During graduate school I took a course called The Wired Historian which opened my eyes to the possibilities of technology for archiving. Subsequently as I worked on the Indian Emergency of 1975-77, a relatively recent historical event, the paucity of sources underlined the need to digitize the materials to make them accessible to a wider public. At FLAME University, where a liberal arts education was pioneered in India, we had the freedom to design our courses while also changing how they were taught. At first, I experimented with some digital humanities (DH) techniques with teaching food studies to a sophomore class. Then, I got braver as the students tried on more diverse projects even in freshmen classes. These attempts revealed the need for more work on crowdsourced digital archives and training in their accompanying skill sets. Through my introductory courses in Digital Humanities (a course that got added to the syllabus much later), several students have used DH tools to create repositories and databases.
I’m glad that my teaching also inspired a survey of extant work in DH around India. Such work was happening in spaces much beyond traditional university settings and when one sees the amazing achievements of the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) sector, we find interesting approaches abound in the creation of public access through digitization efforts. These efforts are captured in the anthology, Exploring Digital Humanities in India and several endeavors across education, the arts, media and activism are featured in it. It’s still early days for DH in India and DHARTI couldn’t have come at a better time. The work of my colleagues across institutions in India has also inspired what we can achieve through our pedagogy and I believe these techniques and ambitions can conquer the much-spoken of “digital divide” that often detracts focus from what is truly possible. One thing is for sure, DH in India will need to be public facing and rooted in the social needs of our times. Hence, it’s only appropriate that social theorists, practitioners and technologists band together in what promises to be an exciting journey ahead!
For more on the student work at FLAME University described below, please see this: