As a result of my involvement in the Visualizing Cities Lab (VCL) and the assistance of my team, I was able to deepen my research in a way that I otherwise might not have done in my dissertation. This provided me with avenues to refine my own arguments. Our workshop focused on the intersection between infrastructure visibility and race. Urban infrastructure contains a tremendous paradox: sometimes considered so common as to be unremarkable, infrastructure can also be the bearer of modernization, growth, and progress. But for certain populations, the infrastructure is always broken, perhaps it was never designed for them. It is therefore imperative to know when infrastructure becomes violent, for whom, under what conditions, and why. This task is crucial, as many colonial continuities persist today in postcolonial cities, albeit disguised behind the promise of urban improvement.
As part of our workshop, we examine the relationship between race and infrastructure through a case study. By combining the teams’ interests on a topic, we chose to map Havana’s health infrastructure and extent of the cholera epidemic in 1833. We were fortunate to be able to work with a collection located in the Rubenstein Library, which contained data on the cholera epidemic that could be analyzed in the time devoted to the project. We then employed the digital tool Tableau to analyze the statistical data of the disease based on the Rubenstein files.
Our workshop also consisted of developing Tableau’s basic skills so that the team could analyze the data collected. Digital infrastructure has an upgraded hiding capacity through technical processes such as algorithms; it is, therefore, imperative to understand how infrastructural projects work and to question claims of the post-racial character of technological progress. Critical digital humanities practices have engaged with these issues, and our use of them in this project implied redirecting these technologies to reveal what could otherwise be made invisible. Our final team’s reflection emphasizes that invisibility assigned sewers often makes them seem boring, dull, or unimportant, when, in fact, they reinforce the structural differences that define the social fabric within a city. Its poor sanitation infrastructure and designation of people of color as a dangerous population were a contributing factor to the cholera epidemic in Havana. The next stage of this project is the production of an academic paper with my team to further analyze the impact of the cholera epidemic on women of color in Havana in 1833 and ask ourselves if their lives changed with the inauguration of the aqueduct in 1835.
Belonging to the VCL was an enriching experience at a formative level and as a teacher and researcher because it helped to establish intellectual ties outside my department and to understand cities from different points of view. Also, this opportunity helped me to promote and develop my communication and mentoring skills at both the archival and digital levels. One of the best things about belonging to a lab is precisely to foster relationships between undergraduate and graduate students outside of a classroom.
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