Africana Studies and New Media Technologies: Inquiry, Research, and Analysis for a New Age

By Dickinson, Gloria Harper; Thompson, Donna | Negro History Bulletin, April-September 1999 | Go to article overview

Africana Studies and New Media Technologies: Inquiry, Research, and Analysis for a New Age


Dickinson, Gloria Harper, Thompson, Donna, Negro History Bulletin


INTRODUCTION

The concurrent growth and development of the information highway and New Media technologies has profoundly changed the world's exposure to, and study of, African and diaspora people. The proliferation of websites, CD-ROM's and other New Media resources has been both rapid, and uncensored. As a result, it is often difficult to determine whether or not materials are appropriate for academic use.

This essay serves as a resource guide for Africana Studies students. It explores the importance of New Media Technologies to the preservation and perpetuation of Africana Studies; the difference between commercial and academic websites; the need for evaluating sites and strategies for engaging in that process; negative uses of the web; and topical and general resources for Africana Studies students. As a consequence of the rapid changes in electronic and digitized resources, the materials referenced by the authors have been carefully selected for both quality and reliability.

THE POLITICS OF KNOWLEDGE

Global access to information about people of African descent has been manipulated and constrained throughout most of the modern age. Although documents, pictures, and material culture reveal that European/African interactions were relatively free of bias before the advent of the Atlantic Slave Trade,(1) many studies reveal that the characterizations of people of African descent as "barbaric, uncivilized, and childlike" increase in direct proportion to the growing fiscal benefits garnered from Europe and America's "free labor."(2) This restricted access to information about Africana people remained the norm for over 400 years, and in recent times this process has come to be described as "the politics of knowledge."

Throughout the modern era, Western society's definition(s) of knowledge; structuring of educational institutions; publishing and media production decisions; and media imagery all have been shaped and informed by politics and power. Although discussions of "objectivity" have often been at the core of academic conversations, in reality a homogeneous group of privileged, male power brokers have defined knowledge. Moreover, the academy's oft-heralded objective of "universality" has often been skewed by the biases of the creators of the theoretical models.

Nevertheless, post WWII paradigm shifts, independence movements among the colonized, and the equal opportunity initiatives of the 1960s and 70s led to a more heterogeneous student body, graduate student body, junior faculty, arts community, work force, and cadre of elected officials. As these "newcomers" challenged the validity of the many theoretical "truths" of the academy, a more inclusive global prototype evolved. These activists have been in the vanguard of initiatives emphasizing inclusion and efforts to eliminate the perpetuation of racial, gender, ethnic and religious stereotypes.

AFRICANA STUDIES, NEW MEDIA AND SHIFTING PARADIGMS

The Information Highway has been a great boon to the advocates of a more inclusive academy. Access to technology has dramatically reduced the "gate keeping" power wielded by editors, publishers, and producers. As mainstream technological access has increased, so too has information about the history and culture of people of African descent. Global access to information about Africana people is more accessible today than ever before. But the flood of data presents a problem; the very absence of "gatekeepers" that has been so beneficial constitutes a "double-edged sword." Inaccurate information can just as readily be posted on a website. Consequently, it is incumbent upon those pursuing academic inquiry to acquire the skills needed to discern whether a website is commercial, academic, or personal.(3) All of these factors influence a site's appropriateness for a specific project. Twenty-first century scholarship is going to be very different. Students and researchers will be challenged to assess the quality and veracity of the digitized sources that they choose to utilize. …

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