- Digital Humanities in Latin America ed. by Héctor Fernández L'Hoeste and Juan Carlos Rodríguez
This edited work is part of the university Press of Florida's series, Reframing Media, Technology, and Culture in Latin/o America whose editors are also Héctor Fernández L'Hoeste and Juan Carlos Rodríguez. The book and the series are, in part, a rejoinder to the critique of area studies "as an inadequate paradigm for the production of knowledge"—when in fact "Latin American studies, as a network of scholarship, has been strong in cultural criticism" (p. 12). The editors contend that "[i]f we continue emulating metropolitan models, we will be embracing a theoretical straitjacket and adopting categories of research that are already evincing limitations within their inceptive contexts" (p. 13).
The term digital humanities (DH) is not concisely defined in this book. Rather than a neutral technological field, it is shaped by economic, social, and political processes that allow the field to eschew "the construction of any sense of centre/periphery" (p. 8). Latin America is a prime setting for this investigation since media markets (Internet, radio, film, blogging, social media) are less regulated than in, say, the U.S. or western Europe (e.g., SIM cards could be swapped in Latin America before the U.S.). The book shows that cultural consumption is thriving in the region among both desconectados and internautas (Internet travelers) (p. 6), even in spaces as connected as Mexico and those more controlled places like Cuba. Mestizaje, a cultural category that has long existed in Latin America, is "now subject to new modalities once it goes through digital networks that alter its meanings" (p. 7). Readers of JLAG, for instance, will recognize that GIScientists, geographers, and planners explore this phenomenon in community mapping projects, youth mapping exercises, geographic literacy in schools, automated cartography, free on-line and downloadable map apps, podcasts, blogs, video recordings, and social media of all stripes. New digital modes alter how the natural and cultural landscapes are promoted, interpreted, represented, controlled, and consumed. On the one hand, the book aims "to shift the focus to consider how digital practices rearticulate geopolitical paradigms such as the nation, the region, and even the idea of area studies." On the other hand, "Latin Americanism is no longer trendy [and] does not necessarily mean that we have to disregard the material, economic, and sociopolitical differences…of inequality in our region and across the world, and in the digital realm" (p. 16).
One expects the larger Latin American nations (Argentina, Brazil, Mexico) to garner much attention in the book. Thus, it is refreshing to read about DH in Paraguay and Cuba (although the rest of the Caribbean is practically ignored). The book is divided into three parts. The first one, Digital Nations, starts with Cristina Venegas's exploration of digital infrastructures in Cuba. She argues that [End Page 291] ephemeral and often censored bloggers and websites have found creative ways to rupture "bureaucratic armature that sets policies of limited access, the socialization of youth through the Joven Club de Computación" (p. 33). A weekly flash drive holding a terabyte of pirated news, telenovelas, comics, music and other expressions, known as el paquete semanal, is widely disseminated despite the state's objection. Cuba's G2 secret police cannot gumshoe each courier and flash drive. Venezuela's binational ALBA-1 fiber-optic cable completed in Cuba in 2011 portends a major infrastructure accomplishment but it has never fully become available to Cubans. Morgan Ames's study of Paraguay's one-laptop-per-child campaign outlines that yawning gap between individual Paraguayans and corporations as they grapple with implementing digital pedagogies. The chapter reviews surrounding state curriculum, music, games, videos and other programs installed on the XO machine distributed to school-age children. Fernández L'Hoeste argues that national identities are becoming increasingly privatized, deepening the split...