Mapping And Making Community: Collaborative DH Approaches, Experiential Learning, And Citizens’ Media In Cali, Colombia

Katey Roden (, Gonzaga University, United States of America and Pavel Shlossberg (, Gonzaga University, United States of America

Engaging the “bridges/puentes” theme central to the conference, this paper presents first-hand knowledge and practical insights garnered from a collaborative digital mapping project between North/South academics, students, and community activists engaged in community-based social justice activism in Cali, Colombia. A foundational goal of this Digital Humanities project is thus to create intercultural and communicative bridges between not only the academic communities of Gonzaga University and Pontifica Universidad Javeriana, but also to provide a platform by which Colombian community organizers shape their presence in local as well as digital communities.

The paper discusses our goals and methods, and also the roadblocks we encountered, in establishing collaborative pathways to embed Digital Humanities mapping tools as central elements within a field-based Communication and Community Development course. The Digital Humanities project at the heart of this course aligns with pedagogy as well as practical fieldwork in the area of Development Communication, which holds that communication processes and projects that support or foster the growth of grassroots civil society are essential elements of community development and empowerment. In this vein, Digital Humanities perspectives and methodologies that privilege the bottom-up democratization of access and information inform course content assigned to students from the Global North, who come to Cali, Colombia as part of an intensive immersion.

As such, the course invites students from Cali and the United States to engage, accompany, and shadow community-based organization that work in areas such as citizens’ radio; street theatre and community-based performances; and grassroots documentary production. The work undertaken by the community-based organizations seeks to displace hegemonic media and dominant culture imaginaries, which routinely render these resource-deprived communities as being inherently abject, dangerous, chaotic, and pathological.
he community organizations with whom we partner engage community problems by creating and claiming spaces for public expression that amplify popular voices within their own communities and beyond. The Digital Humanities mapping project developed for this course responds to these community initiatives, in that it serves as a community-academy collaborative space. The digital map produced collaboratively, provides a platform that presents, promotes, captures, and renders visible popular or grassroots media, communication activities, and products through which “citizens can learn to manipulate their own languages, codes, signs, and symbols, empowering them to name the world in their own terms” (Rodriguez 2011). The paper documents a central element of our work, the mutual efforts engaged in creating active and equitable roles for each party involved in the digital product’s production, whether those groups come from the academy, the community, the Global North or the Global South.

Beyond discussing the compatibility and fit of Digital Humanities tools with the articulation of community-based approaches to citizens’ media and popular communication, this paper also discusses the significant ways in which Digital Humanities mapping tools can be mobilized to foster or promote community-based experiential learning experiences in intercultural contexts bridging the global North and South. Experiential learning emphasizes the acquisition of knowledge through interactive processes of action and reflection; where students can take an active part in the creation of knowledge (Hale 1999). We contend that producing Digital Humanities projects in the contexts of an international immersion and hand-in-hand with local partners whose voices, perspectives, and needs drive project conceptualization and the mapping process, presents a unique opportunity for experiential learning that extends well beyond the classroom and into the lived realities of all the parties involved. In this vein, the experiential learning opportunities developed in such an environment embrace the broader humanistic agenda of Digital Humanities as a field, where people come together through and with technology to “produce a collaborative, connected, and relational knowledge production, of making and learning and learning through making” (Goldberg 2015). Accordingly, our project seeks to facilitate an experiential learning opportunity for our students, but in doing so we also seek to diminish the sometimes too rigid boundaries that privilege academic institutions as the sole purveyors and producers of knowledge. By collaboratively creating a digital map with and for local community members while in their communities, our project aims to decentralize knowledge production and encourage our students to become conscious of diverse forms of knowledge and authority.

Furthermore, our experience also suggests that with effective planning and development, community-based Digital Humanities mapping projects can productively alleviate issues and problems that commonly arise in the context of experiential- or service-learning courses taking place in intercultural contexts across the North/South boundary. It is well known that “service-learning can reinforce stereotypes and paternalism among students. Some scholars argue that many applications of service learning do little to question the role of students as providers of resources…” (Chupp & Joseph 2010). Additionally, service- or experiential-learning is “often implemented with a sole focus on the potential beneficial impact on the student, with little or no emphasis on the possible longer-term beneficial impact on those served by the activity and their broader community” (Chupp & Joseph 2010). The collaborative mapping project we have developed engages Digital Humanities approaches within an embedded community context, with the explicit intention of addressing potential problems linked to the implementation of experiential service learning project in partnership between the North and South.

In sum, the Digital Humanities mapping project nested within this Communication and Community Development course remains an experimental and open collaboration. Well-established and emergent issues and challenges continue to exist. With that caveat in mind, experience and evidence also suggests that digital technology mapping tools provide a set of ready enhancements to experiential learning, study abroad, and Communication and Community Development courses. These features begin to realize the promise and purpose of Digital Humanities by creating bridges that foster global collaboration, create open access platforms, and generate academy-community, North/South collaborations that equalize access to the generation and circulation of knowledge locally and globally.

KEYWORDS: Global South/North, Experiential Learning, Mapping, Community Development, Citizens’ Media

Appendix A

  1. Chupp, Mark G., and Mark L. Joseph. «Getting the most out of service learning: Maximizing student, university and community impact.» Journal of Community Practice 18.2-3 (2010): 190-212.
  2. Goldberg, David Theo. “Deprovincializing Digital Humanities.” In Between Humanities and the Digital. Eds. Patrik Svensson and David Theo Goldberg. MIT Press, 2015. 163-71.
  3. Hale, Aileen. «Service-learning and Spanish: A missing link.» Construyendo Puentes (Building Bridges): Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in Spanish. Ed. Josef Hellebrandt and Lucía T. Varona. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education (1999): 9-31.
  4. Rodríguez, Clemencia. Citizens’ media against armed conflict: Disrupting violence in Colombia. U of Minnesota Press, 2011.

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