Let’s see if we can get from here to there shall we?
In March I attended the inaugural conference of the Australasian Association for Digital Humanities.I knew almost nothing about digital humanities when I went and after 3 days of conference that didn’t really improve.However, it has launched me on a program of reading and discovering and I am actually more confident talking about it now than I was 2 months ago. This can only be good.
Because the content was quite challenging, I was at a bit of a loss to know where to start for this presentation. I decided to start with a few photos that I took over the week and see what happened from there. This being one of them. The conference was held at the Shine Dome, belonging to the Academy of Science at ANU in Canberra.A couple of general points to note:It was a packed program spread across 2 buildings – once you were locked into a stream for the morning or afternoon it was hard to swap around. So I missed a lot of interesting sounding presentations. Multitasking is one thing but until they invent cloning I can still only be in one place at a timeWe definitely belong at this conference. All academic libraries belong there. It was hard to tell how many library folk were in the audience but we were definitely outnumbered substantially by academics and there was almost no library presence in the papers presented. I believe, from talking to one of the keynote speakers from the US that this is not the case at the international digital humanities conferences –
So what are the digital humanities? The best way I can describe it is to say it used to be called Humanities Computing. Essentially it covers the way humanities scholars both digitise their work and use digitisation to enable their work.To illustrate this, I’m going to talk about one of the projects presented at the conference and then I’m briefly going to touch on a few things I think are important to libraries based on a number of other presentations I attended.
The Dictionary of Sydney is one of the projects that was presented.There’s a lot of text in the dictionary (each entry has been written specifically for the dictionary, it doesn’t come from somewhere else) and in this example you can see the interaction between other types of digital objects as well. A modern map from google has been overlaid with a digitised map from 1854. On the right hand side you can see that this entry in the dictionary comes under a couple of categories – and you can click out to these to see further information or links to other related material.The digital humanities is about what goes on to make this project happen. The coding of the text into something that can be read across multiple platforms (XML & TEI were just 2 of the terms being tossed around), the digitisation of images in this instance and then making the connections between them.Lots of the presentations were about the nitty gritty techy bits of this – I didn’t even try to follow that, just kept looking for the bigger picture ‘how can libraries be involved’. Some presenters made that easier than others.
There was a keynote address or panel on each of the 3 days. All the keynotes were inside the Shine Dome. Isn’t it gorgeous? One of them was Dr Julia Flanders from Brown University in the USA on ‘rethinking collections’.
Julia challenged the audience to consider what digital collections are, who authors them? How are they constituted and held together? How do curated collections differ from just-in-time, user generated or dynamic collections? How are digital collections evolving and how are they changing the way we think and work?Obviously from the perspective of libraries this is an important part of what we can do to work with those at the pointy end of digital humanities.The themes of metadata, access, connecting, publishing and collaborating came up over and over again the entire conference.
Another gratuitous photo of the Shine Dome – if you haven’t seen it before from the outside....This is a good lead in to my next example of a presentation from the conference.
We heard from Dr Alice Gorman about using her various online profiles and identities to generate interest in her fairly obscure speciality of space archaeology. Yes, really.Alice has a blog where she talks about her general interests, a twitter account and a serious profile on the Flinders Uni website.
Alice talked to us about the advantages of this multi layered approach to her professional identity – she called it hierarchies of presence. The example she gave was an invitation to speak at a plastics conference. The invitation came after one of the conference organisers came across her blog post on her sideline personal obsession with cable ties. Further investigation led them to her professional Flinders uni site and they decided that she was actually a very suitable person to speak at their conference. She also talked about the fact that she feels Dr SpaceJunk can say things that Dr Alice Gorman PhD, can’t.This feeds in nicely to some things we are talking about in Outreach about different ways academics can raise their profiles and hopefully their research impact.
This leads me to the last presentation I am going to talk about. Danny Kingsley is the Manager, Scholarly Communication and e-publishing at ANU and she talked about *click* the changing nature of scholarly communication. The fried egg analogy of scholarly publishing is hers, not mine. The yolk represents your invisible college, those in your field who really get what you’re doing and can be relied upon for advice and support. The whites mingle with others in related fields (when you put 2 eggs into a pan to fry, the whites often join up but the yolks don’t. Unless they are broken. And that doesn’t help with the analogy.). Anyway, Danny talked about open access publishing, the changes to the way journals are published and perceived, the problems with publishing being embedded in the academic reward system, the problems with journal impact factors and citation counts and so on. While she didn’t say anything ASU at UNSW are not already saying here, it was interesting to see how many academics were madly scribbling down notes. Also interesting is that she did not mention libraries once – because at ANU the library doesn’t get involved in this at all.However, I like to think of academic libraries as the egg whites in the e-research space – we can work across many disciplines and collaborate with and connect to them.Lots of possibilities for libraries.
One last picture. I was pretty obsessed with the Shine Dome – I grew up in Canberra and had been around the outside many times as a child (usually with interstate visitors) but had never been inside.It even has a clock inside with a picture of itself on it.
What do fried eggshave to do with theDigital Humanities?