My research agenda centers on investigating how archives, records, and data can be deployed in support of social justice concerns and movements. One component of this larger research agenda is the activation of archival records through digital scholarship. Through digital humanities tools and techniques I employ archival records produced by and pertaining to communities minoritized by race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, and socio-economic status in the United States to bring attention to understudied materials, persons, and events. Such scholarly attention provides support for ongoing movements for social justice.
As part of Bowdoin College’s Digital and Computational Studies Initiative and the Digital Humanities Program at UCLA I have developed three significant collaborative digital projects: Throughlines (2017-); Early African-American Film (2016); and ACT UP/LA History Capsule (2016). An introduction to each of these projects can be found below.
Protesters’ shouts of “no justice, no peace” ring out over the rows upon rows cars forced a standstill on the 405, one of Los Angeles’ busiest highways, on a July night in 2016. This recent protest by Black Lives Matter is notable and representative of an emergent social movement strategy. More than more than half of the 1400 protests relating to Black Lives Matter movement in nearly 300 U.S. and international cities from August 2015 to November 2015 effectively shut down transportation infrastructure (Badger 2016). This contemporary activist practice is as a logical tactic that shares roots with the historical occupations of schools, restaurants and administrative offices that occurred during protests in the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, as an earlier generation of activists rallied against racial segregation. Contemporary highways are historically situated sites of contestation in which previous generations of racialized communities have paid the high price for Los Angeles’ development into a renowned center of both commerce and culture. Through this project we demonstrate why Los Angeles highways have become a productive site of protest, as well as provide an easily accessible digital archive of materials related to activism in Los Angeles to inspire and inform contemporary activists, researchers, and students.
- Collaborators: Marika Cifor and Britt Paris
- Tools: Scalar; Google Maps; Timeline.js
- My role in the Project: Content and metadata generation; Project design and management; Assessment and use of existing DH tools and platforms; Interface design and navigation
- Cifor, M. & Paris, B. ““Throughlines”: Social injustice and activism in Los Angeles.” In Transformative Digital Humanities, pp. 18-31. Routledge, 2020.
Early African American Film: Reconstructing the History of Early Race Films, 1909-1930
This project focuses on creation of a database on early African-American silent race films. The database developed using a wide range of primary and secondary sources. The database includes silent films created before 1930 by African-Americans companies for African-American audiences. It contains information on films, actors, production companies, and other aspects of early silent-era African American race films. The project’s website also includes visualizations and other information regarding early race films. The website and database are intended be an educational resource for scholars and others interested in this period in film history that is rarely discussed. This project was created collaboratively by a team of UCLA undergraduate students, a faculty member, and myself, a doctoral student over the course of one academic quarter. Our database has gotten great media coverage. Check out stories from The Smithsonian Magazine, Daily Bruin, and Upworthy.
- Collaborators: Marika Cifor, Shanya Norman, William Lam, Hanna Girma, Karla Contreras, Monica Berry, Aya Grace Yoshioka, and Miriam Posner
- Tools: Airtable; GitHub; Plot.ly; Cytoscape; CartoDB; Zendo
- My role in the Project: Content and metadata generation; Project design and management; Visualizations including network graphs and histograms
- Posner, M. & Cifor, M. (2018). Generative Tensions: Building a Digital Project on Early African American Race Film. American Quarterly 70(3): 709-713.
- Cifor, M., Girma, H., Norman, S. & Posner, M. (2018). Early African-American Film Database, 1909–1930. Journal of Open Humanities Data 4.
- Cifor, M., Girma, H., Lam, W., Norman, S., Posner, M., Contreras, K. & Yoshioka, A.G. (2017). Tracing a Community of Practice: A Database of Early African American Race Film. The Moving Image 17, no. 2: 101-105.
ACT UP Los Angeles History Capsule
This project prototype for a larger digital humanities project seeks to animate an archive of images that illuminate ACT UP/Los Angeles’ existence beginning in the early 1980s. By associating particular events in ACT UP/ LA’s history with the images that are linked to chronological and geographical information, users are able to see the diffusion of ACT UP/LA’s work as it progressed through the 1980s and early 1990s. Users are able curate their journey through the archive by navigating through the map, or by scrolling through the timeline. By linking these two interfaces, the map and the timeline, users may trace their way through the multifaceted work of ACT UP/LA in Los Angeles in this time period. This project’s goal is to provide a resource that would first, document the history of ACT UP/LA in an easily-accessible website and second, promote sustained research and activism relating to this topic. The prototype was developed as part of a UCLA Digital Humanities course by a team of master’s and doctoral students in Information Studies and Gender Studies.
- Collaborators: Marika Cifor, Britt Paris, William Corrigan, and Sarah Montoya
- Tools: vis.js; Google Maps; GitHub
- My role in the Project: Content and metadata generation; Project design and management; Assessment and use of existing DH tools and platforms for repository development