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.