I attended the Digital Scholarship Group and NULab’s FAll 2018 Welcome Event on September 24th. The event was preceded by a chance to meet with Dr. Monica Martinez and chat over donuts and talk to her about her project, Mapping Violence, in a less restricted, more open way. I found that personally very valuable. Dr. Martinez gave similar initial explanations at both the chat and the more formal presentation, but was able to go into a significant amount of detail about specific things, both about the content of her project and the digital components she used at the chat. She was an excellent speaker and was incredibly comfortable answering any and all of our questions.
Mapping Violence is a digital humanities project committed to showing acts of violence, such as lynchings and police shootings, against people of color in Texas between 1900 and 1930. The project uses a map with points you can click on to see the different incidents. Whenever possible, they use names, but that is not always something they can do. Dr. Martinez emphasized that their goal is to inform, not to sensationalize, so there are minimal descriptions of the violence itself and instead the incident is placed in the greater context of history as much as possible.
The digital project is only one part of what Dr. Martinez does, however. She is also heavily involved in bringing the research she did to light in a physical, tangible way in the community by putting up markers and encouraging new or overhauled exhibitions that talk about the violence of the period. For her, history is never neutral and instead should inspire activism, even if only to force people to acknowledge the truth of the past. I found that commitment to activism inspiring. Dr. Martinez is not just talking the talk and showing the facts, she is walking the walk and doing something to try to drag long buried issues into the light. We live in an incredibly racist world, and part of changing that is acknowledging the past.
Overall, I found the welcome event very enjoyable. Dr. Martinez was engaging and interesting. Her work was a powerful reminder that nothing we do exists in a vacuum and if our words and work lacks context and explanation, then we have failed in our duty as historians. Digital historians have this duty even more strongly than regular historians. Like all public historians, digital historians interact with the public who may not be as well informed as the specialists that usually read historians’ work. I found Dr. Martinez’s involvement in both memorials and programming to be an incredible blueprint for how handle that well.
Unfortunately, I was unable to stay for the additional presentations because of class, but I deeply wish I could have. I am sure that they were also excellent, a testament to the emphasis that Northeastern puts on the digital humanities.