Lectures: Winter 2022

Digital Humanities Lecture Series is organized by the DH Coordinator and the CRC in digital humanities. The series hosts guest speakers on the theme of theoretical and methodological issues of research in field.  As of 2019 the series has been offered in partnership with Centre de recherche interuniversitaire sur les humanités numériques (CRIHN) at Université de Montréal, and the ThincLab at Guelph University.

Decolonizing computer programming through language and ceremony

Jon Corbett, PhD candidate (University of British Columbia)

  • Date: 18 March 2022
  • Time: 13:00-14:30

Jon Corbett is a nehiyaw-Métis computational media artist and professional computer programmer. He holds a BFA from the University of Alberta in Art and Design, an MFA from the University of British Columbia in Interdisciplinary Studies, and is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of British Columbia. His doctoral research crosses the domains of Indigenous Studies, Digital Humanities, Computer Science, and Fine Art and is focused on creating digital tools for Indigenous artists and nehiyawewin learners. His research products thus far include a nehiyaw-based programming language, physical hardware designs for the nehiyaw syllabic orthography, and software/application solutions that use Indigenous Storywork as design tools. His artwork has been exhibited at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in New York City, NY, and the Biennale d’art contemporain autochtone / Contemporary Native Art Biennial (BACA) in Montreal, QC, and showcased in several books and articles. 


Computing practices have a long history of reflecting western science paradigms and have become indirectly responsible for the continued erosion of Indigenous languages and cultures. For example, high-level programming languages in modern computing extensively use the Roman alphabet, the Hindu-Arabic numeral system, and so-called “global” Englishes as the prevailing standards for computer language development (Nasser 2018). Conversely, Indigenous worldviews and practices often exist at the opposite end of Western science and technology, rooted in harmonies based on knowledge developed through land, spirit, and ceremony. Due to the dominance of western philosophies in computing practices, I assert a heterodox view of computing for Indigenous people that requires a significant shift in existing computing philosophies to accommodate Indigenous cultural representations better. To that end, I subscribe to the ideology that computer programming should not be viewed as a purely functional practice but as ceremonial. Many Indigenous peoples view language (their language) as medicine, and therefore, computer programming by extension is medicine, allowing culturally specific and significant meaning to be embedded in the system.

This presentation introduces my approach to indigenizing computer programming using nehiyawewin, the language of the Plains Cree, with an Indigenous Storywork methodology (Archibald 2008) as a base for a new computing framework and programming language – that I collectively refer to as “Ancestral Code.”

In this presentation, Jon Corbett will discuss the Indigenous Computing Framework and associated Indigenous Digital Media Toolkit being used to unite four specific academic domains: Indigenous Studies (cultural revitalization), Computer Science, Digital Humanities including Linguistics (language documentation and preservation), and Fine Art. Through this exploration, Corbett consciously entwines Indigenous cultural practices and meanings with computer coding practices creating a cultural-digital umbilical cord between the user and the machine.

The Ancestral Code computing framework is a wholistic system proposed as a computational solution to capture, transcribe, parse, process, and transform Indigenous histories/stories (both oral and written) into programmatic code that can create generative digital artwork. It contains a programming language with a specialized user interface that uses nehiyaw language, syllabic orthography, storytelling, and cultural and ceremonial practices as programmatic inputs to produce digital artworks. This platform, therefore, provides a digital template for the archiving, maintenance, and revitalization of Indigenous cultures and languages by not only collecting Indigenous language and knowledge contained within storywork, but promotes the continued use and development of Indigenous language and facilitates the digital encoding and storage of audio, video, and text for cultural survivance.

Panel on the Ethics of Indigenous Digital Scholarship

Dr. Stacy Allison-Cassin, iSchool (University of Toronto); Sharon Farnel, Head, Metadata strategies (University of Alberta Library); and Dr. Deanna Reder, Indigenous Studies & English (Simon Fraser University)

  • Date: 25 March 2022
  • Time: 14:00-15:30

AI for the Rest of Us

Dr. Renee Sieber, Geography (McGill University)

  • Date: 8 April, 2022
  • Time: 13:00-14:30

Data Feminism, Embodied Practices, and Internet Archives

Dr. Shana MacDonald, Communication Arts (University of Waterloo)

  • Date: 22 April 2022
  • Time: 13:00-14:30

Dr. Shana MacDonald is Associate Professor in Communication Arts, University of Waterloo. Her interdisciplinary research examines feminist social and digital media, activism, popular culture, cinema, and visual culture. Dr. MacDonald is incoming director of the qcollaborative (qLab), a feminist design lab dedicated to developing new forms of relationality through technologies of public performance. She co-runs the online archive Feminists Do Media (Instagram: @aesthetic.resistance) and is lead author on the forthcoming book Networked Feminist Activisms (Lexington Press).


Within the current moment of big data, what does it mean to explore feminist-oriented small-data approaches to digital archives? Grounded in the field of data feminism, a feminist approach to analyzing data (D’Ignazio and Klein 2020), this talk aims to reflect on the ways that feminist research methods can negotiate the tensions and possibilities of engaging both small and big data sets when exploring both personal and institutional digital archive collections. This talk will directly address how an intersectional, anti-racist, anti-colonial, and queer feminist ethos informs necessary disciplinary questions around how data power operates within the formation of research questions and modes of data collection as well as analysis, conclusions, and knowledge mobilization. In doing so, this talk aims to reflect on what becomes possible when we use a hybrid approach to (small and big) data and how data can both enable and constrain feminist researchers in the acts of collection, analysis, and dissemination.