THATCamp AJS 2012: Making Jews in the Digital Humanities

I recently proposed a session in which THATCampers could discuss the relationship between Jewish Studies and recent debates about race and ethnicity in digital humanities.  I am particularly interested in talking about how certain platforms (digital archives, gaming, blogs, online genealogy sites, social media?) present either opportunities or pitfalls for thinking about the social construction of Jewishness.


Rosh Hashanah greeting card from the early 20th century, Hebrew Publishing Company, between 1900 and 1920. Wikipedia Commons.

On the positive side, I am curious about how digital humanities offers opportunities to discuss the boundaries of our discipline and who gets included and excluded from the rubric of “Jewish Studies.”  I mainly work, for example, on the Sephardic Diaspora in the Americas, so I tend to think about how scholarship can either reify or reject mythical views of authenticity of a “pure” Jewishness that is thought to have existed before the Sephardic displacement into the Americas or in medieval Iberia prior to forced conversions.  How might software (such as Omeka) that encourages visitor participation, for example, allow people visiting online archives to contest the definitions of either “Jews” or “Jewishness” in meaningful ways?  Likewise, how can we use online gaming to help raise questions about identity?  (Here I am thinking about games like Trading Races and AllLookSame.)  Does the digital world offer new ways to challenge students to think about the history of how Jews created their identities in relationship to and in dialogue with others?

I’d also like to talk about potential pitfalls of the digital world with respect to identity making.  To what extent extent are “charged assumptions” about race, ethnicity, or Jewishness replicated in either the digital world through systems, codes, or tools (See Koh Slide 31)?  How does digitizing Jews relate to larger debates about Race in the Digital Humanities and what it means to “digitize” race or ethnicity?

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