“From Césaire’s Notebook to the Net”— Kelly Baker Josephs Reviews Legacies of Aimé Césaire


In “From Césaire’s Notebook to the Net,” Kelly Baker Josephs (York College, CUNY) reports on Legacies of Aimé Césaire, an event co-hosted by Columbia University and Barnard College in New York marking the centenary of the Martinican poet [see previous post “The Work of Man Has Only Just Begun”—Legacies of Aimé Césaire]. Please see excerpts here and read the full review in the link to the Caribbean Review of Books below:

[. . .] The Legacies of Aimé Césaire event managed to combine both the digital activity taking place in November and the yearlong celebration of Césaire. The event was designed collaboratively by Columbia University and Barnard College faculty: Kaiama L. Glover, Alex Gil, Brent Hayes Edwards, and David Scott. Along with a website launched in mid-November, the physical portion of the event spanned two days, with a “researchathon” on 5 December and a live forum the following day. The site itself went live in mid-November with pieces from the invited scholars, paired along four routes of conversation: “The revolutionary Afro-Americas”, with Millery Polyné and Anne Eller; “Trans-Atlantic networks and contexts”, with Christopher Winks and Carrie Noland; “Whither or whether postcolonial sovereignty?”, with Gary Wilder and Yarimar Bonilla; and “The present-day poetic imagination”, with Erica Hunt and Brent Hayes Edwards. Both the site and the two-day event were in their own way innovative academically and digitally, and presented ways in which the Internet could facilitate collaborative scholarship.

[. . .] First, the researchathon — a word that seems self-explanatory, but on second glance requires some clarification. The Studio @ Butler space at Columbia University defines it thus: “A researchathon, or research sprint, is akin to a hackathon but focused on research results rather than software or code.” It involves “a research question that a group of ten or more students, librarians, faculty, and technologists could answer working together” over a short period of time, and generally results in a useful online resource for research on the topic. The primary objective of the Césaire researchathon was to “compile the largest online bibliography of primary and secondary sources related to Césaire.” [. . .] It was exciting to watch the bibliography grow over the course of the day as dedicated scholars the world over contributed citations. In the end, the researchathon met its objective, compiling a bibliography of over two thousand sources, and growing.

[. . .] Having no experience with this model, I don’t know if this is a useful method of organisation for other disciplines, but it remains less so for the humanities. It’s possible that this is more a fault of less-digitally facile Césaireans than of the method itself. But either way, some revisions are necessary to make this bibliography useful for research on various aspects of Césaire’s work. This certainly does not render this model less exciting as a tool. Instead, it merely indicates that this is the first stage in the development of both the tool and its users for future similar collaborations. [. . .]

The second day of the event featured panels with the pairs of scholars who had written pieces for the website. [. . .] This was the more familiar part of the event; the “old media” so to speak. At least, that is what I expected it to be. I expected something similar to a seminar style conference with pre-circulated papers. The difference, I came to understand, was in the conversation that had already occurred online prior to the live forum. Because these early written thoughts were public, and because they were open to comments, more attendees were ready to discuss the concepts than is generally the case for a traditional seminar, even one with pre-circulated material. More importantly, the writers themselves came with some idea of how their work was already being received and questioned by their readers, far and near. In the room itself, this led to the type of engaged participatory experience that, at best, only happens on the fringes of traditional conferences: for five minutes during Q&A, or in a small group afterward, as attendees clear out of the room; or perhaps in a post-event social gathering. In this way, I would say, the event was an unqualified success. What Gil calls the “hybrid model” of scholarly presentation allowed for a more useful form of discussion about Césaire’s work. [. . .]

Please see full review at CRB: http://caribbeanreviewofbooks.com/2013/12/13/from-cesaires-notebook-to-the-net/

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