histories represented in the DLOC collection?
  • What are the strengths and challenges of the user interface of the DLOC newspaper collections?
  • Who/what is the story in the archive? Who owns the narratives and/or the histories? How do we account for the presence or absence of these distinctions in reporting, editorials and reader contributions represented?

The workshop will employ theories of close and distant reading (broadly defined) to help participants explore select titles in the DLOC newspaper collection and will also analyze digital projects using DLOC newspaper resources as primary data to evaluate the collection’s strengths, gaps and possibilities for telling Caribbean stories.

Presentation slides

Student Workshop: Dreaming with Data
June 11, 2021
Facilitated by Dr. Schuyler Esprit

This workshop takes the rhetorical exercise of inquiry as a point of departure for navigating DLOC data. We will use rhetorical analysis as the framework for searching and analyzing items and collections in the database. Participants will employ a “search and serendipity” method as a point of entry into the portal and use the inquiry framework to define, refine and their research questions and project design. The goal of this approach is to interrogate and challenge the colonial concept of “discovery” in archival research, by positioning the student researcher as a practitioner of care for archival material of all kinds.

This workshop is ideal for students with big ideas or broad topics of interest who are curious about working with digital data collections and want to use them to help clarify their thinking and refine their research questions and strategy. Participants do not need to have any experience with digital humanities or computational analysis, but should be prepared to come to the workshop with a broad research topic in mind. With specific attention to the digital collections of DLOC, participants will be guided to use primary sources as the catalyst to turn ideas into research questions, then into more formal projects.

During the workshop, participants will be introduced to and work with digital concept mapping with Miro software to create a subject or keyword matrix. We will explore the interfaces of DLOC and Chronicling America, and use select data sets from these including Dominica Herald, Abeng (Jamaica) and Barbados Mercury to discuss connections and themes emerging from the matrix in order to refine research questions. The workshop will also introduce students to methods and tools for searching and analyzing bulk data, including MALLET and Voyant, used for topic modeling in digital humanities contexts.

Presentation slides

Ethical Re-use: Disaster Related Data
June 18, 2021
Facilitated by Dr. Schuyler Esprit

The Caribbean is a historically vulnerable region for many reasons, including its relationship to climate and the environment. The region’s experience with extreme disasters – from the magnitude 7earthquake in Haiti to Category 5 hurricanes barrelling through many countries’ and now the eruption of the volcano at St. Vincent’s La Soufriere – and with public health threats, including Chikungunya, Dengue fever, Zika and now COVID-19, is well documented. As a result of the frequency and intensity of these events, the region’s history of disasters is now a major focus of Caribbean Studies research. DLOC data becomes valuable for contextualizing our current moment through the lens of the Caribbean’s sociopolitical and environmental history. This workshop aims to reflect on the theories and praxis of research and data use, and to think through best practices for navigating data about disaster.

The workshop will address some key topics including:

  • Urgency of preserving and using digital resources in our current moment, amid climate, COVID, etc.
  • Need for not just accessibility, but also equity in distribution and representation
  • Fragility of solutions for access, even when they appear equitable, framed around the question, “Can the people who need dLOC the most actually access it?”
  • Questions of ownership beyond copyright and location of resources. Questions of ownership of narrative and story: is the analysis and storytelling emerging from use of these resources ethical, i.e. honoring those represented in the archives?

Presentation slides

Finding data sources in Caribbean Studies
August 12, 2021
Facilitated by Dr. Alex Gil

In this workshop we will be collectively building a bibliography of data sources for the Caribbean Studies. In order to do so, we will learn advanced searching techniques and explore vast information landscapes in search of the data sources and documents we need. The searching techniques will include the use of advanced computational search operators and the specifics of data set searches. The information landscapes we will look at break with the binaries between primary and secondary sources, scholarly and cultural sources, and public and private sources. We will then learn how to do research collectively, as instead of as individuals. The workshop will be concluded by this collective exercise in “crowdsourcing” of a meta-bibliography—a bibliography of source sets—for Caribbean Studies.

Working with Newspaper Data: Examples from the Barbados Mercury
September 3, 2021
Facilitated by Amalia Levi, with Andreana Cunningham and Julianna Wessels

In this workshop we will demonstrate and discuss different research projects engaging with data of the historic Barbados Mercury, and Bridge-Town Gazette newspaper across multiple disciplines, such as history, anthropology, and English. Three panelists, who have all independently worked with the dataset, will share their insights on their approach to research design, methods, and data curation of their datasets. The first presenter, Amalia Levi, will situate the digitized corpus of the Mercury as yet another layer of ‘metamorphosis’ of this colonial primary source, and will discuss the opportunities for research with data from within it, but also the limitations of data work, and ways to mitigate those.. The second presenter, Andreana Cunningham, will present her text analysis of fugitive slave advertisements in the Barbados Mercury that assesses modes of social positioning for enslaved persons across Barbados parishes, and she will describe her analytical approach to qualitative coding. The third presenter, Julianna Wessels, will present her mapping project, born of digitizing, clipping, and mapping references in fugitive slave ads from the Barbados Mercury, that allows for fugitive journeys to be put into conversation with one another. The workshop aims for a lively discussion of ways that researchers can engage with and enrich the dataset, as well as issues of data hosting, storage, and long-term preservation.

The Facilitators

Dr. Schuyler Esprit is a Caribbean Studies scholar and her research areas of interest include Caribbean literary and cultural studies, environmental and ecological humanities, and digital scholarship and new media in the Caribbean. She has expertise in higher education administration including curriculum development, faculty professional development and digital pedagogy and worked as faculty and administrator in the United States and the Caribbean. She is a writer and editor and also reviews for a range of academic and popular publications and has an upcoming book on Papillote Press called Imprinted: A Social History of Caribbean Reading. She holds a PhD in English from University of Maryland College Park and currently works the Research Officer in the School of Graduate Studies and Research at The University of the West Indies Open Campus.

Dr. Alex Gil is the Digital Scholarship Librarian at Columbia University, where he collaborates with faculty, students and library colleagues in humanities research, pedagogy and knowledge production that involves the use of advanced computation, digital media design, and network technologies. He is the lead coordinator for the Butler Library Studio at Columbia University Libraries, a tech-light library space focused on digital scholarship and pedagogy, and now a broadcast, Studio Remote. Gil is co-founder and moderator of Columbia’s Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities, a trans-disciplinary research cluster focused on experimental humanities; co-creator and co-editor of archipelagos journal: a journal of Caribbean digital praxis, and co-wrangler of its sister conference series, The Caribbean Digital.

Amalia Levi is an archivist and cultural heritage professional working with the non-profit HeritEdge Connection. She was the project coordinator for the digitization of the Barbados Mercury, among other collections. She has Master’s degrees in history, library science, and museum studies. Her research focuses on ‘unearthing’ marginalized people, who are usually invisible in archives, by weaving together different types of information to go beyond archival documents. As of fall 2021, she will be conducting doctoral research at the University of Bonn’s Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies about the enslaved in Jewish households in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Andreana Cunningham is a PhD candidate in biological anthropology in the UF Department of Anthropology and a member of the DeLeon Virtual Morphology Laboratory. Her dissertation studies how patterns of biological variation across sites of the slave trade relate to the social landscapes constructed in those spaces. Her project is interdisciplinary, using morphological and archival data to estimate variation among North American and African slave trade sites. Andreana is an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (DDRIG) recipient and an NSF Graduate Research Fellow.

Julianna Wessels (she/her) is a Ph.D. student in the English Department in CSSH. Her research fields of interest include Postcolonial and Caribbean Literature as well as Women’s Studies, Graphic Novels and Contemporary Literature. Julianna is currently serving as the Editorial Assistant for Signs: Journal of Women and Culture in Society as well as a research fellow for the Early Caribbean Digital Archives.