Dr. Rahul K. Gairola
Department of Humanities & Social Sciences (HSS), Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee
I came to what is now called Digital Humanities through a traumatic experience long ago and far away. A few years after my father’s death and my family’s donation of his massive art history and research collection to the University of Washington, the South Asian Studies librarian Deepa Banerjee contacted us saying that they wanted to digitize much of the collection. We weren’t sure what that meant but we agreed to allow it. In 2011, UW Libraries Special Collections Division selected and digitized 2,500 of over 10,000 slides and their metadata, and made the collection public and available to anyone around the globe. The Division added a commemorative note and family photos to humanize the digital archive, which is indexed online as the Gairola Indian Art & Architecture Image Collection. This accidental, deeply-personal foray into digital media conversion led to an introductory DH seminar at the Simpson Center for the Humanities, followed by a Mellon Fellowship for THAT (The Humanities and Technology) Camp at the University of Washington, Bothell, in March 2012. The following year I designed and led the South Asian-izing the Digital Humanities panel in January 2013 at the Modern Language Association (MLA) international convention in Boston. The panel was selected as an MLA Presidential Theme Panel for that year and the first ever to combine “digital humanities” with “South Asian studies” at that venue.
Since that panel, I have delivered a number of talks on digital culture in South Asia, and have also been working as an editor for two online publications: Postcolonial Text (June 2015 – present) and salaam: the newsletter of the south asian literary association (January 2012 – July 2016). These various activities have shown me over and over again why this work is important: unlike more traditional forms of academia, there is a significant amount of labor invested in the projects and creation of new archives that are globally available wherein the modes of production lie in the hands of the digital humanist. Working simultaneously on two hypertext publications revealed to me the Choose Your Own Adventure possibilities for reading and interpretation practices around the globe. As such, then, DH for me is a networked process that always inherently, when not explicitly, pedagogical. It focuses more on the creation rather than memorization of archives, and also compels us to think creatively about literacy and textually in the 21st century. Our collective work is particularly important in challenging or supplementing the dominant epistemic archives of colonial Britain. Because of its violent suppression of indigenous languages, customs, cultures, traditions, genders, sexualities, and other aspects of South Asian cultures that lend to our current understandings of xenophobic tendencies around the globe, our work in DHAI and will allied organizations is crucial and timely. My current research draws support from the DHAI community as it harnesses and explores these recent tensions around the notion of “digital homes” in contemporary India.