Keynote Speakers

Lisa Nakamura

The Racial Empathy Machine: Discourses of Virtual Reality in America After Trump

The first virtual reality gold rush occurred in the mid-nineties. The second time around it has returned with new technological and cultural features. Contemporary V.R. enthusiasts claim that the medium corrects racist thoughts and feelings by producing racial empathy. This presentation analyzes V.R. texts that exploit what Sam Gregory, program director of the activist media organization Witness terms “co-presence for good.” V.R.’s reframing as racial curative signals a return to old-fashioned technological determinism borne of hope and desperation. Its rise is part and parcel of the digital industries’ attempts to defend themselves against increasingly vocal critique on numerous fronts. V.R.’s claims to efficiently address the resurgence of overt racism in the U.S. both parallel a cultural shift towards of overt forms of racism, xenophobia, and misogyny and reflects it. This presentation will trace V.R.’s old and new forms of digital embodiment in order to understand the means by which racism and sexism are managed by these “empathy machines.”

Schuyler Esprit

“There, and In This Place”: Caribbean Readers in Public (Digital) Spaces

This talk explores the relationship of libraries, archives, museums to the project of environmental and cultural sustainability in the context of a climate vulnerable Caribbean. I will examine the ways that digital spaces both facilitate and redistrict the potential for centering culture, history, and intangible heritage as critical elements to conversations about resilience, recovery, and sustainability. By meditating on the relationship between readers, technology users and culture workers/makers in the Caribbean over time, I attempt to ask and answer some of the following questions, keeping in mind the contemporary threats to the Caribbean historical record due to climate change.

What is at stake in the disruption and erasure of literary, historical and cultural material in the face of disaster? How does digital humanities work against the dangers presented beyond the initial prompt to digitize and catalog? Can we think differently about the work of residence and resistance that libraries, museums, and archives provide by considering acts of reading, interpretation, and dissemination as modes of preservation? How can digital humanities work to protect the already fragile shape and purpose of libraries as public spaces of accessing and producing knowledge?