Scholarship on the Arab world, as in other regions, is always haunted by the absent voices of those who cannot be heard. Our understanding of events, our perspective on times and places are always skewed by the uneven record that comes to us for interpretation. At first blush it may appear that the spread of internet access and the rise of social media, and in particular Facebook whereby anyone can distribute reams of information and images globally at low or no cost mitigates this problem. However, the rise of such technologies brings their own technical and ethical challenges. I propose to address some of these challenges through a discussion of what I have described as an indigenous digital humanities project: a Facebook group called “Mukhayyam al-sumud al-usturi tal al-Za`tar.” Created by survivors and descendants of the 1976 siege and destruction of the Tal al-Za`tar refugee camp in Beirut, the site aims to serve as a node in the network of former residents of the camp who are now globally dispersed, as well as a depository for images, documents, and crowd-sourced reconstructions of memories and geographies. The site (and others like it) and its contributors may serve as a rich source for scholars interested in creating more authoritative repositories or digital reconstructions of this and other neighborhoods and towns that were erased or irrevocably altered during the violence of the Lebanese civil war. However, they, too, are marked by dominant voices and aesthetics that may skew our understanding of the past.
Author: Nadia Yaqub (Univ. of North Carolina – Chapel Hill)