Cultivating empathy within digital heritage collections – Reflections on digital interventions

The process of historical inquiry provides researchers the opportunity to ask, locate and analyse history through multiple lenses. Within this inquiry emerges the central role of empathy within historical practice. The ability to not just relate with a person, event or circumstance but rather to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the circumstances and context surrounding a particular event or period in time.

When working with archives, particularly colonial archives this process of inquiry and empathy formulation is inextricably linked to unpacking the colonial gaze. Ethiopian author Maaza Mengiste describes these archives as “their own versions of history; they are preserved memories, but what exactly did they preserve and what were they trying to force us to overlook or forget?” As more and more institutions and audiences gravitate towards sharing and accessing archives online, how do we go beyond the obvious to extract from these records that which is unseen and unsaid but still there in plain sight? More so, can widespread digital access, digital dissemination bring with it a more critical approach to analysis of archives from the colonial period. History is hiding everywhere – This talk will explore the ways in which digital tools can shape the process of historical inquiry and by so doing formulate pathways towards historical empathy and critical analysis of colonial archives.