Main content
Laney Graduate School student pushes boundaries in the digital humanities
profile image of Alicia Doyen-Rodríguez

In her work on postcolonial and decolonial novels by Caribbean women writers, Alicia Doyen-Rodríguez has been an innovator in the digital humanities who shares that expertise with her students as well as fellow graduate students.

“The expression ‘all over the map’ applies to me,” laughs Alicia Doyen-Rodríguez, poking fun at herself but simultaneously identifying the signature element in her digital humanities work — namely, maps.

A doctoral graduate of Emory’s French and Italian department, Doyen-Rodríguez will begin a new post as assistant professor of comparative literature and cultural studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston on Sept. 1.

Proficient in German, Spanish, French and English, she was born in Berlin, Germany, and relocated to Paris, France, for first grade. The daughter of a French mother and Peruvian father, Doyen-Rodríguez is an embodiment of the world map.

She did work at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom while enrolled at the Sorbonne-Paris IV, which awarded her master’s degree, and made her first trip to the U.S. when she arrived at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, to serve as a language assistant.

Regarding Exeter, Doyen-Rodríguez says, “No one tested my English before approving my application. English was the last language I became fluent in, and during my time there, it was still a work in progress.”

By semester’s end, she had achieved what would be impressive for a practiced English speaker: after reading 12 of Woolf’s novels, Doyen-Rodríguez completed a thesis on the figure of the mother. 

Mapping an Emory career

As Doyen-Rodríguez considered American universities for her doctoral work, she was impressed that Emory’s French and Italian department had a strong foundation in what became her specialty: postcolonial and decolonial literature.

“During my visit, I felt such strong community. There was a very international student body, which is important to me,” she notes. “I knew it was going to be a good fit, and it truly has been.”

“I was interested in digital humanities before I knew what it was,” Doyen-Rodríguez admits. She completed a second master’s thesis on the novel “Good Morning Midnight” by Jean Rhys. The novel’s protagonist, a West Indian, goes to very different Parisian locations by day and night.

Doyen-Rodríguez created a Google map with layers for daytime and nighttime. “There was something insular in the way the character uses space; it was very island-like, with a strong sense of center and periphery,” she says.

Her many campus homes

While interviewing at Emory, Doyen-Rodríguez told one Emory professor about the maps in her master’s thesis. The professor responded: “We have this wonderful place — the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS).”

“I could not believe there was a structure that would support my interests so thoroughly,” says Doyen-Rodríguez, who worked there for three years as a digital scholarship assistant. “I haven’t ever professed my love adequately for what they offer.”

“I am not really good at knowing where my body is in space and I am hopeless with directions, but I am a spatial thinker,” she says.

Doyen-Rodríguez has synesthesia, which means experiencing one sense through another.

“I was 16 before I realized that people didn’t see shapes and color when they listened to music,” she says. It is not a stretch that someone with these unique gifts would see place names in literature and be drawn to charting them.

That understanding led to her research on Francophone women writers and how their female characters move in space.

“The works of these writers supplement, contradict and rethink the administrative layout of colonial cities. The use of space is always gendered and racialized,” she attests.

Her dissertation adviser, Valérie Loichot, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of French and English, says: “Alicia’s research is truly innovative, combining impeccable literary interpretation with mathematical and geographical digital tools. She walks the streets of Fort-de-France, armed with a microphone and camera, retracing her characters’ steps. Alicia explores ‘corpography’ or the way in which the movement of bodies unsettles colonial and masculinist maps. Her dissertation makes us read literature anew.”

The Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry has been another welcoming place on campus. Doyen-Rodríguez describes it as “an exceptional place with individuals from differing departments, backgrounds and disciplines around the same table.”

In 2019-20, she received support as a Digital Dissertation Scholar, a joint program of the Fox Center, ECDS and the Digital Publishing in the Humanities Initiative.

She also served as the 2021-23 HASTAC scholar at the Fox Center. The HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) Scholars program is an innovative, student-driven community of graduate and undergraduate students.

As part of that fellowship, Doyen-Rodríguez created a hybrid exhibition, “Guy Gabon: Empreintes d’art dans la ville,” in collaboration with Guadeloupe-based visual artist and eco-designer Guy Gabon. The exhibition sheds light on the environmental crisis and the importance of public-facing art to raise awareness.

Preparing the way for more digital scholars

While a student herself, Doyen-Rodríguez worked to enhance other students’ experiences, too. In recognition of those efforts, she won the Martha and Bill Dobbs Outstanding Graduate Teaching Fellow Award for 2022-23.

“Alicia has been an extraordinary teacher at all levels of the French curriculum,” Loichot says. “In their evaluations, students thanked Alicia for her passion, generosity, rigor and respect for diversity.”

As part of her duties as a HASTAC Scholar, Doyen-Rodríguez wrote about her digital approach to teaching literature.

“I was answering the question, can other people not only understand this approach but can they do it? The answer is yes,” she says.

When Doyen-Rodríguez taught Introduction to French Literature, she chose Paris and its geography as the class’s theme. One student, Caleh Collins, completed a project showing how structural racism experienced by two second-generation North African protagonists becomes spatial.

“You teach your students something and might imagine they will do it the same as you. They don’t — and that is the wonderful part about it, actually. I want them to have an understanding of space and then give it their own spin,” she says.

She also co-taught a research seminar for doctoral students seeking to incorporate technology into their work and was an instructor in Foundation of Online Teaching, aimed at graduate instructors. 

Respect for Doyen-Rodríguez’s work is evident in the numerous grants and fellowships she has received. In addition to the HASTC fellowship, she has received support from the Dartmouth Institute of French Cultural Studies and the Andrew Mellon Digital Dissertation Scholars Fellowship.

“When I think of my journey now, it seems like this tight narrative. As I came along, though, I was just applying for the things that interested me,” Doyen-Rodríguez says.

As it turns out, being “all over the map” can still lead you to exactly where you need to be.  

Recent News