This post by George Williams.
The CFP for ASECS 2010 is out, and I can’t help but notice that several of the panel proposals (including one being organized by Lisa Maruca and me) deal explicitly with digital humanities topics.
Details regarding these panels are available after the jump, but before you make that jump, dear reader, please indulge me for a few sentences.
Does it seem to you that the various academic disciplines concerned with the humanities are at a turning point with regard to integrating digital tools into their research and teaching methodologies? It certainly seems that way to me:
- For the last few years, the Office of Digital Humanities at the NEH has used their substantial budget to fund many interesting projects.
- Funded by several highly-respected institutions, HASTAC (“Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory”) provides a lively and provocative online community.
- The Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations hosts exciting conferences like the recently-concluded “Digital Humanities 2009” at the University of Maryland and publishes such valuable materials (in a free and online format) as Digital Humanities Quarterly, as well as Blackwell Companions to Digital Humanities and Digital Literary Studies.
- There is so much activity in this area that Amanda French recently created a collaboratively maintained Google Calendar for Digital Humanities, Digital Libraries, and Digital Museums Conferences and Events just to help interested scholars and teachers keep track of them all.
And yet, does it perhaps also feel to you that the benefits of these developments have not yet filtered down to our day-to-day academic lives?
- The Gale Group’s Eighteenth-Century Collections Online is an amazing resource of primary texts, but it’s priced out of reach for all but the most generously funded colleges and universities, especially in light of what the average library budget looks like since the developments of the previous 12 months.
- With the exception of Eighteenth-Century Life, our most-read journals provide RSS feeds that are practically useless.
- Most of us probably don’t even know what an RSS feed is or why we would want to use one.
- The English Short-Title Catalog is freely available online, which is wonderful, but the interface does not provide any advanced data output options such as useful information visualizations.
- In 2009, most online conversations regarding our field of study make use of the exact same tool that was used 20 years ago: email.
This is not meant to be a list of complaints, mind you. We clearly have some amazing tools at our disposal. However, there are many new and powerful tools (some of them free) that could be available to us if we worked on developing them or advocated to our most influential organizations to help integrate them into existing platforms.
The idea for the panel that Lisa and I are organizing on “The Digital Eighteenth-Century 2.0” came out of conversations with several friends at ASECS 2009: many of us have been trained to a greater or lesser extent in digital humanities methods and now work at institutions without major funding for technology. As a result, we’ve learned to improvise quite happily with what happens to be available to us, which often turns out to be tools such as these:
- GoogleApps for education,
- SIMILE Timelines, to visualize historical developments and significant events,
- Google Scholar, to trace intellectual trends backwards and forwards through citations,
- Google Books, a powerful although imperfect full-text source,
- Zotero, a Firefox plugin for managing citations and an online scholarly community,
- Omeka, server-side software for creating digital archives,
- Second Life, an online virtual world (see, for example, the Georgian London Second Life Project),
- Flickr, a socialmedia photography web site,
- Delicious, a social bookmarking site,
- Diigo, a tool for collaborative reading and annotation online,
- Twitter, a microblogging application,
- PB Works, an easy-to-use wiki tool,
- and, yes, WordPress or BlogSpot blogs.
These conversations and our embrace of these tools make me wonder if perhaps we’re entering a new phase of digital humanities research and pedagogy, and so I coined the not-terribly-original term “The Digital Eighteenth-Century 2.0,” playing off of the “Web 2.0” buzz phrase.
- Is this new phase a good thing?
- Are we shortchanging what might be possible if we built our own digital tools (a daunting task) rather than using those already created for non-academic purposes? (Zotero, Omeka, and the SIMILE Timeline are, in fact, aimed at academic audiences.)
- If one is quite happy to work and teach at a smaller, less-than-wealthy, somewhat-teaching-oriented institution, how exactly does one embrace the field of digital humanities with its traditional focus on research and big grants?
- At what point, if ever, do we internalize the conventions, the strengths, and the weaknesses of digital media such that “The Digital Humanities” becomes “The Humanities”?
ASECS 2010 and the Digital Humanities
Below are the CFPs for ASECS 2010 panels that explicitly deal with the digital humanities.
(The full list of CFPs can be downloaded here as a PDF.)
Through both brief audiovisual presentations and audience participation, we hope to address questions such as these:
- How are tools such as wikis, blogs, digital cameras, and smart phones, and sites such as YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, and Google Apps currently being used in research or pedagogy?
- How can we better encourage, evaluate, and share student and/or faculty projects in new media?
- What sorts of new research models do these media encourage?
- Do these tools have the power to engage Gen Y students’ attention and curiosity about Enlightenment thinking?
- How can we use Web 2.0 analogies to help students better understand eighteenth-century social networking and media forms?
- What lessons might we learn for our use of twenty-first-century technologies from eighteenth-century observations about print technology’s influence upon learning, knowledge, and communication?
- What drawbacks should scholars and teachers be wary of as we work with these new tools and services?
Thanks for this interesting post. One thing that strikes me about those upcoming panels is the interest in talking about the problems as well as benefits. While we’re for the most part fully integrated into “Web 1.0”–can you even remember professional life before email? sending out letters? Typing them?? Liquid paper??–I think you’re right that this next phase has been so far uneven. On the one hand, people at less research-oriented and geographically isolated institutions have I think much better ways to stay plugged in; on the other hand, there is so much information out there now that even for those who have access to it that the ways of using it are still a work in progress. I looked at the NEH grant winners, and it seems to me that many digital projects these days involve gathering/sorting information or involve a version of editorial work. I think we need more of these in our field, although the venues of support for them are not yet obvious. Also, sometimes I wonder how these new levels of access for information will shape literary criticism. Will it become less interesting in the face of so much information? Or will its future have to do with providing frameworks for comprehending this information?
Yes, George, thanks for the wonderful array of links, here. I’m thinking that maybe we need to refurbish our links around here, and maybe set up a permanent but updatable page devoted to 18c digital resources. Would others be interested in seeing/helping with such a project?
One of the things that your post and the recent threads we’ve had regarding 18th Century Connect and Anna and Eleanor’s EMOB project is how much more important bibliography has become with the advent of digital scholarship. We’ve got all sorts of neat new stuff, but we don’t know its limitations as well as we’d like. That’s the value of these kinds of collective endeavors: they help to disclose the limits, and therefore the rough outlines of their structure, in ways that any individual would be hard pressed to find out.
I agree with Laura that these new capacities for information-gathering and -dissemination will shape literary criticism, but I’m not sure what it will look like, or what we’ll be doing in English departments ten years from now. Anyone wish to hazard a guess?
Thanks, George–for the wonderful links and for getting this discussion underway.
I have a few thoughts. While I don’t want to make any predictions about where the discipline (or literary criticism) will be ten years from now, its shape in many ways will be up to us. The discipline’s level of involvement in these tools will also shape these tools’ relevancy to the humanities and their quality/value to our disciplines. Moreover, the degree of involvement will also probably determine who controls them (and owns them). Google was able to do what it did with Google Books because no one else was really doing it on the scale that they were doing it. Similarly, the bibliographical and other shortcomings of ECCO and EEBO stem, in part, because of the lack of scholars’ involvement at certain stages in the process of their creation and development.
Zotero came about primarily because an 19th-century scholar at George Mason wanted to harness new tools in meaningful ways to advance the ways he organized and managed and “saw” his research. The tool he developed with help from his university’s IT allows one to do far more than something such as RefWorks, a web-based bibliographic or citation management tool.
Some of the other tools mentioned–Second Life, for instance–seem (at first glance at least) as if they are geared more to pedagogical applications. At the same time, the ability to create an avatar (presumably one based on an 18th-century identity) who interacts in a virtual eighteenth-century world reminded me of Ted Braun’s CFP for this year’s ASECS in which famous authors “speak” (I may be misremembering his call–I couldn’t find the archive for the listserv–if one exists) and a parallel could be argued. Still, we need to ask what ends these re-creations serve and what advantages do they proffer over other tools (whether recently or laptop/pen/paper). If the tool seems well-suited to accomplishing the desired goal, we would then need to design the playing field, the rules, and so forth to help support those aims.
Something such as Google Maps may not seem to have much use in literary criticism, but if a map were created that enabled us to view the production sites of certain kinds of texts and the location of these sites in relation to other businesses and cultural outlets, we might discover certain relationships visually that we missed through verbal documentation–and, in turn, we might end up re-thinking the relationships between individual titles and perhaps genres–as well as their relationships to other socio-cultural and economic facets of eighteenth-century life. Again, though, we need to consider what is gained and lost (if anything) by employing one tool over the other. It seems to me that the thinking behind the use of the tool will determine or at least shape its value.
In “A Select Collection: Barbauld, Scott, and the Rise of the (Reprinted) Novel” (Recognizing the Romantic Novel [Liverpool, 2008]), Michael Gamer provides a chart of collections published by ‘decade’(166). Yet rather than follow traditional notions of decades marked by 1700, 1710, etc, his decades start with 1694 and progress accordingly (1704-1713, 1714-1723, and so forth). He does so to underscore the effects that Dodsley’s Select Collection (1744) had on the production of the select collection—and his approach vividly illustrates the change that occurred after the appearance of Dodsley’s poetry collection. While I don’t think that the use of an electronic timeline to present this data would have made Gamer’s point any stronger, I mention this example because it illustrates a flexibility of thinking about data and the way we approach and present it that seems beneficial for thinking about the new opportunities technology is offering us.
I, too, also think we are still (in many ways) at the information-gathering/management stage—and that in thinking ahead we might learn from how we approached Web 1.0. And there is the huge problem of time—building a 3-D electronic recreation of a publisher’s shop—something I really would like to do with data I have—would mean choosing between writing a chapter (if not 2 or 3) or constructing the model.
To date in the classroom, I’ve been more drawn to using podcasts of scholars speaking about 18th –century matters—Melvyn Bragg’s BBC-Radio 4 show, “In Our Time” has had some great ones such as ‘The Scriblerus Club,’ ‘Politeness – the great 18th century craze,’ or ‘Taste – the good, the bad and the ugly in 18th century Britain’—and the University of Toronto has started podcasts of book history matters (I’ve only heard one thus far)—and, I think I noted in an earlier post my use of the YouTube series of “Got ECCO?” MLA papers. These tools have enabled my students to hear conversations about subjects we are discussing in class in other contexts (and to put a voice to the words in a scholarly essay we’ve read—it humanizes scholarship as an lived activity) and see scholars at work (the MLA conference).
I meant to reply that Dave’s suggestion of an updatable page for 18th-century electronic resources and digital projects would be wonderful.
I hope to respond to these thoughtful comments soon, but for now I’d like to suggest using the still embryonic http://EighteenthCentury.org as a place for a collaborative, updatable collection of 18th-century electronic resources.
One of my goals for this coming year is to grow EighteenthCentury.org into a resource that really will (to quote from its mission statement) “facilitate collaboration among scholars & students of eighteenth-century studies.”
Who’s with me?
(I can even give you your own Firstname.Lastname@EighteenthCentury.org email address.)
In haste, as I’m trying to get some grading off my desk!
George’s site is fine by me as the destination of choice. Since I’m not as far into this as others (and have other commitments), it would be great if George and others really seriously working in Digital Humanities could get this rolling as a resource for all of us.
I’d be glad to help as time permits.
I just now visited eighteenthcentury.org for the first time and would love to hear more about its function and purpose. Like Eleanor, I’d be glad to help as time permits.
You might want to take a look at what the 19th C. scholars are doing with digital media, archives, projects, standards, etc. NINES especially has been instrumental in building a search engine (of sorts) that roams over a plethora of digital projects built by different entities: http://www.nines.org. Collex is the tool that they’ve built.
You should also try to get involved with Project Bamboo. This is an attempt to finally pool resources among technologists, libraries and scholars on about 60 different campuses in England, U.S. and Europe. We are still working on the actual group itself, but it’s been in the planning stages for the past 18 months and proposes to do things like create a network of scholars, technologists and librarians who will share their technology and expertise.
And, finally (really), take a look at the UK version of Digital Humanities. King’s College has done significant work and even has a PhD in Digital Humanities now (I believe). Those Canadians are doing great things with Ray Siemens.
I guess my basic message is “don’t reinvent the wheel” if others are already doing this. There’s been much talk about how to amass a list of tools and projects that doesn’t ever fall out of date. (You might also check Jack Lynch’s site too.)
And, if you’re going to have the “long 18th Century,” you’ll definitely benefit from the work that NINES has been doing.
The starting-point for this entire thread was the 18th Connect project, which is headed up by Laura Mandell, a member of NINES. I think the NINES project has been very successful by modeling itself on a scholarly journal/editorial board model; I am not sure every project should/could emulate that kind of organizational model, because it assumes things like academically tenured participants, participation time as “scholarly service”; stable, unquestioned value of the materials collected there, and so forth. I suspect that one of the things that has made NINES possible has been institutional underwriting, which is great, but not always forthcoming.
I am less clear on how 18th Connect is proceeding/will proceed, because I think it is still in the earliest planning stages, and I am not in that particular loop. But as I think I said in the 18th Connect thread, the real hurdle for projects like these, I think, is organizational, not technological. How do you get people to find the time to participate in and sustain such projects?
Having said that, I like the thriftiness of your advice not to “reinvent the wheel,” and definitely agree that looking to other existing models can save lots of time, but one of the odd things about digital humanities is the fact that it is at some level a highly diffuse, localized activity with lots of different individuals and entities making plans simultaneously. So how do they/should they learn about each other’s existence, especially when a number of overlapping projects are in the planning or implementation stages?
The Project Bamboo model is fascinating to me, but looks as if its payoff is some way off. Where do you think it might lead?
Thanks for the suggestions,
I think George may have something a bit different in mind (but he can clarify). Project Bamboo sounds quite interesting, though–and I had not heard of this project before.
A project for the long eighteenth cenuty, however, is already underway by Bob Markley and Laura Mandell: 18thConnect is being developed as a counterpart to NINES for eighteenth-century scholars (we have had some discussion of 18thConnect on Early Modern Bibliography Online).
I think Dave is right that there is a large and unpredictable institution component to all of this. Going back to the question about predictions, though, I imagine that humanities departments in the future will start to figure out ways that this kind of work can “count” for tenure, promotion, and annual reviews. Much of this is happening already; nevertheless, there has been frequent mention here on the constraints on making these kinds of contributions to the discipline.
If universities were predictable sources of funding, academic presses would still be reliably publishing books in the humanities.
I’d appreciate some acknowledgment of this aspect of the economic context in the discussions of the digital humanities. This is one reason why I want to keep calling attention to the proprietary dimension of these resources. Ideally, we should be developing stuff that is accessible to as many scholars as possible, as far as I’m concerned. That is the hopeful side of this question.
I agree with Dave about the need to stress the part economics plays in digital humanities (and in much else, too). In the close of his critique of ECCO that appeared in the Intelligencer (January 2009), Jim May made the point that ASECS members should lobby the society to address the costs of these commercial database—and make some noise about the need to make them more affordable for less wealthy institutions. In terms of such lobbying, it might be useful to consider the efforts of Lyrasis, a network of libraries that uses power in numbers to serve its members better. Lyrasis is a larger organization that was recently formed by the merging of PALINET (serving mid-atlantic members) and SOLINET (serving southeast libraries). One facet of this newly formed organization is its even stronger position in negotiating with companies that own knowledge. I mention the Lyrasis cooperative network because the two smaller organizations from which it was formed helped to even somewhat the economic playing field in terms of purchasing costs for smaller, less well-funded institutions—and their merger promises to do even more. Such outfits also suggest the need for scholars to engage more in dialogue and collaboration with their libraries (just as Dave has been doing in his information literacy work—albeit this is a different context).
As for the existence of a number of diffused, local efforts (and thus in some cases duplication), diffusion and decentralization whether good or bad, are key characteristics of today’s media revolution. Some smaller projects (because they are small) may end up creating tangible results (even if those results are very modest) sooner than other, large, more centralized efforts. And, in my mind, if so desired by the parties involved, these localized efforts could later be combined (either actually housed or linked) with larger projects. Some smaller entities, moreover, may grow and emerge as larger players—though economic factors would play a significant role in such emergence. Server space, tech support, and maintenance costs can be significant expenses often ignored in discussions—and the larger the vision and the project, the more server space and support are needed and the greater the cost. That’s why perhaps we see numerous smaller, local projects being undertaken and making the most out of the often excellent free tools that are available.
I would also add that “time” (a point Dave also mentioned) is very much an economic issue—and Laura’s comments address what is time’s companion: labor—and specifically the issue of labor unrewarded. Personally I am short on time for such work (one reason I have not blogged until now is because of concern that it would end up taking time from other work I am doing—though admittedly this example is quite different from the investment of time involved in constructing digital resources). While I have not spent time developing resources, I have sought existing resources to use in teaching. I am thinking of everything from the BBC radio 4 podcasts (I would be glad to share my list of programs I collect and update regularly), YouTube, and videos/websites such as The Periwig-Maker (a fifteen-minute, 2000 Oscar-nominated animated film based on Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year) or the British Channel 4’s website’s interactive maps of the spread of the Great Fire or the Plague. Such resources already exist, so rather than try to create something similar, I just incorporate resources that have far better funding and dedicated time for such projects than I have. My university also will videotape for free–only charges for the dvd that results. It uses student interns to do so, so these students are gaining experience, and I can gain a video of student panels or whatever I request. I would think that my university is not unique in this service.
Right, and I should emphasize that I’m not stressing the economics to kill anyone’s buzz, but because I’m concerned that anything that gets too expensive or too complicated organizationally will die a slow and lingering death. You need more than one person involved, if you want it to be sustained for any length of time.
As I pointed out to George earlier offline, one of the reasons I liked this post is that it helps us recognize the limits to the technology we currently have, to see where we can, or should, push it forward. DM
I particularly like Bamboo’s goal of allowing scholars to work together:
“Underlying Bamboo is an idea that by working together within and across our institutions, disciplines, organizations, and areas of expertise, we have the potential to do a better job of supporting humanities scholars and practitioners, whether students or faculty. Achieving this idea is and will be challenging, but the benefits have the potential to far exceed anything we can envision within our brief discussions at planning workshops.”
That kind of collaborative work is necessary if we’re going to figure out how digital media can best contribute to scholarly work. Projects like George’s eighteenthcentury.org help make clear the possibilities of what can be done online.
I like the Project Bamboo concept, but I’m fuzzy on where it came from and who’s behind it.
It all sounds very open and inclusive, but I’m still left feeling like there’s no immediate point of entry for someone like myself as a humanities scholar interested in but not expert in these kinds of applications.
Too much is still at the planning stage for me to figure this out, though I understand it is a very ambitious plan to develop a comprehensive infrastructure across institutions, an initiative for which I can imagine very few precedents.
But I’d like to see more discussion of the process they envision to get from here to there: what kinds of resistance, what kinds of obstacles might they find, and what kinds of constituencies might they draw upon for support?
“Collaboration” in the abstract is a nice-sounding, humanistic word, but it’s also time-consuming work in an environment that is getting increasingly unforgiving in how it allots time. So I’d like to see some acknowledgment of these issues in the program documents.
The people involved are probably well-known to those who do the digital humanities stuff full-time, but at this point the goals seem awfully abstract compared to all the immediate issues of access and the differential distribution of resources for higher education generally, a circumstance which we worry about incessantly around this blog. It’s strange not to find much about this in the program documents, though I haven’t thoroughly explored the site. Am I wrong about this?
No, you’re absolutely right. Project Bamboo does seem abstract in its concept and methodology. This may be a strength. The early workshops seemed (as far as can be determined by the sketchy notes) to collect ideas about how online platforms might best be used. This deductive approach might be useful for generating ideas. I’m guessing that in subsequent workshops, conversations took a more inductive approach, with participants discussing various aspects of specific digital environments, their problems, their potential, and so forth.
I almost get the sense that they don’t want to outline objectives because they want those objectives generated from the discussions/workshops…?
Yes, based on the materials I read it seems as if Project Bamboo seeks to generate its objectives from the planning workshops: “The workshops build upon each other and toward determining a roadmap of goals to pursue, tools to provide, platforms on which to run, and architecture to use.”
Dave’s remark about a point of entry into Project Bambo has broader resonance for me. In the case of Project Bamboo, it sounds as if institutions could select one of the working groups and send an email expressing interest. The organizers also note that individuals whose institutions are not yet participating but who have an interest in being involved as an individual should contact them. The list of current participants is also available. I applaud this project and its openness, yet it seems that participation would involve a serious commitment of extended time if one really wanted to be an active member of the project.
Well, I’ve always believed that those involved with any kind of group project or collaboration need to have a clear sense of what they’re trying to accomplish with the collaboration. Otherwise, you can find yourself at the end of a long series of discussions without a product that anyone in the group is satisfied with. I’ve discussed this in the context of student groupwork and faculty committee work, both of which are subject to the problem of “social loafing.” My suspicion, though, is that the people in Project Bamboo are already committed strongly to a tacit goal of sustaining the Digital Humanities in their own fields, and are not particularly worried about how to get there. This is all fine, but I wonder what will happen if and when they encounter resistance or disagreement with the tacit goals of the project?
Those dissatisfied with the direction adopted will probably just remove themselves from the project (or be shut out–depending on his or her place in the organizational hierarchy and the power politics). It seems, based on the 66 slides from workshop 3, that Bamboo Partners (limited to between 3 and 6 institutions) will exercise the leadership–and the control .
I do think that some if not many involved in this project are sincerely seeking the means to collaborate in interdisciplinary ways–and not just to sustain DH in their particular home disciplines. That said, I have also seen the ways in which disciplinary training/frames of thinking can hinder (sometimes by serving as blinders) and even unwittingly thwart interdisciplinary cooperation…