Undergraduate Uncertainties: Joining Ticha and Rethinking Plans

March 31, 2020

March 26, 2020
Collin Kawan-Hemler
ckawanheml@haverford.edu

Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship, Post 3. This is the third in a series of monthly blog posts by participants in the 2019 ACLS Digital Extension Grant project “Ticha: advancing community-engaged digital scholarship” (PI Lillehaugen) published on GlobalSL and Ticha. Previous blog posts in this series: Post 1, Post 2.

I am a prospective History major in my second year at Haverford College. I also have been fortunate enough to join the Ticha team as an undergraduate research assistant on this ACLS-funded project. My interest in Ticha and issues of indigenous language rights came from watching the documentary web series Dizhsa Nabani–Lengua Viva–Living Language at Haverford in the fall 2018 semester. Dizhsa Nabani captured the daily use of Valley Zapotec in the San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya community, placing the language as a critical part of maintaining Indigenous identity and pride in a hostile national and global context. Dr. Brook Lillehaugen was my academic advisor at the time and suggested that I should attend the web series premiere at Haverford College. I was struck by the urgency of the work that had been done and valued the film’s uplifting impact on the community that it portrayed. From watching Dizhsa Nabani and listening to a panel of some of its co-producers, I was introduced to what Dr. Xóchitl Flores-Marcial vividly articulated in last month’s blog: the irrefutable need for present scholars to counter persistent colonial frameworks of interpreting Zapotec language and intellectual history.

Last semester I took a course on the history of colonial Latin America. One of our guiding texts throughout the course was Las venas abiertas de América Latina (Open Veins of Latin America), by the late Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. My professor opened one lecture with a quote from Galeano: “I’m a writer obsessed with remembering, with remembering the past of America above all and above all that of Latin America, intimate land condemned to amnesia.” As I piece together my intellectual interests and goals in this part of life, Galeano’s work remains an inspiring impulse to pursue Latin American studies. As Ticha’s corpus of text demonstrates, present tensions of language use and learning have deep roots that are traceable. Considering how fraught any definition of who or what is included in “Latin America,” I am eager to participate in a project rooted in a community where the complications and deficiencies of that category emerge.

When I agreed to write this month’s blog post, the semester and my involvement in Ticha was still fresh. I looked forward to reflecting on the first three months of reviewing educational units and participating in weekly Zoom meetings. I did not anticipate that this unassuming remote conferencing service would become the primary technology through which I continue much of my learning experience. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced upon much of the world a break with business as usual–the Ticha Project team members and the rest of the academic community are no exceptions. I can say, however, that my involvement has shown me what goes on behind producing the published findings and deliverables of a complex digital humanities project. My role has been less intensive than those with longer histories with Ticha but that has given me space to help facilitate meta-level discussions. I have prepared presentations on several other DH projects to identify what styles of pedagogical materials are being circulated and whether there are lessons for this project. I also look forward to more literature discussions so that our work is informed by important theories about co-authorship, archival practices and community-engaged scholarship. My next assignment after this blog will be developing an answer key for our first published lesson on Zapotec language shift. This pedagogical unit allows one to consider language shift in a Zapotec context and brings Zapotec language from 1578 to present day to the reader. Importantly, through videos, the users can learn directly from Zapotec experts Sr. Filemón Pérez Ruiz (from Macuiltianguis) and Maestra María Mercedes Méndez Morales (from Tlacochahuaya), as seen in the video below.

In recognition of educators’ sudden need for more digitally available materials, the language shift unit was made public earlier than planned. It is an understatement for me to say that the Ticha team and myself are facing a lot of uncertainty. How can I balance my adjustment to remote and digital learning with my preparation for work in the summer? What do travel bans and viral transmission risks mean for the project’s summer travel plans? Will the same sources of funding be available? These questions were swirling around me as I sat in my dorm filling suitcases with clothes and boxes with books before driving back home. In an odd way I was grateful to hear some of the same anxieties from other team members. We have all been working and communicating through digital means. Ticha itself is a product of digital archiving and hyperlink connections; the work will continue. Even with the chaotic situation I committed to still writing this blog because I think that anyone who is engaged in education and research at any level is sitting with similar anxious anticipations about the next few weeks and months. Amid many think pieces on productivity in a pandemic I hope that more spaces for reflection on our collective panicked and overwhelmed states are opened up.

At the moment I do not need to have all the answers for myself. But I am confident that collectively the Ticha team will craft an ethical and humane way forward with the fullest intention to achieve our project’s stated goals.

 

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