Date of Degree
Matthew K. Gold
African American Studies | Digital Humanities | English Language and Literature | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies
digital memory, digital archives, racial slavery, Afro-pessimism
Within the scope of digital humanities scholarship, this thesis interrogates ‘memory’ as a conceptual frame for remembering Black life, both past and present, in the face of missing historical data and in the afterlife of trans-Atlantic slavery. Such a concept—increasingly taken up as method in the humanities, along with related allusions to the ephemeral, spectral, or haunted—is sought to refuse historiographical and techno-scientific claims to empirical certainty or transparency, and instead affirm its gaps and absences as themselves productive sites for self-reflexive speculation on the complexities of lived experience. Applied to the digital study of trans-Atlantic chattel slavery, memory comes to tie a formal knot between ‘archival gaps’ and ‘data missingness’; however, such a move often rehearses interrelated notions of dehumanization, commodification, and quantification that fail to give a categorical account of racial slavery’s imprints on the present. In dialogue with Black studies and Afro-pessimist scholarship especially, the present study elaborates this problem and the way in which the turn to memory runs up against similar epistemological limits as historiography: Both rehearse the symbolic function of Blackness as missingness—as nothing but the potential for inscription—and, relatedly, fail to recognize the material function of the Black slave as a debt instrument or money itself (as opposed to a labor commodity). The conversion of loss/absence/missingness into opportunity/futurity/possibility hence only obfuscates the violence of this material-symbolic structure, revealing not that practices of memory take hold of racial slavery but, on the contrary, that racial slavery is what anachronistically takes hold of its methods of backward retrieval in the present, and with anti-Black effects.
Pham, Vinh T., "Reflections on the Digital Memory of Trans-Atlantic Slavery" (2023). CUNY Academic Works.