I just read Dr. Bethan Tovey-Walsh’s post on her blog about why she is Leaving Humanist and it raises important issues. Willard McCarty, the moderator of Humanist, a discussion list going since 1987, allowed the posting of a dubious note that made claims about anti-white racism and then refused to publish rebuttals for fear that an argument would erupt. We know about this thanks to Twitter, where Tovey-Walsh tweeted about it. I should add that her reasoning is balanced and avoids calling names. Specifically she argued that,
If Gabriel’s post is allowed to sit unchallenged, this both suggests that such content is acceptable for Humanist, and leaves list members thinking that nobody else wished to speak against it. There are, no doubt, many list members who would not feel confident in challenging a senior academic, and some of those will be people of colour; it would be immoral to leave them with the impression that nobody cares to stand up on their behalf.
I think Willard needs to make some sort of public statement or the list risks being seen as a place where potentially racist ideas go uncommented.
August 11 Update: Willard McCarty has apologized and published some of the correspondence he received, including something from Tovey-Walsh. He ends with a proposal that he not stand in the way of the concerns voiced about racism, but he proposes a condition to expanded dialogue.
I strongly suggest one condition to this expanded scope, apart from care always to respect those with whom we disagree. That condition is relevance to digital humanities as a subject of enquiry. The connection between subject and society is, to paraphrase Kathy Harris (below), that algorithms are not pure, timelessly ideal, culturally neutral expressions but are as we are.
Today was the last day of the CSDH / SCHN 2020 online conference. You can see my conference notes here. The conference had to go online due to Covid-19 and the cancellation of Congress 2020. That said, the online conference web brilliantly. The Programme Committee, chaired by Kim Martin, deserve a lot of credit as do the folks at the U of Alberta Arts Resource Centre who provided technical support. Some of the things they did that
The schedule has a single track across 5 days rather than parallel tracks over 3 days. See the schedule.
There were only 3 and half hours of sessions a day (from 9:00am to 12:30 Western time) so you could get other things done. (There were also hangout sessions before and after.)
Papers (or prepared presentations) had to be put up the week before on Humanities Commons.
The live presentations during the conference were thus kept to 3 minutes or so, which allowed sessions to be shorter which allowed them to have a single track.
They had a chair and a respondent for each session which meant that there was a lot of discussion instead of long papers and no time for questions. In fact, the discussion seemed better than at on site conferences.
They used Eventbrite for registration, Zoom for the registrants-only parts of the conference, and Google Meet for the open parts.
They had hangout or informal sessions at the beginning and end of each day where more informal discussion could take place.
The nice thing about the conference was that they took advantage of the medium. As none of us had flown to London, Ontario, they were able to stretch the conference over 5 days, but not use up the entire day.
All told, I think they have shown that an online conference can work surprisingly well if properly planned and supported.
The Canadian Comparative Literature Association (CCLA/ACLC) celebrated in 2019 its fiftieth anniversary. The association’s annual conference, which took place from June 2 to 5, 2019 as part of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Canada at UBC (Vancouver), provided an opportunity to reflect on the place of comparative literature in our institutions. We organized a joint bilingual roundtable bringing together comparatists and digital humanists who think and put in place collaborative editorial practices. Our goal was to foster connections between two communities that ask similar questions about the modalities for the creation, dissemination and legitimation of our research. We wanted our discussions to result in a concrete intervention, thought and written collaboratively and demonstrating what comparative literature promotes. The manifesto you will read, “Knowledge is a commons – Pour des savoirs en commun”, presents the outcome of our collective reflexion and hopes to be the point of departure for more collaborative work.
Thanks to a panel on the Journal in the digital age at CSDH-SCHN 2020 I learned about the manifesto, Knowledge is a commons – Pour des savoirs en commun. The manifesto was “written colingually, that is, alternating between English and French without translating each element into both languages. This choice, which might appear surprising, puts into practice one of our core ideas: the promotion of active and fluid multilingualism.” This is important.
The manifesto makes a number of important points which I summarize in my words:
We need to make sure that knowledge is truly made public. It should be transparent, open and reversible (read/write).
We have to pay attention to the entire knowledge chain of research to publication and rebuild it in its entirety so as to promote access and inclusion.
The temporalities, spaces, and formats of knowledge making matter. Our tools and forms like our thought should be fluid and plural as they can structure our thinking.
We should value the collectives that support knowledge-making rather than just authoritative individuals and monolithic texts. We should recognize the invisible labourers and those who provide support and infrastructure.
We need to develop inclusive circles of conversation that cross boundaries. We need an ethics of open engagement.
We should move towards an active and fluid multilingualism (of which the manifesto is an example.)
Writing is co-writing and re-writing and writing beyond words. Let’s recognize a plurality of writing practices.
Do you need online teaching ideas and materials? Dialogica was supposed to be a text book, but instead we are adapting it for use in online learning and self-study. It is shared here under a CC BY 4.0 license so you can adapt as needed.
Dialogica (http://dialogi.ca) plays with the idea of learning through a dialogue. A dialogue with the text; a dialogue mediated by the tool; and a dialogue with instructors like us.
Dialogica is made up of a set of tutorials that students should be able to alone or with minimal support. These are Word documents that you (instructors) can edit to suit your teaching and we are adding to them. We have added a gloss of teaching notes. Later we plan to add Spyral notebooks that go into greater detail on technical subjects, including how to program in Spyral.
Dialogica is made available with a CC BY 4.0 license so you can do what you want with it as long as you give us some sort of credit.
Our fondness for viruses as metaphor may have kept us from insisting on and observing the standards and practices that would prevent their spread.
Paul Elie in the New Yorker has a comment (Against) Virus as Metaphor (March 19, 2020) where he argues that our habit of using viruses as a metaphor is dangerous. He draws on Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor to discuss how using the virus as metaphor can end up both misleading us about what is happening on the internet with ideas and memes, but can also cast a moral shadow back onto those who have the real disease. It is tempting to blame those with diseases for moral faults that presumably made them more vulnerable to the disease. The truth is that diseases like viruses pay no attention to our morals. There is nothing socially constructed or deconstructed to the Coronavirus. It wasn’t invented by people but it has real consequences for people. We have to be careful not to ascribe human agency to it.
Michael Sinatra invited me to a “show and tell” workshop at the new Université de Montréal campus where they have a long data wall. Sinatra is the Director of CRIHN (Centre de recherche interuniversitaire sur les humanitiés numériques) and kindly invited me to show what I am doing with Stéfan Sinclair and to see what others at CRIHN and in France are doing.
I showed and talked about Lexigraphi.ca – The Dictionary of Worlds in the Wild. This is a social site where people can upload pictures of text outside of books and documents and tag the words – text like tatoos, graffiti, store signs and other forms of public textuality.
The goal of Lincs is to create a shared linked data store that humanities projects can draw on and contribute to. This would let us link our digital resources in ways that create new intellectual connections and that allow us to reason about linked data.
Next I was in Utrecht, Holland for DH 2019. As always, my typo-ridden conference notes are at philosophi.ca : DH 2019. This was the biggest DH ever with over 1000 participants. There was a real feel of the explosion of the field and all its directions. Before the conference proper I attended a workshop on DLS (Digital Literary Stylistics) Tool Criticism: Use Cases. I was asked to give a paper at the workshop and presented on Zombies as Tools: Revivification in Computer Assisted Interpretation. Revivification was my variant on replication as inspired by the Silents Shakespeare performances reviving silent movies. I also gave a short paper in a panel organized by Micki Kaufman on XR in DH: Extended Reality in the Digital Humanities. My short paper looked at Campus Mysteries: Playing with Serious Augmented Reality Games.
The conference was closed by a great keynote by Johanna Drucker on Complexity and Sustainability.