Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Border Crossings, 1998

Border Crossings is a project that was launched in 1998 by Karla Tonella of the University of Iowa.

Described as a hypertext project, Border Crossings riffs off of Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987). Collecting links to various webpages that highlight divergent contested borders under the subtopics of Cyborgs, Gender, LesBiGay, Diaspora, La Frontera, Border Incidents, and Other Borders, Tonella creates a digital political art piece.

The opening page highlights the various identities and concepts the project explores. As you move through the webpages, the web design and fonts interpret the categories.

La Frontera:


Border Incidents:

Each page collects a diverse and often contradictory list of identities: gender, sexuality, nation, geography, class, race, and ethnicity.

Tonella uses design and collection to interpret Anzaldua's claim of the impact of invisible borders on oppositional identities. By positioning links to German anti-immigrant Far Right Music against links to Music from Africa and the African diaspora, Tonella's work forces us to confront the dialectics that Anzaldua explores in Borderlands/La Frontera and her call for the new mestiza.

What strikes me as particularly interesting about Border Crossings is that never does Tonella provide a theoretical or methodological explanation of her work. Hers is an art piece digitally constructed with html and interface.  In some ways, this project is an early enactment of what in current digital humanities we talk about as the scholarship in the code. The argument formed by the interface and the construction of the webpage is related to the intellectual process of theorizing, or, as Ramsay and Rockwell note: “If the quality of the interventions that occur as a result of building are as interesting as those that are typically established through writing, then that activity is, for all intents and purposes, scholarship.” (1)

Certainly Tonella's Border Crossings is a crucial forerunner to current digital humanities work.

Unfortunately the project has come to the same end as many early dh projects:

1. Stephen Ramsay and Geoffrey Rockwell, “Developing Things:  Notes Toward an Epistemology of Building in the Digital Humanities,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold (U Minnesota P, 2011) 75-84, 83.

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