SDH-SEMI 2011 Conference Report

I just got back from Congress 2011 where I attended and presented at the SDH-SEMI conference. See my SDH-SEMI 2011 Conference Report. Chad Gaffield, President of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, attended a session. At the end he asked us what difference the digital makes. What he meant by the question was how the digital has changed the humanities (if at all.) As he makes the case for the humanities in general and fields like humanities computing, he needs help articulating (briefly in an “elevator speech”) the innovation and transformative effects of the digital on scholarship. One could debate whether the digital is really transformative or more a magnifying effect, but politically he has a chance to influence the federal government’s Digital Economy Strategy and show the relevance of the humanities to the digital economy. We need to help him make the case for the value of the arts and humanities in such a strategy.

Here are some of the points that I gathered from the discussion for my conference report:

  • Scale: The digital has made possible research on a different scale of evidence, collaboration and public engagement. We have collections of thousands of digital of books that can be searched, we can collaborate across time zones using conferencing tools, and we can engage the public through the web.
  • Formalized Methods: The digital allows us to formalize research methods and implement them on computers. Concording was one of the first research tasks that was automated; now we can imagine new methods. It is also the case that the act of formalizing methods for implementation teaches us about the limits of methods and triggers discussion of what can be formalized.
  • Careers: Integrating digital humanities training into the humanities has given students a broader range of career opportunities. Students with significant training in digital methods can contribute a unique combination of critical thinking and technical experience to the projects they choose.
  • Interdisciplinarity: The digital humanities brings together different disciplines in order to complete projects. Digital humanists typically work together with librarians, information scientists, interface designers, and computer scientists. This is in addition to the breadth of humanities disciplines that meet in the commons of the digital humanities.
  • Creative and Communicative Practice: The digital humanities is often distinguished by the creation of digital scholarly works. It thus combines the traditional excellence of the humanities in critical approaches with practice based research around creating communicative objects.
  • Playful: The digital humanities is increasingly looking at games and fabrication as forms of digital practice. These can be the site for playful research that both engages play as a subject but also recognizes playful practices in serious research.
  • Community Engagement: The web allows us to break down barriers to public engagement in scholarship. It allows us to share research resources of interest to people directly with them. Crowdsourcing projects can bring the interested public into collaborations that generate new research. Such public engagement allows us to make clear how the humanities is really about what matters to people – their histories, stories, and culture.

GRAND 2011 Conference

I’m at the GRAND 2011 Conference. GRAND is a Networks of Centres of Excellence funded project that brings together researchers across Canada and across disciplines to study gaming, animation, and new media. I am part of two subprojects. In one we are developing smartphone augmented reality games for learning and health. In another we are developing gestural and performance games. Our fearless leader, Kellogg S. Booth (UBC), opened today’s events talking about the network.

Having organized large groups and participated in others, I’m impressed by how GRAND gently gathers us. We are coerced by the network, though we do have to report carefully.

See my conference notes for more on the conference.

Beware Social Media’s Surprising Dark Side, Scholars Warn CEO’s

Jeffrey R. Young has an article in the Technology section of The Chronicle of Higher Education enjoining us to Beware Social Media’s Surprising Dark Side, Scholars Warn CEO’s (March 20, 2011). The article is about a South by Southwest Interactive conference that brought together researchers and industry.

One of the big trends is using crowdsourcing or micropayments to get work done for free or very little. Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard law professor warned that this could be exploitative.

Mr. Zittrain began his argument against crowdsourcing with the story of the Mechanical Turk, a machine in the 18th century that was said to play chess as well as a human. But the contraption was a showy fraud; a man hidden inside moved the arms of a turban-wearing mannequin. Amazon, the online shopping giant, now offers a crowdsourcing service it calls Mechanical Turk, which lets anyone, for a fee, commission unseen hands to work on tasks like proofreading documents or identifying artists in musical recordings.

The similarity of crowdsourcing to a man shoved inside a box means the practice isn’t exactly worker-friendly, the professor argued. “In fact, it’s an actual digital sweatshop,” he said of the many sites that use the approach.

Fees paid for crowdsourced tasks are usually so meager that they could not possibly earn participants a living wage, Mr. Zittrain argued. He is familiar with one group drawn to the services: poor graduate students seeking spending money.

I wonder if anyone has proposed a code of ethics for crowdsourcing? Thanks to Megan for sending this to me.

A Vision Of Digital Humanities In Ireland

I just got back from a conference in Ireland titled, A Vision Of Digital Humanities In Ireland (this link is to my conference report). The conference was preceded by the announcement and unveiling of DHO Discover. Shawn Day (in photo above) demonstrated the new discovery tool that brings together metadata about 6000 objects across different digital collections in Ireland. The conference was a capstone event for the Digital Humanities Observatory which is now coming to an end.

HuCon 2011: Current Graduate Research in Humanities Computing

Next week is HuCon 2011, our graduate research conference at the University of Alberta for humanities computing. See HuCon 2011: Current Graduate Research in Humanities Computing for more.

The keynotes will be Ray Siemens from Victoria and MilenaRadzikowska from Mount Royal. It is a one day conference that is catered. Come and see what the next generation of graduate students is doing.

Alberts: On Becoming a Digital Humanist

This week I was invited to give a number of talks at the University of North Dakota. Dr. Crystal Alberts organized the talks (along with others). At UND I spoke on:

  • Incorporating the digital in the humanities. This talk was about incorporating the digital into humanities teaching.
  • Supporting the Digital Humanities. This talk was for librarians and discussed mostly how libraries can support our work.
  • Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities. This talk was delivered by videoconference and went out to a larger state audience discussing cyberinfrastructure in North Dakota.

Crystal has a nice long blog post on participation and inclusion the digital humanities. The post,On Becoming a Digital Humanist talks about Steve Ramsay’s MLA comments and what I wrote on inclusion.