JHI-CDHI Digital Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow, 2023-2024

January 6, 2023 by Sonja Johnston

The JHI is excited to announce our 2023-24 JHI-CDHI Digital Humanities Postdoctoral FellowChloe Bordewich. Chloe will join us during our Absence theme year.

Chloe Bordewich (Ph.D. Harvard University 2022) completed her doctorate in History and Middle Eastern Studies and held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Boston University Center for Anti-Racist Research. She is committed to open-access research: in the past year she co-organized a five-day workshop on “Under-Mapped Spaces: New Methods and Tools for Critical Storytelling with Maps” and co-led the Boston Little Syria public history initiative. Her research focusses on the gaps between what the public has the right to know, and what the state is entitled to conceal; between official propaganda and what members of the public know to be true.

Fellowship Project

Leaking Empires: The Long Struggle Over Information in the Eastern Mediterranean

This book project focusses on Egypt, drawing from sources in multiple languages to trace the barriers to the circulation of Information that were erected from the mid-nineteenth century onward, and how they obstructed the production of knowledge in enduring ways. It sheds light on the legacies of imperialism in practices of information-gathering and dissemination and the epistemological underpinnings of postcolonial authoritarianism. During the Arab revolutions of 2011, citizens used new digital media to challenge the entrenched hierarchies of power that had long dictated their relationship to the state. Yet governments soon bent the tools many had hailed as liberatory into weapons of surveillance and control. Today, accusations of spreading “fake news” serve as pretexts for the imprisonment of government critics in Egypt and beyond. This project delivers two centuries of historical context necessary to fully understand the clashes that often appear as artifacts of our online age while challenging the solipsistic nature of North American discourse surrounding disinformation and social distrust. These absences are mirrored by the physical absence of documents, locked away in securitized repositories in Egypt or sent to European metropoles where visa requirements and costs often preclude access by those to whom they relate. The geography of empire thus determines the location of many documents and artifacts at the same time as ties to the former colonizer, real or imagined, are invoked to cudgel political dissent.

In the coming year, I will draw together my historical research and the present state of digital culture, expanding my treatment of the postcolonial period and engaging extensively with popular discourse in Arabic. At the same time, I plan to build a digital map that visualizes the dislocation and securitization of geographical knowledge in twentieth- and twenty first century Egypt. I am particularly excited to develop programming focused on linguistic equity and multilingualism in the digital humanities.