At the Joint ACH-CSDH/SCHN Conference in Ottawa in June, I’m going to be picking up a thread I discussed at MLA 2015 and at George Washington University in January: the Cultural Atlas of Global Blackness. As I explained in those talks, I’m convinced that Google does not want my project to exist. They have more or less been systematically shutting down the APIs on which I’ve been relying. For me, this has been a great lesson in the pitfalls of depending on third-party applications, rather than just doing it myself. Lesson learned – I’m now in the process of rebuilding.
I’ll be talking about some of the theoretical implications of this project in Session 7C: Global Horizons on Wednesday, June 3rd, in the company of GO::DH friends. Here’s the abstract for “Remaking the Atlas, Unmaking the World: Towards a Cultural Atlas of Global Blackness”:
In “Hello Worlds,” Matthew Kirschenbaum speaks to the role of digital humanities in shaping how we look at the world. He proposes that programming may be viewed as an act of world-making that requires articulating the observable rules and characteristics of an environment to create a system. Still other digital humanities methods engage in world-making, such as the use of maps or geographic information systems (GIS) to visualize data across time and space. Like the worlds instantiated by the colonial project, the worlds created within digital humanities projects do not exist independently of the values or assumptions that shape the worlds we inhabit. Echoing the arguments of postcolonial scholars who have linked world-making and ideology, Kirschenbaum reminds us that virtual worlds are not only empirical but also ideological: “They embody their authors’ biases, blind spots, ideologies, prejudices, and opinions.”  Indeed, the knowledge of the world produced within such work – like the colonial project that remade the world as we know it – is imbricated in a matrix of culture, politics, and economics, among others. In the same vein, critical cartography scholarship has suggested that affordances of GIS provide the possibility of reimagining the process of mapping beyond its colonialist history and of using maps as methodologies towards emancipatory ends. 
Considering world-making within digital humanities through a postcolonial lens, this talk examines my work on the prototype for A Cultural Atlas of Global Blackness, an interactive database and digital map that traces representations of blackness across geography and temporality. Influenced by the work of the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative, this project emerges from a research question articulated in my previous work: how has black radical thought traveled throughout the postcolonial world? My talk will situate this project within the work of the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative, with attention to the methodological difficulties posed by the goal of mapping by concept – particularly a floating signifier like “blackness” – rather than by place. Additionally, I will discuss considerations of platform, database structure, and metadata that informed project development. In doing so, this talk will focus on project design to explore how mapping blackness on a global scale unmakes the world. I suggest that the task destabilizes the map itself and produces new knowledge for how we understand cultural transmission for the African diaspora and beyond.
 Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “Hello Worlds,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 23, 2009. Accessed December 8, 2014. http://chronicle.com/article/Hello-Worlds/5476.
 Advocated by geography scholars such as J.B. Harley, Denis Wood, and Jeremy Crampton, among others, critical cartography blends mapping praxis with critical theory. Critical cartography is grounded in the belief that maps are sites of knowledge and power, not simply visualizing knowledge but producing it.