Introduction: Digital Archives, Performance Studies, and Geospatial Argumentation
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 (Phelan, Taylor) 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. 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). FN It 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.
“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. 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 will be 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 will 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]