Lauren Klein on Archival Silence, Digital Humanities, and James Hemings

In spite of what Ed Folsom has extolled as the “epic transformation of archives,” the issue of archival silence–or gaps in the archival record–remains difficult to address. With the example of James Hemings, Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved chef (and Sally Hemings’s older brother), Lauren Klein will show how a set of techniques associated with the digital humanities–in particular, techniques that derive from the fields of computational linguistics and information visualization–can help to illuminate Hemings’s faint archival trace. In the course of narrating his life story, she will also show how the circumstances surrounding the record of Hemings’s life pose challenges to the current rhetoric of much digital humanities scholarship. As a critical stance so often framed in terms of epistemological “possibilities,” the digital humanities, when confronted with the unique demands of the archive of slavery, requires a rethinking of what it truly means to know.

Dr. Klein, who is Assistant Professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech, and director of Georgia Tech’s Digital Humanities Lab, will be making her presentation on November 7 at 4 pm in Lloyd Hall Room 324.