Privacy Has Its Place

**Happy snow day to me! I’m actually getting two days worth of free days from work AND school!**

Last week’s readings about cultural rhetoric threw me back into my Native American literature classes (hey, Michelle!). One of the things we often talked about was how tribes’ traditions have been stomped on repeatedly by outsiders, watered down into simple trinkets (think dreamcatchers), or secret rites have been exposed.

I get that in some instances spreading traditions around to the general public is a good thing. By educating people outside the tribe, they are less ignorant to what goes on inside the tribe, generating a culture of understanding (ideally). In Withey’s presentation “On Not Looking: Ethics and Access in the Digital Humanities, she touches on the fine lines and the detailedness that DHists need to be mindful of. In her own experience, she talks about how she and her team work with an indigenous group in Australia to share some of their values and traditions.

She notes that they come to their exhibit (how odd to have an exhibit on yourself) to tape over tribe members’ faces that are deceased since posting the pictures. They also dictate what can be posted online or how large the pictures can be. The relationship between this group of people and the DH team seems to be a good one: they communicate what can or cannot be shared, how the site content should look and how it operates, and more. However, we are not too naive to know that this is the best case scenario.

I always wondered if there is a “code of conduct” for anthropologists, and this seems like one of those cases that would merit a code for DHists too. DH is such a new field that it is worrisome that someone who calls himself or herself a digital humanist might screw up the field’s reputation by not abiding by the code or invading an indigenous group’s privacy. I guess I shouldn’t be too worried about it since obviously other academic fields have had to navigate this before, but if you look into some Native American departments, they are managed by white people who only know the academic side. Some have misconceptions of their own studies because they only stick to the academic side of NA lit because they cannot really truly know the culture from reading a white person’s perspective of a tribes’ traditions.

That also brings up the question: who is qualified to look at these groups of people? Are people within the groups the ones who should be able to speak about their cultures? Or to what extent should others get to speak on their behalf without it getting to be a long chain of telephone with incorrect deliverances?

I have so many questions that I feel are going to nitpick the boundaries, especially when I start comparing it to other academic fields. It


Be cautious, DH friends.


One thought on “Privacy Has Its Place”

  1. Congratulations on your snow days!! I agree with your points about the fine line researchers in DH must walk (like anthropologists) when studying groups of people. This sort of reminds me of some of our class conversations on fair use; do we have the right to appropriate anything we see, or do we need to mindful that individuals have rights to their work, art, culture, image?


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