Digital Humanities

KIPPImagine if a child who lives in New Orleans East enrolls in a school on the West Bank of New Orleans. To get to school, the student must cross the New Orleans Industrial Canal, traverse the East Bank, and cross the Mississippi River. How many American children are forced to make such a long commute daily? The structure of the New Orleans charter school system has made such conditions commonplace for Black children. Charter schools are required to demonstrate sustained improvement on student standardized test scores over the course of 5 years or they must close. These schools also operate with an open enrollment policy that allows parents to enroll their children in any school that has seats available in Orleans Parish, irrespective of what neighborhood the family lives in. This constant flux of school openings and closings across the city reshapes public space, with children often forced to shuffle across the entire parish like commodities in transit. This spatial transformation is intensified post-Katrina when many Black families have become unmoored from neighborhoods where they had previously thrived. Geospatial analyses identify how and where these community and anti-Black structural forces collide.

In my work, I use ArcGIS to georeference charter school locations with demographic data, such as racial composition of neighborhood, home values, and population density. map

In addition to allowing me to keep up with the unstable nature of urban space in New Orleans, digital humanities also allow me to begin a restorative project. Moving forward, I will use Augmented Reality (AR) to show the ways that Black neighborhoods have been transformed in the decade since Katrina, and pay homage to the historic neighborhood schools that have been either repurposed or destroyed. AR would expand the reach of my project by allowing those who connect to the internet primarily through mobile phones to access this digital humanities project. Using AR, people can point their mobile devices at a location and through virtual reality, see how said place looked like prior to the dispossession and speculative property development regime that characterizes Post-Katrina urban renewal policies.

9thWardWhile I recognize the ways that geospatial analysis and digital humanities enhance my project, I must also reckon with the inherent violence of mapping as a practice. Sylvia Wynter explains how cartography is a tool developed to facilitate Western imperialism and its exploitative, genocidal projects[2]. Projecting and transforming a multilayered 3D place onto a 2D map necessitates the flattening of that location, producing a colonial gaze of a landscape. My work deals with this contradiction by georeferencing life history interviews, census demographic maps, and land deeds onto my maps, deepening their historical contexts and infusing the voices of the people who live in these communities.

Witnessing Katrina was the first time I understood the ways that violence against Black people becomes spectacle. It was also the first time I realized how controlling images[3] of Black pathology become ascribed to people that looked like my mother and others in my community. Those images reverberate in my psyche and now drive the scope and direction of my scholarly research and my future advocacy.

[2] Sylvia Wynter, “1492: A New World View.” In Race, Discourse, and the Origin of the Americas: A New World View, eds. Vera Lawrence Hyatt and Rex Nettleford. (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995)

[3] Patricia Hill Collins, “Mammies, Matriarchs, and Other Controlling Images.” In Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. (New York: Routledge, 1991)