Blog Post

Doing Women’s History in the Digital Age

Details of this piece is posted on my Rice University blog post.  See the original blog here. 

 

Women’s narratives are often omitted from the pages of history.  This is true even when women have played rich and major roles in the society.  My assumption that their omission was more evident in the history of Nigerian Pentecostalism changed since the last three years.  My personal observation and empirical studies show that although women’s roles have long been acknowledged yet they are excluded from the nation’s history books (Kwok, P.Postcolonial Imagination  2005, 53).  This trend tends to be universal.  It appears there is also a challenge with doing women’s history in the digital age.  For example, Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki in “Writing History in the Digital Age” (http://writinghistory.trincoll.edu/crowdsourcing/saxton-etal-2012-spring/) demonstrated that only about thirteen percent of contributors to Wikipedia were women (also see Noam Cohen, “Define Gender Gap: Look up Wikipedia’s Contributor List”, The New York Times, Jan. 30, 2011,  accessed Aug. 15, 2011.)  It was very distressing for Dougherty and Nawrotzki to realize that of the thirteen percent found on the Wikipedia’s women’s history content, majority were not only superficial but also very inaccurate.  More distressing is Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, remarks that: “There aren’t that many obvious topics left to write about.” Really?  How so? I would guess that Wales held back from saying: There aren’t that many obvious topics left to write about [women].”  While I would, and contrary to Wales agree with Dougherty and Nawrotzki that “historical material is confined to some profiles of the famous, and there is very little of substance on women in the more comprehensive articles,” as checking for women’s topics still reveals a great shortage of material on women, I disagree with Wales assertion.  I dare say there are many obvious topics left to write about [women] and certainly there are many more obvious topics left to be digitized.  I will suggest that in light of the above Historians and scholars of Women and Gender Studies should adopt the strategy for keying into new methodology for historicizing women lives and times.  Women’s historical accounts have to be pulled up from the ‘rubbles’ and one way to check a continuous omission is by digitizing their narratives. I am positive that digital humanities will go a long way to contributing to a new era in doing women’s history.    

Historians have been accused of a typical inconsistency in accounting for women’s history.  They hardly preserve cultural and social identities of (women) minorities let alone give credence to their feats or contributions to human and societal development.   This is why women call for a ‘new history’ written in reaction against traditional history and its paradigms; history that is representative and concerned with the whole of human activity. In regard to doing digital history, “affirmative action” is needed to redress the imbalance caused by neglecting the life and times of women laborers and heroines. Their memory, we believe, will become a tool for engaging the public space and offer a model for breaking barriers.

This is why I am as excited as Samhita Sunya (of the English Department) about the “Women at Rice [History] Project.”  The idea for this project was conceived in the “Introduction to Digital Humanities Seminar” led by Drs. Lisa Spiro and Melissa Bailar in the 2013 fall semester.  The project now popular is compelling and became necessary when it was too obvious that women are still very well underrepresented even at Rice University.  For example, Rice University was one hundred years old last October 2012 and the celebration marked in a grand style-light spectacle astonishingly, left women conspicuously absent (For details, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8yg0Rfi_y8).

It is to this end that we intend to join the “Women at Rice” Project to digitize the untold history of women and people of color at Rice University.  Our project seeks to contribute to the emerging ways women’s omission from history can be remedied.  Our project which specifically seeks to bring women’s presence to bear will focus on collating and annotating official documents, press reportage, images, and oral histories.  We will design an online, public interface for these collections.  It will explore the relationships – tensions, synergies, overlaps, and divergences – between two, major decision-making developments that made Rice into a co-educational and integrated residential university between 1957 and1970.

The gains of the project cannot be enumerated, and the salient fact remains: women and people of color have the right to live in freedom from fear, and the right to be written and preserved in history. Through our project, we hope to contribute to producing the next generation of Rice University women and men who will be interested in advancing women, gender and racial studies through the lens of Digital Humanities.

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