[globaloutlookDH-l] Seven points on multiculturalism(?)

Domenico Fiormonte domenico.fiormonte at gmail.com
Sat May 4 13:06:40 MDT 2013

Dear all,

apologies if I'll offer my 2 euro-cents reflections on a previous
exciting thread in a disorderly and lengthy fashion. Please skip at
your ease.

1) Speaking of norms, normatives and our everyday struggle to make
sense of the English language, when I read Craig's post I was not sure
I understood 100% of what he was saying. However, I was almost sure
(it happens everyday) that I was missing some linguistic and cultural
nuances. Barbara's comment confirmed this impression. So now I'm
sitting here in front of my computer, writing in language that I've
been studying, reading and writing for twenty years, and I feel a bit
stupid. I got my PhD from the University of Edinburgh back in 2000,
but this will never save me from an ethernal sense of inadequacy. Do
you know how many times I've looked up http://www.wordreference.com or
equivalent websites for composing this email, or deciphering native
speakers' messages?

I would like to suggest to all native speakers of this list, before
sending messages, to consider carefully what language they use, and
ask themeselves (or at least try): "will my [mostly] foreigner
colleagues understand me?"

But of course I am not suggesting to exchange our frustration with
your self-censorship... :-)
Let's think about these not in terms of *limits* but of *constraints*.
Just like a poet writing in verses who must respect a specific metric
or prosodic pattern. Our effort to understand and communicate in
English can be balanced by your excercise to improve clarity.

2) Dan noticed that in my Koln article one table showed a "Canadian",
rather then Anglo-American dominance (at least in terms of people).
But have a look also at the Figure 1 ("DH Organizations: Presence of
Individuals by Country of Institutional Affiliation"): the histogram
shows in a plastic way (look at those peaks) the overwhelming dominion
of the first three countries - USA, Canada and UK.
Those data were collected more than one year ago, and no one would be
happier than me if the situation has changed. Anyway, let me say that
I keep being frustrated at seeing that many colleagues  concentrated
their attention to that part of the article - the infamous tables -
but tended to ignore the rest of it. Those reactions showed that what
really hurts is the risk to be represented as colonialists. I can
appreciate that, but how about the problem of standards? How about the
discussion of knowledge commons? At the end of the text, I proposed to
apply design principles for common-pool resource institutions to the
DH organizations.
Is our community mature enough to discuss these issues?

3) Barbara must have read my mind when she wrote:

> I don't think that anyone is suggesting that there is a specific agenda to
> exclude non-English from DH, but I am also old enough to see that it
> wouldn't be necessary.


Yes, it is not - and in my opinion it will never be - necessary as
long as ADHO will reflect organizations based in the Northern
emisphere that: 1) include or impose discourses rather than share them
(or give them up!); 2) assume that something called DH globally
exists; 2) push or sell their own teaching programmes, summer schools,
etc. as well as their "open" methodologies, standards and applications
(i.e. TEI, which was designed in the 80s for the purpose of producing
textual resources for the same people and textual cultures who
invented it); 3) recognize the English rhetoric as their privileged
discoursive tool.

I am sorry if this sounds a bit harsh -- but that's what more or less
I think, although I'd be happy to change idea after twenty years of DH
conferences, research and teaching around the globe.
I am also convinced, as I said many times also in public, that 99% of
my Anglo-American colleagues are respectful of all cultures and
languages, and sincere in their effort to change the current
mono-cultural situation. Their evident intellectual generosity is out
of discussion. Our GO::DH SIG is certainly one first important step,
although it still sounds - uncounsciously? - as an "octroyée"
Our situation reminds me of Gregory Bateson's ironical paradox: "we
want to change things, but using the same things we find in the world
that we want to change".

4) Ernesto Priego pointed out the interesting problem of the local DH
divides. It seems to me that "divides" are like club sandwiches, with
layers of decreasing (or increasing, depending on which part of the
sandwich you are) prestige. In fact, I always argued that using or not
using English is a false problem. You can publish as much as you want
in the lingua franca, but it is exceptional to be considered relevant
by your "core" scholarly community. I've studied the phenomenon myself
as for discussions and articles on the TEI-XML overlapping hierachies,
and in general for the problem of the digital representation of texts.
One of the most respected scholar in this field is Dino Buzzetti. But
when has he reached "authority"? He has been publishing both in
English and Italian for thirty years, however quotations of his work
among peers boosted when he published his "famous" article in the "New
Literary History" in 2002. This happened when Dino got on his
theoretical side an American scholar of the caliber of Jerome McGann.
Because it's not enough to have good ideas, work in the Northern
emisphere and write them in English: you need good sponsors and
authoritative venues.

5) Three years ago an American publisher asked us to translate our
book "L'umanista digitale" in English. Our volume was recently
reprinted and I think was a little best-seller in the field (it sold
more than 2500 copies in Italy). We were very excited about the
translation, and invested a lot of energies and money in the project.
The publisher asked a sample chapter, letters of support from
international experts, table of contents, detailed project, etc. We
sent them everything and contracted a professional translator. Result:
after six months from delivering, the book was rejected, and one of
the main reasons was that "the tranlsation was not idiomatic".
We were surprised. In fact, what is an "idiomatic translation"? Is it
possible to translate "idiomatically" from one culture to another
culture? I know that there are very few translations of non-English DH
books out there, but what the American publisher was expecting?
Probably an American book.

6) Can we change all this? And how? I insist: we have to imagine
completely new intellectual tools. This include the structures of our
current academic organizations: teaching, researching, publishing...
Everything. But we will not be able to change if first we don't change
are our attitudes, mentality, expectations, and HABITS.

7) Let me conclude this long email with a personal note. What does it
mean to be multicultural? I am afraid I don't know the answer -- like
may of us I guess. I can simply tell you my experience. I've been
working since 2008 with an NGO that thirteen years ago created a
school in a small village of Southern India. I've learned many things
from this people -- both European and Indian --, but perhpas the most
important one was "imparare a disimparare", or "to learn how to forget
your learning" (Viola Padovani, founder of the group). They started
(or at least try) to forget what they knew when they had to deal with
internal ethnic, gender and religious conflicts within the village,
where Muslim, Hindu and Christian communities did *not* cohabit in
harmony. At first, they tried to mediate between them with
"traditional" rhetorical strategies. But they soon realize that the
roots of these conflicts were rooted deeply in the social and cultural
fabric, and their/our concept of "negotiation" was not seen as an
option. So, guees what? They avoided traditional discourses (I mean
literally, "to speak"), and started... to dance! Yes, they invited all
people to gatherings where music and dance were the only shared
language (in all senses), and... suddendly a little miracle happened.
First children, and then adults used this "language" to communicate
between them. It was not enough for a stable peace, but they all
started to accept the existence of the "difference".

This is just an example, limited to a specific context. And no, I am
not suggesting to introduce Indian dancing in DH gatherings ;-).
However, we should be aware that effective cultural exchange processes
can take years and years, and in fact never ends.
Will we be patient enough?

There are no ideal places and neutral cultures, but it is not possible
to "feel" another culture without opening your arms -- and, to a
certain extent, surrender to it. Western analytical understanding
(call it "reason"(?), or whatever you like) will prove, in many
critical situations, useless or counterproductive. You can't really
"understand" another culture. You can just experience it.

Saluti cari a tutt*


2013/4/30 O'Donnell, Dan <daniel.odonnell a uleth.ca>:
> Very good points Barbara!
> In terms of Anglo - Americans needing to be self-aware of assumptions that
> their way is normative, I think you are spot on. This is true of everybody
> to a certain extent, of course, but I think it is especially true in terms
> of use of English and especially assumptions about what is normal academic
> discourse. At the ADHO executive there recently was a discussion about multi
> lingual issues and somebody made the interesting observation that it might
> be the Anglophones that reed the most instruction in the use of English in
> the sense that they don't always realize the extent to which Native Speaker
> English and International English are not the same thing. That struck a
> chord with me as I am a serial offender.
> I also agree on the centrality of exchange to this project. The. most
> important lesson taught to me at our meeting in Cuba is how important it is
> to believe in and value the opportunities for reciprocal learning: GO::DH
> will only work if it lives up to the claim that it is not an aid programme
> but a space for bridging gaps and especially discovering new learning and
> teaching and collaborations.
> Daniel Paul 0'Donnell
> Department of English
> University of Lethbridge
> Lethbridge AB T1J  2X5
> +1 403 393 2539
> daniel.odonnell a uleth.ca
> @DanielPaulOD
> http://people.uleth.ca/~daniel.odonnell/
> http://dpod.kakelbont.ca/
> Sent from Samsung tablet
> Tags:
> -------- Original message --------
> From: "Bordalejo, Barbara" <bab995 a mail.usask.ca>
> Date: 04-30-2013 13:42 (GMT-07:00)
> To: "O'Donnell, Dan" <daniel.odonnell a uleth.ca>,"globaloutlookdh-l,
> MailList" <globaloutlookdh-l a uleth.ca>
> Subject: Re: [globaloutlookDH-l] A revolution yet to happen
> Craig Bellamy's post impacted me in ways that I had not envisioned and I
> thought I should reply to that and to some observations by Dan and Ernesto
> Priego.
> After thinking about it for a while, I have concluded that it is important
> to be aware of our deep cultural differences when we post to this list. If
> we do not take them into account, we run the risk of alienating other people
> and might even push them away.
> Dan is right about stereotypes of "Anglo-American" domination, but it is up
> to Anglo-Americans not to behave (or write) in ways that might be construed
> as imperialistic.  This does not mean that we cannot communicate in English
> or that we should give up the idea of working together. Instead, it means
> that we have to find the best possible ways to cooperate with each other.
> Provided, of course, this is our intent.
> I am glad that Ernesto brought up the "'big two' London units," because I
> think he is correct that for many people these embody the "real DH," while
> many other scholars are just ignored even though they might be working on
> great projects just around the corner. This shows that even within
> environments dominated by white English-speaking (should I say it?) males
> there is a hierarchy. Often, centres with a long history and a good
> reputation attract a high percentage of funding, causing others to be
> excluded.
> I don't think that anyone is suggesting that there is a specific agenda to
> exclude non-English from DH, but I am also old enough to see that it
> wouldn't be necessary. In countries devastated by poverty or with profound
> social problems, there is very little place to support DH. Anyone that
> protests against positive discrimination doesn't understand this: the
> inequalities in the world are so marked that we need to bridge the gap to
> integrate people from less privileged backgrounds. If you think that you are
> not privileged just because you are white, born in a rich country or a male;
> then take a hard look at yourself and think how different your life would
> have been if those circumstances had been others.
> All that said, those of us who have a different background have something
> else in common... At least part of our education has occurred in English (in
> the UK or the US or Canada) and we want to jump to defend these systems.
> However, when we create those avenues for collaboration Isabel, Ernesto and
> Alex have talked about, I don't want them to be another form of hegemony.
> They cannot be some kind of charitably enterprise given like the rusty coin
> one throws to the homeless at the subway station. I want collaboration to
> occur because we truly need each other and can benefit in a symbiotic way,
> no because to have a "pet third world person" would get you a grant.
> Craig Bellamy´s idea that:
>>  The DH is about technology and if there are barriers to applying
>> technology in all sorts of social or cultural contents then there are some
>> really nice people who could be asked for assistance.
> misses the point of GO::DH. Our objective is not that the "little people"
> come nicely to ask for assistance. Instead, we want to empower scholars in
> different environments to work together in an environment of equality and
> respect. When we achieve this, then we will have done an important part of
> our work.
> Best,
> BB
> On 30 Apr 2013, at 08:01, Daniel O'Donnell wrote:
>> And I think also it is worth noting that globaloutlookdh was founded
>> precisely to address this problem: which I think personally involves
>> network, terminological, and cultural issues, as well as linguistic. Here
>> are two of my statements of the background that led to forming the group:
>> http://dpod.kakelbont.ca/2012/11/02/in-a-rich-mans-world-global-dh/ and the
>> proposal to ADHO: http://ubuntuone.com/187LiVZpJKwFNaRV0lZJeD
>> At the same time, as Ernesto points out, you need to be careful about
>> stereotypes in discussing the "Anglo-American" domination. As I recently
>> pointed out in a blog posting, for example, Domenico's article in the Koln
>> dialogues actually points to a Canadian, rather than Anglo-American,
>> hegemony of the institutions he discusses.
>> http://dpod.kakelbont.ca/2013/03/07/the-true-north-strong-and-hegemonic-or-why-do-canadians-seem-to-run-dh/
>> This is important because it suggests that academic cultures are really
>> micro-environments and that you need to be very open to what makes things
>> tick in each environment. I hope myself that this will be the way this
>> happens.
>> The one great advantage we have, as people who are interested in the use
>> of computers in the Arts, Humanities, and Cultural Heritage sectors, is that
>> this interest can act as a paradisciplinary bridge: that is to say, that our
>> interest in the common problem of how computing can be used in these
>> environments seems to me to give us a great opportunity to find common
>> purpose in a way that is often surprisingly difficult in the traditional
>> humanities, where our networks are further broken down by the cultural,
>> linguistic, and chronological specificity of our disciplines.
>> Because my background is in the study of Anglo-Saxon England, I come at
>> this connection very much through the paradisciplinary aspects of things.
>> One of the other things I've been really inspired by is the extent to which
>> already we are teaching each other in (what I think is) an exchange of ideas
>> and experiences that is breaking down previous disconnects.
>> Does this match other's experiences?
>> -dan
>> On 13-04-30 01:34 AM, Ernesto Priego wrote:
>>> Hello everyone,
>>> This is a debate I myself am very interested in. I have tried to do
>>> things about it, for example by doing bilingual interviews
>>> (http://4humanities.org/?s=redhd&x=0&y=0), or by participating remotely
>>> and IRL in events back in Mexico
>>> (http://disidenciacognitiva.wordpress.com/).
>>> The effort it takes to individually do something bilingually, for
>>> example, is, literally, a double effort. Sometimes to little reward. At
>>> least immediate reward. I keep hopeful it will be useful somehow for
>>> someone in the future at least.
>>> I'd like to say as well that a concentration of power or notoriety does
>>> not only happen between English-speaking academic cultures and the rest.
>>> It happens here in London (UK) too, for example. If you are outside the
>>> 'big two' London unis, it's like you don't exist. Plenty of people doing
>>> interesting stuff around/about/ digital technologies in the humanities
>>> and social sciences, but because our workplaces are not officially
>>> labeled as DH then it's harder to intervene, coexist or even get
>>> recognised by 'the centres'. This does not happen at the individual,
>>> social, human level though, it's more of a cultural phenomenon that
>>> often transcends individual wills or agencies.
>>> I agree with Isabel there is a need to develop channels for
>>> communication. I'd also say we need to develop a culture of
>>> communication and collaboration. And more importantly, a *global*
>>> culture of communication and collaboration: that is, one that has an
>>> awareness of difference and that is willing to do things and think
>>> outside the box. This means doing stuff beyond the job description, and
>>> often in other languages than our own.
>>> As a member of ACH and ADHO committees I can say that from
>>> English-speaking countries/institutions there is A LOT of interest in
>>> integrating/recognising/encouraging/acknowledging/getting to
>>> know/collaborating with non-English speaking scholars and their
>>> institutions. There is no anti non-English DH agenda at all, but a lot
>>> of good will and eagerness to widen access and participation.
>>> As Alex has suggested, I also believe that those of us who also do or
>>> want to do DH-related research/practice in other languages than English
>>> need to reach out. Reach out to each other regardless of country or
>>> mother tongue. In my humble opinion there is both the need to develop
>>> 'literatures' in our mother tongues --as Alex also suggested-- but we
>>> also need to stop seeing the English language as the de facto enemy,
>>> "the language of conquest, the influx/of the language of hard nouns,/the
>>> language of metal," (Atwood).
>>> In the same way that it is expensive, complicated and mostly impractical
>>> to host fully multilingual international conferences (maybe only the
>>> European Parliament and the United Nations have the infrastructure to
>>> make this viable) I honestly don't see a time in which it is not
>>> necessary to engage in scholarly communications in English at some point
>>> or another. Expecting DH to become completely multilingual (for example
>>> in a conference in Nebraska) seems very unlikely. If they don't come to
>>> us, we might need to go to them. If they ignore us, we need to make
>>> ourselves unavoidable, unmissable, ubiquituous.
>>> Just my two cents...
>>> All the best
>>> Ernesto
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