Migration, Heritage, Identity

Migration, Heritage, Identity:
Eastern Europe and Latin America

SPAN 321  •  Evelina Gužauskytė

What do a number of Latin American writers, artists, and intellectuals – including the Argentine writer Julio Cortázar, the Brazilian writers and sisters Clarice and Elisa Lispector, the Mexican author and journalist Elena Poniatowska, the Brazilian modernist artist Lasar Segall, and the Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik, among others – have in common? Curiously enough, they were either descendants of immigrants from the East Central Europe or otherwise had intimate personal or intellectual connections with this region.

How do we study the complex network of relationships between these two geographically distant parts of the world that emerges from stories of escape, migration, and survival? From exchanges of letters or friendships and love relationships, affirmations of ideological affinities, travel journals and souvenirs brought back? From joint transatlantic projects in art, film, and photography? How do we examine these undeniable presences and mutual influences when they are not always laid out explicitly in texts? And then, how do we bring in the intangibles – the glaring absences of mentions of past tragedies, loss, and grief; or the subtle metaphors that allude to longing or the existential angst of not belonging?

To visualize this complex web of displacements, reflections, and exchanges, students in SPAN 321 undertook a small-scale, student-led digital humanities project both individually and as a group. This project was carried out in tandem with close reading discussions of texts in the classroom and the traditional research paper that each student wrote on a single cultural figure from Latin America or East Central Europe that each student chose and who they saw as paradigmatic of the ties and the affinities between the two parts of the world.

To create the project, students used the Omeka platform for individual exhibits, which in many ways overlapped with their research for their final paper topic. Differently from their written final paper, however, the Omeka platform afforded them the opportunity to integrate into their narrative a range of digital materials, from historical photographs, to video interviews with their personality available online, to excerpts from documentary films, links to cultural organizations, museums or educational institutions, and digital facsimiles, among others.

As a group, the students used Neatline to create a single annotated map that visualized in geographic space the topics and questions they were studying. Despite the broad range of topics, personalities, and geographic localities being studied by the students in the class, working on a single map as a group permitted the creation of a multimedia resource that gave us a broader bird’s eye view than any individual project could have. At the same time, the rich digital materials combined with close reading and critical analysis that students incorporated into their exhibits allowed for a careful consideration of the interpretive questions about the transcultural, transregional, and multilayered nature of the works produced at the crossroads between Latin America and East Central Europe.

The students presented their individual exhibits in Omeka and their final group enriched digital map at the Ruhlman conference.

I am grateful to David O’Steen, Jen Bartle, and Carolin Ferwerda for their mentorship throughout the course of the semester.

Video camera iconWatch a brief video overview of this project: