Leza, Sungu, and Samba- Digital Humanities and Early Bantu History

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In 2016, with the support of a three-year National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Collaborative Research Grant to research and write a precolonial history of family, generations, and gender. To assist in our analysis of a large corpus of data to write histories of people’s material and ideological inventions that cover the longue durée across multiple regions, we began building the Bantu Ancestral Roots Database (BARD), a digital repository of word-roots related to gender and life stage practices from over sixty Bantu languages. BARD allows researchers who have internet and their meanings appear as results. In this article, we discuss the usefulness and complexities of Digital Humanities (DH) as research tools. We explain our method- ology and research process using three reconstructed word-roots pertinent to our research on family and generations. The three word-roots we examine invite scholars to probe how to recover deep connections and linkages between people’s pasts in Africa and its Diasporas, particularly in ways that move beyond histories of the slave trade and enslavement. As we developed our open-access website African Social History and Data Across Bantu Matrilineal Communities (ASH-DABMC) and our Database BARD we gained greater insight into the meanings encoded in our data even as we faced challenges. We hope the discussion of our experiences will provide an intellectual framework and inspire others considering digital projects.


History in Africa

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Second Department

International Relations

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