Geopolitical Diversity in Digital Humanities: An Interview with Isabel Galina Russell

Isabel Galina Russell
Isabel Galina Russell


As part of the UCLDH Seminar Series, Isabel Galina Russell will give a talk titled “Geopolitical diversity in Digital Humanities: how can we make it happen?” at University College London on Friday 9 October 2015 (registration).

In her talk she will outline the main challenges involved in creating a truly global Digital Humanities community with active participation from a broad range of countries and languages.

Isabel is currently a researcher at the Instituto de Investigaciones Bibliográficas at the National University of Mexico (UNAM). With a background in English Literature (UNAM) and Electronic Publishing (City University London), her PhD research at University College London (UCL) was on the impact of electronic resources on scholarly communication and publishing. This led to a particular interest in new modes of scholarship and digital projects within the Humanities.

At the UNAM she has been involved in numerous initiatives related to institutional repositories, digitization projects, electronic publishing and the use and visibility of digital resources. She is a founding member and current president of the Red de Humanidades Digitales (RedHD) which aims to promote and strengthen Digital Humanities with special emphasis on research and teaching in Spanish as well as the Latin American region in general.

She is Associate Editor of Literary and Linguistic Computing (LLC) and Honorary Research Fellow at the UCL Department of Information Studies. Isabel is also co editor of the centerNet journal, DHCommons.

I last interviewed Isabel for 4Humanities on June 5 2012.  More than three years later we talk again in anticipation of her UCLDH talk.


Ernesto Priego (EP): You have been working on the digital humanities (and other related topics like electronic publishing, repositories, digital libraries etc.) for more than fifteen years now. How would you sum up the way things in the field have changed so far?

Isabel Galina Russell (IGR): It is difficult to make this a short answer. Things have changed a lot in the past fifteen years. The availability of tools and software that do make online publishing so much easier. The number of people who are digitally aware and know what you are talking about. It is easier to find interlocutors now.

Other things however, have changed more gradually.  I feel that university administrators, at least in Mexico, continue to think that the digital scholarly activity, can and should be done and supported with little or no additional funding. We have a real problem with lack of human resources. Repositories are supposed to run by themselves it seems! I feel that nobody is willing to make the financial commitment to investing in the digital strategies the universities need. In relation to this of course, is the lack of recognition of the value of this kind of work.  But this seems to be changing too. You can ask me this question again in five years or so.

EP: I definitely hope we can talk about this in five years’ time! You will discuss this in your UCLDH talk I suppose but could you say a bit about why geopolitics are important in the context of these changes?

IGR: The Internet has been associated with an idea of levelling the playing field in the sense that barriers for publication, communication and exchange of knowledge are eliminated or at least reduced. Movements such as Open Access are examples of this. And yet, as has been pointed out by many, technology left to itself will not solve the inequality in the production of knowledge and access to it and in some case may even exacerbate it. It seems to me that Digital Humanities is particularly equipped to address these issues more critically.

The DH community has the building and making capacity to develop innovative and creative ways of using digital technologies to become more inclusive and open. The community also has the capacity to develop resources and tools to handle multiple and complex data entry points to aid in this endeavor. The DH community also has the academic know how to reflect critically on how and what we are building.

EP: I completely agree! You have experienced working in both the UK and Mexico. Apart from the challenges you’ve mentioned already, what sort of explicit practical and cultural barriers do digital humanists face in Mexico, and what kind of collaboration could we see more of between Mexico and the UK?

IG: The first obvious answer is infrastructure and connectivity. We organized a Día Internacional de Humanidades Digitales, a Portuguese/Spanish version of DayofDH and the Twitter contributions were quite reduced from certain countries. Mobile phone connectivity is still sporadic and we should always keep in mind that connectivity is not ubiquitous. Language is an important issue.

In Mexico specifically I would mention a lack of institutional policies for the development of digital projects in general. Financing is available but it is usually short term and is not part of an integral vision. This is the probably the case for many countries or institutions around the world but I would identify these as a key issue for us at this time.

I would love to see more collaboration between the UK and Mexico. This is the Dual Year Mexico-UK but unfortunately it is a bit late to get DH on the agenda!  We have looked at a few possible projects together but haven’t managed to consolidate anything yet, although there is work being done between individual researchers.  Part of the purpose of this visit is to talk about collaboration.




EP: What does it mean for you to come back to London (and to UCLDH) to give this lecture?

IG: I did my PHD at UCL and was introduced to Digital Humanities whilst I was in London and it is very exciting to be back here and giving a lecture. In a sense it is an opportunity to go back and reflect on the work I’ve done since going back to Mexico in 2009 and all that I have learnt since then.

EP: You work at a Library Science research centre. What role do libraries, librarians and Library and Information Science researchers do/should/could play within the digital humanities?

IG: The library and archive community has played an important part in the development of Digital Humanities and I think should continue to do so. I am currently involved in the Libraries and DH SIG group of the ADHO. Libraries can play an important role not just in the creation of digital resources but also to help with issues related to dissemination, preservation, curation, sustainability, discoverability to name a few.

EP: Finally, what is your vision for a truly “global” digital humanities and what role do you see the RedHD will play within that vision?

IG: I would hope that a truly global DH would not only incorporate and take into consideration projects and research done in as many countries as possible but primarily a community that manages to engage multiple agendas and points of view. A global DH is not one that works towards homogenizing all DH work but rather one that manages to make a heterogeneous landscape enriching for all that participate.

EP: Thank you Isabel!

IG: ¡Gracias a ti!

UCLDH Seminar Series:
Geopolitical diversity in Digital Humanities: how can we make it happen?
Speaker: Isabel Galina Russell, Researcher, Institute for Bibliographic Studies, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Friday 9 October 2015
G24, Arts and Humanities Common Room Foster Court, 5.30pm
University College London, London, UK

All welcome and there will be drinks and discussion after the talk.

Please note that registration is required.

About Ernesto Priego

Researcher at the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design, City, University of London. Editor in chief of The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship. Affiliated member of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities.

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