Decolonizing Memphis is a digital humanities project aimed at creating a decolonized narrative about a city located in Chickasaw territory and currently known as Memphis, TN. A “decolonized narrative” is not one that simply adds diversity to an already existing story. It is one that centers indigenous and immigrant histories rather than settler-colonist accounts. . It is produced using multiple forms of knowledge, and in the process aims to legitimize those forms of knowledge production, creation, and dissemination long excluded from the Western canon. Though this project might lapse into an organizational structure or hierarchy familiar to Western thought, it does not rest on the privileging of those categories or schemas.
This project recognizes that increased visibility and representation of both indigenous and immigrant populations in the Mid-South is a critical first step in undoing the dehumanizing of colonization that allows for the continued discriminating and marginalizing of both groups. This intersection is critical to our long-term project goals, one of which is to understand the creation and history of the United States through the lens of indigeneity and immigration. The decision to limit the initial parameters of this project to Memphis (and eventually expanding to the Mid-South) was made in part due to the argument that examining the “multiplicity of the local” is the most effective way to build and hone our de-colonizing practice. To keep the focus local much of the content of this project will be determined by the interests and needs of those it serves, and not the wants of the larger academic community.
The target audience for this project is other indigenous and immigrant people. We hope to create a space that brings together indigenous and immigrant voices in Memphis, a space that exists for these groups to speak to one another without having to do the intellectual work of translating for settler audiences. Translating, in this sense, involves rationalizing why indigenous forms of knowledge and communication matter. We will not do that. This project takes for granted the humanity of indigenous and immigrant peoples and the legitimacy of their understandings. We intend to make the information accessible for those outside these communities, but for this space to truly be decolonized it is the indigenous and immigrant authors who will be the gatekeepers, definers, and reviewers of content.
Universities (and the internet) have not always been the kinds of spaces where decolonizing work is able to happen. The humanities often privilege certain forms of knowledge production and transmission over others, creating environments that might be diversified in content, but colonized in practice. Additionally, technology often presents more barriers than pathways to decolonization. Though often described and used as a democratizing force in the 21st century, who has access to the hardware needed to participate in these projects, how these projects are made accessible, and where they take place in the U.S. often discourages or completely disqualifies people from joining. We believe we can do decolonizing work even colonized spaces, but that often requires rethinking and retrofitting said spaces for our needs.
Decolonizing Memphis: The Intersection of Indigeneity and Immigration is a project in process. I mean this two ways. Colonization was, and is, process. Likewise, decolonization will be a process as well. This blog will be a space to watch the process of the process of decolonizing work.
There are many things written about the process of decolonization, about the digital humanities, and about representation and audience. I’m linking the few I’ve used here, and will create a separate section eventually for additional resources.
Risam, Roopika. “Decolonizing the Digital Humanities in Theory and Practice.”
Earhart, Amy E. and Maura Ives. “Race, Print, and Digital Humanities.”
Smith, Mychal Denzel. “The Gatekeepers: On The Burden of the Black Public Intellectual.”
Delgado, Louis T. “Native Voices Rising: A Case for Funding Native-led Changes.”