As the new field builds on the important foundations and gains made by scholars in the Black DH community in the United states and other parts of the world, Africa-based scholars and DH practitioners in particular had occasion at the African DH gathering to bring postcolonial cultural productions and heritage on the continent into conversation with the affordances of digital media. The African Digital Storytelling Symposium, organized at the University of Kansas on October 8 and 9 in 2020, presented a opportunity to showcase emerging projects and perspectives in African Digital humanities to an international audience. The major theme of the symposium was storytelling and its digital iterations. As Africa’s rich storytelling performance tradition is informing diverse experimentation with digital media hardware and software, the symposium offered what Caitlin Tyler-Richards referred to on Twitter as a variety of voices and perspectives.

Opening the symposium with a jointly delivered keynote titled “The STAYED and the STOLEN: an Immersive Virtual Experience of Cape Coast Castle, Ghana–Humanizing a History of Horror for Healing” were Kim Gallon and Esther Armah, whose presentation preceded an opening panel titled “Stories of Africa-based DH Scholarship.” The keynote drew on examples from the digital study of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade, along with Armah’s concept of emotional justice, to humanize the horror of slavery through immersive and interactive VR technologies. The strength of the keynote was the collaborative form that led to a dialogue between the two speakers who concluded with some generative reflections on how the legacies of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade should provoke more connections and community, rather than tensions, between Africa and the African Diaspora in North America.

The first panel of the symposium started with a presentation on teaching and doing digital humanities in Ghana by Kwabena Opoku-Agyemang. Opoku-Agyemang, whose work in DH focuses on electronic literature and gaming, suggested that technology has always co-existed with literature in Africa and the digital essentially consolidates that entanglement. Following Opoku-Agyemang was Ama-Bemma Adwetewa-Badu (from Cornell University), who spoke on “Narrating the Global Poetics Project” based on her database of post-1960s poetry. Adwetewa-Badu stresses the ways in which cultural memory is no longer relegated to the realm of oral storytelling or mass media, since what people remember today might derive from what is searchable, what we can Google. The next speaker was Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún, director of a multimedia project that preserves and documents Yorùbá names. Túbọ̀sún’s presentation was titled “Indigenous Language and Digital Technologies,” a popular theme in several African DH conversations. The final talk for the day was by Chao Tayiana of the African Digital Heritage project. Tayiana explores Kenyan heritage through new media. Some of her current projects include visualization narratives and heritage that include the mapping of detention camps in colonial Kenya, as well as the Mau Mau anti-colonial struggle.

The second day of the symposium deepened the conversation from the previous day, with a single panel titled “Stories of African Platforms and Digital Objects/Projects” and a closing conversation on open access and digital storytelling between Iryna Kuchma of EIFL, a not-for-profit organization that works with libraries to enable access to knowledge in developing and transition economy countries in Africa and elsewhere, and Titi Babalola, PhD student at the University of Toronto. Presenters on the second panel included Ainehi Edoro, founder of the literary platform BrittlePaper; Jayne Batzofin and Sanjin Muftic of Reimagining Tragedy in Africa and the Global South; Bayo Puddicombe, co-founder and developer, Chopup Games, and Shola Adenekan of the University of Amsterdam.

Edoro’s talk, “Achebe, Etcetera: Building a Literary Archive One Instagram Post at a Time,” tackles the question of an African literary archive on social media. She uses mentions and references to African novelist Chinua Achebe to develop what she called an “etcetera archive” that is built in bits and pieces and constitutes a catalogic imagination, Edoro’s coinage for “the process of creating knowledge by fragmentating, and miscelanizing, and representing life and ideas in an unruly accumulation.” Batzofin and Muftic’s presentation “The Archive as Storyteller,” underscores the importance of ethical collaboration and demonstrates the role of the Omeka digital publishing platform in digital archiving and documenting of the various production labors and processes involved in staging theatrical performances. While Puddicombe’s “African Narratives and Video Games” stressed the importance of their gaming platform, Chopup, in telling African stories in the context of the mobile-phone revolution in Africa, Adenekan closed the panel by providing an account of his new book, African Literature in a Digital Age, the first major volume on literary digital humanities in Africa.

The final session of the symposium—the closing conversation on open access and digital storytelling between Kuchma and Babalola—captured the important question of digital access, a theme that is sometimes invoked in digital discourses on Africa to conceal the many exciting and robust digital initiatives currently evident in places such as Lagos and Nairobi. Babalola encouraged more work opportunities for collaborations in African DH, insisting on the need to create a community of African Digital Humanities scholars to support each other, to create partnerships, to contribute, to subscribe, to continue shaping DH in Africa.

Organized by the team of James Yeku, Brian Rosenblum, Sylvia Fernández, and Kaylen Dwyer, the symposium was sponsored and promoted by KU’S Center for African Studies and the Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities, along with the University of Lagos Center for Digital Humanties, Global Outlook::Digital Humanities (GO::DH), and EIFL—Electronic Information for Libraries, and registered about 200 participants from different parts of the world. Video recordings of all the presentations and panels can be found here: Day 1 | Day 2.