Twining Digital Humanities and Humanidades Digitales: A set of actual experiences from the South

panel / roundtable
  1. 1. Amelia Sanz

    Universidad Complutense de Madrid

  2. 2. Domenico Fiormonte

    Università Roma Tre

  3. 3. Teresa Numerico

    Università Roma Tre

  4. 4. Ernesto Priego

    City University London

  5. 5. Nuria Rodríguez-Ortega

    Universidad de Málaga (University of Malaga)

  6. 6. Eugenia Siapera

    School of Communications - Dublin City University

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In a post-digital era, when the digital is taken for granted in Western (and technified) cultures and a
disembodied virtuality on screen seems the fabric of everyday life, it is time to ask ourselves why a growing number of scholars from the South remain suspicious about DH.

Can the same tools and ingredients be used to prepare a cake in Vienna, Seville or Marrakesh? In other words, how could technological monism represent and preserve cultural and epistemological pluralism (Baccarin 2017, Numerico 2015)? Are DH policies colonial, hyper-colonial? Are we living the time when the colonized wants to become colonizer, or the time when the colonized begins to twine threads of Northern DH?

The goal of this panel will be to show how Digital Humanities can have different meanings and reflect opposite needs, according to its geographical, socio-cultural, linguistic and economical contexts and discourses. So for example “Humanidades Digitales/Informatica Umanistica” does not mean exactly and cannot mean “Digital Humanities” (Ciotti 2018). Moreover, it is a matter of facts: HD are developing without DH. We should be ready for this “big bang”.

This is not a matter of colonial intention (do not waste your time, don’t try to develop your own tools, just take our ready-made ones!), but a matter of colonial effect: Northern criteria run towards the technological innovation and fail in terms of social impact, while Southern criteria seek for social innovation and fail as latest technological innovations. We can measure the distance to the Silicon Valley meridian or the distance to the Global South parallel.

In our panel, we will try to map some successful experiences to identify practices and strategies in local projects from and in the South. We understand the term “South” as a metaphor, and not necessarily a space tied to a specific culture, economy or region. Boaventura de Sousa Santos in criticizing the “Global South” label writes :

“The South is here rather a metaphor of the human suffering caused by capitalism and colonialism at the global level, and a metaphor as well of the resistance to overcome or minimise such suffering. It is, therefore, an anticapitalist, anti-colonialist, and anti-imperialist South. It is a South that also exists in the global North in the form of excluded, silenced and marginalised populations, such as undocumented immigrants, the unemployed ethnic or religious minorities, and victims of sexism, homophobia and racism” (Sousa Santos 2012, 51).

South is also a representation of the expulsions of local interests and microcultures. As people suffer exclusion from their lands due to the extractive, predatory capitalism (Sassen 2014), local experiments and scientific cultures experiment exclusion because of the exploitation model of platform capitalism. From this perspective global DH risk to be absorbed and adopted by platforms in order to extract value and produce a global market of texts.

Digitalization and datification of texts can be used to create a quantification method for the commodification of culture and meanings. The world of texts is on a verge of a huge transformation that works in the direction of a saturation of multiplicity and ambivalence of meanings, because respecting diversity and variability hampers quantification and measurability. The implicit proposal of the global DH guided by the capitalistic exploitation and standard building is to normalize all differences, in order to commodify content and communication, as it was done with natural resources. As Sousa Santos suggests the metaphor of south represents resistance and resilience against such normalization. The refusal of uniformity is often considered lack of efficiency, while it is a struggle in favor of diversity and multiplicity. This project conveys examples of alternative visions of digital methodologies.

A team composed of scholars coming from Greece, Spain, Italy and Mexico, working together in as the
Southern Digital Social Sciences and Humanities
(CSHDSUR) project will present their reflections and experiences based on regional epistemological traditions (Ciotti 2018, Rodríguez-Gómez 2018) dealing with research on their digital disciplinary field in Southern countries, both upstream (teaching) and downstream (publishing). Technical and epistemological deficiencies and benefits of tools and codes will be discussed; examples of DH programs and examples of North-South, South-North and South-South publishing formulas.

At the opposite end of mainstream narratives, we suggest as a starting point calling for the problematization and conceptualization of DH (Goicoechea and Sanz 2012, Sanz 2017; Kim and Stommel 2018). So, we state that internationalization does not necessarily mean homogeneization, and standardisation does not necessarily mean Westernization. We propose to get back to the etymological meaning of  « text » : « textum », the weave of threads in a fabric. This is to say a weave of codes and systems: western/northern technologies (and their cultures, their models, their epistemologies) and other ones well adapted to social, economic and political conditions, to their epistemological sovereignties.

The cultural and epistemological bias of algorithms: examples and


Teresa Numerico and Domenico Fiormonte

Università Roma Tre
The reorganization of memory produced by the externalization devices has geopolitical, cultural and social effects that need to be treated and analyzed from various critical perspectives in order to be first understood, discussed and later transformed.
We need to be aware that data are built and not “given in its purity”, so we have to discuss about how they are built and for which aims.

An example can clarify the problem and offer some suggestions on how to find a solution. AI Machine learning algorithms risk applying biases and stereotypes to their knowledge inferences, based on statistical language associations. The ratio they use is the definition of statistical vector relationships between words, grounded on their reciprocal distance, measured within the training set of texts. The Stanford Natural Language Processing Group created one of the most famous algorithms to process words and to measure their distance, in order to grasp their semantic relationships. Its name is GloVe (Global vectors for word representation). GloVe is trained on various text corpora such as Wikipedia and Gigaword. The problem is that using the distance between natural language words to train an unsupervised learning algorithm there is the concrete probability of embedding in its knowledge base all the biases and stereotypes that are hidden within the data sets (Caliskan
et al.

According to Gillespie (2014), the way the training set of data is conceived has a large unexamined impact on the result of the training of the related algorithms. The suggestion that AI algorithms are less biased than humans with respect to prejudices and stereotypes needs to be demonstrated; the evidence at the moment shows the exact opposite (Caliskan et al. 2017, Bolukbasi et al. 2016).

It is crucial, in our opinion, to cast some doubt on the epistemological credibility, on the transparency of methods and on the fairness of the unsupervised training outcomes of the algorithms. We need to set a control strategy that can demonstrate the effectiveness and safety of results, and, above all, their assumed neutrality when treating sensitive data; for example, when we choose new employees or when we decide on the qualifications of a person for getting a mortgage, or, even worse, when we ask a black box algorithm to suggest the duration of the sentence for a convicted person (Pasquale 2015).
It is fundamental to discuss the organization of these algorithms and, above all, the effects of the implicit multi-layered biases embedded in training textual databases used as a reference standard. We think that we should be very cautious in trusting a blunt device for taking decisions in situations where it is unlikely that we completely understand its logical processes (deep learning algorithms methods imply that even their programmers admit that they ignore the details of the learning processes they implement), as Norbert Wiener himself, already in 1950, wisely suggested.
Open Access and the Global South: Alternatives to the Oligopolies of Knowledge in the Digital Humanities

Ernesto Priego, Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design, City, University of London, UK

This contribution will present bibliometric evidence of the dominance of “oligopolies of knowledge” based in the Global North in the Digital Humanities, detailing the concentration of activity of academic communications (in this case, publications) via for profit publishing companies based in the global north, by authors with affiliation with universities in the global north and in the English language. We will refer to the work done in the last five years, documenting and mapping this localised and mostly monolingual concentration (with an emphasis on the digital humanities, Priego et al 2014, Priego and Fiormonte, 2016 and 2018) through alternative bibliometric methodologies (Alperin et al 2014), in order to draw attention to the correlation of the imbalances of this geopolitical concentration (Graham 2011, Fiormonte 2017) with closed modes of dissemination of high cost for institutions (Lawson 2016). I will discuss some successful or failed experiences in Mexico on the appropriation of open access mechanisms, in the Digital Humanities and other fields, in order to identify the challenges that this implies particularly for researchers in the areas of social sciences, arts and humanities, and specifically for those with affiliations in the global South (Priego et al 2017).

The “Social Sciences and Digital Humanities of the South Project.” : why and where

Nuria Rodríguez-Ortega, Universidad de Málaga, España


In the first part of this presentation, I will carry out a reconstruction of the genealogy and history of the # CSHDSUR project, born in Malaga in 2013 (CSHSur 2014), to offer a framework that can help us understand its origins, the stage of the process we are in and the problems related to knowledge monopolies and cognitive colonialisms. The project was defined by two key aspects: firstly, trying to enlarge the social sciences and the digital humanities, which embraces other types of practices which are different from the strictly academic ones, such as those that take place in the citizen labs; and second, because of its critical orientation, aligning itself with the Digital Humanities approach that adopts the point of view of critical theory of culture, postcolonial theories, decolonial methodologies, etc.

The second part of this presentation will be devoted to detailing the functionalities of a very specific tool rooted in Andalucía, in South Spain: the project
and the tool ExpoFinder. This is a case study of how (1) an intensified critical consciousness can materialize into concrete alternative models, (2) the notions of value and relevance in a located contemporary society implies the significant question of revising the axiological project of the Humanities of the 21st century, (3) an epistemic and methodological de-hierarchization and transversality can emerge in the production of valid and contextually situated knowledge for all.

The aim of this kind of initiative is not to oppose two extreme positions (Northern and Southern), not even to integrate ourselves in a global South, but to propose an issue on how to twine DH and HD.
DH and Knowledge Production: The Case of Greece

Eugenia Siapera, School of Communications, DCU, Ireland


We will present two events that are certainly co-eval in the case of Greece: the spread of the internet and digital media and the implementation of the most extreme austerity policies Greece has ever seen. All this takes place in a context that has its own idiosyncrasies, and for the most part still operates in a very closed, clientelist manner but which is now confronted by neoliberal demands for transparency, flexibility and privatisation.

We will identify three central tensions/ambiguities: i): the political economy of knowledge production and the labour conditions of university staff and researchers; ii) the openness of digital publishing and demands to publish which are linked to a creation of publishing hierarchies; (iii) the role of the EU framework programmes and their approach to research funding.

More concretely, the proposed paper will rely on in depth interviews with Greek researchers to outline problems they are facing with (i) employment status; (ii) accessing data archives; (iii) accessing the technologies and computational power necessary to process data. At the same time, the paper traces the ambiguities involved in that the very same technologies and methodologies of digital humanities and big data allow researchers to identify and concretely map the impact of protracted austerity on the production of knowledge.

The presentation concludes with an identification of possible areas for intervention, including building research solidarities across and beyond the EU efforts to produce a (neoliberal) research area in Europe; and data activism which will allow for a more equitable distribution of the tools that allow the production of knowledge across countries of the global south. However, in normative and political terms, the objective is not only an equitable distribution of data and knowledge, but a questioning of these very tools in creating new areas for subjecting to governance, state and corporate (Couldry and Mejias, 2018). In these terms, it is important to insist that a research paradigm from the south develops a different agenda to new forms of knowledge and the necessary tools to produce these.


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Conference Info

In review

ADHO - 2019

Hosted at Utrecht University

Utrecht, Netherlands

July 9, 2019 - July 12, 2019

436 works by 1162 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (14)

Organizers: ADHO