Adeline Koh has posted the text of and slides from her talk at the recent HumLab workshop in Umeå, Sweden (“Sorting the Digital Humanities Out“). Koh frames the talk as a “provocation” to the field of postcolonial studies: “a discussion of some of the potential opportunities that digital forms of publication offer to postcolonial studies, by studying the possibilities that result from the move from print to digital.”
One of the central concepts within postcolonial studies is to rewrite the colonial library. The colonial library, as V.Y. Mudimbe defines it in The Invention of Africa, is a fixed set of texts and representations that have been used to defined colonized people around the world. Its common tropes include the “evil Arab,” the “inscrutable Oriental”, the “noble savage,” and the “primitive,” among others. The same sentiment is echoed by Edward Said’s notion of “Orientalism,” in which limited, essentialist tropes were used to define immensely diverse groups of people throughout Asia as corrupt, evil and unchanging. Postcolonial theorists have argued that attacking this library is the root of our mission; meaning, in other words, that to changing the hegemonic discourses around race and culture should be one of our core goals.What has not been discussed as often, however, is the idea this colonial library has for centuries existed in print form. The rapidly changing field of digital and Internet publications offer postcolonial writers and scholars fundamentally new challenges and opportunities to rethink some of the modes and strategies of rewriting the colonial library.