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Sites that Speak:

Miami Through its Spanish Performing Arts Spaces

Lillian Manzor, Author
Introduction, page 1 of 3
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Introduction: Digital Archives, Performance Studies, and Geospatial Argumentation

Digital Humanities 2.0

     When the web started, it was a read-only platform that simply displayed content. Web 2.0 on the other hand, is participatory and collaborative in nature; it includes different media environments and allow users to repurpose both content and software. Similarly, when Digital Humanities started, the projects focused primarily on humanities computing: quantitative methods typical of computing technology such as data mining were applied to the humanities. Digital Humanities 2.0., on the other hand, is "an array of convergent practices." As the Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0 suggests, DG2  refers to a "humanistic practice anchored in creation, curation, collaboration, experimentation, and the multi-purposing or multi-channeling of humanistic knowledge” (Presner 2010). Digital Humanities 2.0 publications are possible, clearly, thanks to Web 2.0 platforms such as this one offering us the possibility to author multimodal essays online. Participatory scholarship and collaborative, interdisciplinary research are at the heart of these publications.

     Kathleen Fitzpatrick discusses the changes introduced in 2.0 digital publications in the second chapter of Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology and the Future of the Academy. She summarizes these paradigm shifts as:

* from product to process

* from individual to collaborative

* from originality to remix

* from intellectual property to the gift economy

* from text to… something more

One of the ways in which I have been addressing that last change, "from text to... something more" include database-driven scholarship and multimodal writing. Database-driven scholarship employs the logic of new media, "in which textual and media objects can be created, combined, remixed, and reused” (Kirkpatrick, p.32). It is this logic that has informed the Cuban Theater Digital Archive, a platform I co-designed that allows us to create video documentation, and to include pre-existing texts and images along with different genres of original commentary.

Digital Archives and Performance Studies

     I have been researching Cuban, Caribbean, and Latino/a theater since the mid 1990s. As a trained literary scholar and humanist, the focus of my early research was drama as a literary art form. Theoretically informed by theories of performance studies and gender studies, I gradually shifted my object of study to the live performance first, and then to the role of new technologies in the research and documentation of live performance. Theater scholars acknowledge that the fleeting nature of performance transforms research on theater as live-art performance into a search. Our research is, as Patrice Pavis has suggested, a search for a lost object: an inaccessible representation.FN Any writing/research on theater is partly a search for documentation that serves as a trace of that non-repeatable performance. In order to facilitate the search for that missing object and to document and preserve part of this intangible cultural heritage, I have been developing an interactive, bilingual World Wide Web re/search site for Cuban performance and theater: Cuban Theater Digital Archive (CTDA).FNIt is a digital cultural heritage initiative that focuses on theater practitioners in Greater Cuba, that is, on the island and in the diaspora. Working at the intersection of humanities and digital media, the CTDA's purpose is threefold: it is a resource for teaching, learning, and research in Cuban theater and performance as well as in related fields; a digital repository for important Cuban theatrical materials little known outside the island; and a peer-reviewed forum to foster new media scholarly communication in this field. As a digital Humanities 2.0 site, the remixing of materials presents “curation as a sophisticated digital scholarly practice.” Most importantly, CTDA allows others to repurpose the “originally” curated materials in different ways and to create their own networked arguments. The key elements of database driven scholarship are annotation, organization, analysis, and visualization; these allow us to explore a topic and present scholarship in ways that were previously unavailable.

Geospatial Argumentation

     “Sites that Speak” is located at the intersection of humanities and digital media, and continues to perform documentation as an act, a search that is a mode of research. Theoretically, however, it straddles urban studies and performance studies in an attempt to use GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to develop a cultural map of the Downtown to Flagami Corridor. From an urbanism perspective, these neighborhoods include present day Downtown, Little Havana, West Flagler and Flagami, and to the South coconut Grove and Coral Gables.The starting point for this cultural map are the spaces of Spanish performances and their relationship to (or lack thereof) the urban concentration of financial services that led to Miami’s international corporate growth. But these sites are used as a springboard to map intangibles such as memories, attitudes towards language use, and personal histories of exile and reterritorialization. Thus, the spaces tell their own multiple stories, the sites “speak,” trace, and perform the history of Spanish theater in Miami. In so doing, the spaces in this cultural mapping also tell the story of Miami’s geography of inequality and its transformation into a “world city” (Nijman) where the majority of its inhabitants speak Spanish.[FN] Linear, argumentative, narrative essays and 2-D models are insufficient to capture the multiple areas of this research as well as the multiple, competing stories these different sites “tell.” Geospatial visualization and mapping technologies, on the other hand, are instruments integral to an analysis that aims to reconstruct a city’s past in an integrated way while taking into account the tensions and contradictions between the different components that contributed to its development. 

     Previous sociological studies focusing on the Cuban exile community in Miami have argued that the early exiles never considered Miami their home and that they were here temporarily waiting for the right time to return to Cuba.FN  Due to the transient nature of its inhabitants, the most recent publication on Miami calls it “the mistress of the Americas."FN Jan Nijman argues that people use Miami as a hotel: they check in for business or pleasure and do not identify Miami as “home.” Thus, the mobile, cosmopolitan nature of its inhabitants raises important questions about place-attachment and (lack of) participation in civil society. By focusing on the development of Spanish theater in Miami through the different spaces and places in which it has been performed throughout the decades, I argue, in contrast to both of the above positions, that claiming a space for Spanish theater is one of the ways in which different communities have tried to claim Miami as “home” as early as the 1960s. 

Using GIS mapping techniques "Sites that Speak" is a new-media rich palimpsest composed of different layers in which we will be able to make connections across time and space. This cultural mapping will focus not only on the “space of places,” or the physical distribution of the built environment, but also on the “space of flows,” or the connections that link places via cultural networks (Castells). 

Three maps of Miami from three different periods is the starting point:

1. map of 1960s Miami

2. map of 1970s Miami

3. map of 1980s Miami

These layered maps will have demographic, economic, and “built environment” entry points. In the future, the built environment will include images and 3D renditions of performing sites and businesses. Each site will be “clickable” and you will be able to hear “actors” tell their stories through the site, see images, videos, and/or programs that were performed there, and/or see business advertisement they used.  The multimodel palimpsest looks at these Spanish performing spaces as the communities' gestures to safeguard their “home” culture and the contradictory ways in which they inserted themselves into Miami's cultural landscape of those two decades. In other words, it looks at the role Spanish theater played as “exiles and immigrants” slowly transformed into “locals,” albeit with a transnational cultural and aesthetic sensibility. Following Sassen’s arguments about the changes in social dynamics in world cities, it always takes into account the conflicting and contestatory nature of claiming a Spanish performing space as “home”: Whose home/city is it really? What role does theater play in those socio-cultural dynamics?    


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