“Whirlwind” by Artist Abel Tilahun
I am a scholar-filmmaker working in the area of media, digital tech, and justice. I focus on language, visual culture, and representation in the digital and public sphere. My work lives at the intersection of Science and Technology Studies, Critical Race and Digital Studies, Critical Data Studies, Linguistics, Data Science, Postcolonial Studies, Critical and Cultural Studies, and History. I have a long-standing scholarly focus on Ethiopia, where I conducted my dissertation research as a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellow, taught film-making as a Fulbright Student Fellow in 2012-2013, and am on the all-volunteer leadership team of 4-H Ethiopia, among other endeavors.
My research investigates the relationship between gaps in support for digitally-disadvantaged languages and how these gaps incentivize shifts towards dominant languages such as English, and/or to the Latin script. I investigate the way in which gaps in linguistic equity in digital tech are contributing to patterns of mass language extinction. My primary focus has been studying the digital history and online vitality of the Ethiopian and Eritrean languages that use the Ethiopic script. I study the extent to which the script and its languages, particularly Amharic, are supported in the digital sphere, and propose policy, governance, and advocacy solutions to better support all digitally-disadvantaged languages, particularly minority and Indigenous languages. I also investigate the way that digital inclusion for languages is a double-edged sword that may lead to both benefits and harms for speakers based on corporate, state, and INGO digital surveillance practices.
As a Mellon-Sawyer Postdoctoral Fellow at Columbia’s Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, I helped lead the Sawyer Seminar on Global Language Justice from 2017-2019. I developed and teach two courses at Columbia. The first, Global Language Justice in the Digital Sphere, was listed in the Columbia Daily Spectator as one of the “Courses we loved: Staff picks for 2019.” My second course, Multilingual Technologies and Language Diversity, designed with Lydia Liu and Smaranda Muresan, was awarded a Collaboratory@Columbia Grant.
As a Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Columbia’s Data Science Institute since 2019, I also study the Collaboratory@Columbia program, which seeks to merge the study of data science with all traditional domains across the university. I work with Tian Zheng, Patricia Culligan, and Richard Witten to identify best practices in data science education that bridges scholarly disciplines, while embedding ethics and justice concerns at its foundations.
I have a PhD in Communication and an MA in Film & Video from American University in Washington, DC, and a BA in Art Semiotics from Brown University. I am also an alumna of the United World College of the Adriatic. I hail from the San Luis Valley, Colorado, and now call New York City and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia home.
This website presents my endeavors in the realms of scholarly research, pedagogy, and film production.