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The Massachusetts Library Association selects Salem State University’s Dr. Roopika Risam as the first recipient of its “Civil Liberties Champion Award”

Dr. Roopika Risam, assistant professor of English and library fellow at Salem State University, will receive MLA’s Civil Liberties Champion Award in recognition of her work in promoting equity and justice in the digital cultural record.

Salem State University’s Dr. Roopika Risam will be awarded the “Civil Liberties Champion Award” for her work in promoting equity and justice in the digital cultural record. Dr. Risam—who will receive her award during a ceremony at the Milton Public Library on October 18th at the Confronting Inequality Symposium held by the Massachusetts Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom/Social Responsibility Committee (MLA-IF/SRC)—is the first recipient of this new award developed by members of MLA-IF/SRC, whose mission is to inform and educate librarians and the public about the import of intellectual freedom while promoting equal access and civil rights.

Read the Boston Globe's article about Dr. Risam and the award (Internet Archive link).

The MLA-IF/SRC has selected Risam as the first recipient of its award for her work in fostering transparency and access to information through groundbreaking work in the digital humanities (DH), an area of scholarly activity at the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities. Risam collaborates with fellow DH researchers in developing and implementing new technology applications which make possible an innovative type of cultural interpretation—often linked to activism. DH applications and techniques make new kinds of teaching and research possible and provide opportunities to study and evaluate the impact on cultural heritage. Projects include historical and cultural research, archival preservation, crowdsourced mapping, social justice activism, or some combination of those things. “Collaboration across academic disciplines and between faculty, librarians, students, technologists, and the public have been at the heart of my work on how digital humanities can be used for social justice,” Risam said.

Most recently, Risam, along with colleagues Manan Ahmed, Alex Gil, Moacir P. de Sá Pereira, Maira E. Álvarez, Sylvia A. Fernández, Linda Rodriguez, and Merisa Martinez, developed Torn Apart/Separados, an interactive website which shows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) shelters and detention centers around the country. The website visualizes the vast apparatus of immigration enforcement in the US and maps the shelters where children can be housed. The page’s focus is a map of the continental United States covered with peach- and lavender-colored dots showing the location of ICE facilities, as well as private juvenile detention facilities. The name of the website is intended to evoke the separation of migrant families.

“Dr. Roopika Risam’s innovative work exemplifies how digital tools can improve access to vital information and foster understanding of cultural events and phenomena,” said MLA President William Adamczyk.

Dr. Roopika Risam is an Assistant Professor of English and Faculty Fellow for Digital Library Initiatives at Salem State University. She also serves as the Coordinator of the Digital Studies Graduate Certificate Program and Chair of the Program Area for Content Educators. Her book about promoting equity and justice in the digital cultural record, New Digital Worlds: Postcolonial Digital Humanities in Theory, Praxis, and Pedagogy, is due out November 15, 2018 from Northwestern University Press. Risam is also co-editor of The Digital Black Atlantic for the Debates in the Digital Humanities series (University of Minnesota Press) and co-founder of Reanimate, an intersectional feminist publishing collective recovering archival writing by activist women in media industries. Risam’s other major project examines postcolonial and global themes in W.E.B. Du Bois’s writing. Additionally, she is the co-founder of Postcolonial Digital Humanities, a movement and emerging academic subfield within digital humanities that foregrounds global explorations of race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability within cultures of technology. She is a frequent speaker on issues of race, difference, and the digital; globalization and technology; pedagogy and technology; and social media and public scholarship. Visit her webpage at

About the Award

The MLA Civil Liberties Champion Award is an award to recognize a person or organization that has furthered the cause of intellectual freedom or social responsibilities in significant and notable ways, especially with relation to libraries. The award is intended to provide an opportunity to honor persons outside of the library community; therefore, no active librarian is eligible for consideration.

The MLA Civil Liberties Champion Award is not an annual award, but will be given from time to time depending upon circumstance. Nominations will be handled by the Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibilities Committee, but any MLA member can nominate an individual or organization. Any award nomination by the committee must be approved by the Executive Board.

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