A surprised cow. Guido Jansen via Unsplash
Writing the words ‘October Surprise’ fills me with anxious dread. Every day something new and horrible seems to happen out there in the wider world. Yet here at Carleton, so far, things seem to be going well. People are adapting, courses are happening, and while it’s all still uncomfortable and sometimes painfully awkward (I’m looking at you, Zoom), we seem to be OK.
But I find myself wondering, what does DH have to say to a wider world where everything is often quite literally on fire? Is there something that DH can do? Should DH be doing something?
This is where I am humbled and gladdened for the existence of ‘DHPCO’, or post-colonial digital humanities, and the work of scholars like Roopika Risam, and Alex Gill.
Gill and Risam, aside from being compelling scholars, were some of the prime movers behind a project called ‘Torn Apart/Seperandos’, which used many of the tools and techniques of dh to rapidly map and respond to the actions of the American agency ICE which was taking children from their parents (Wired Magazine article behind this link).
The group behind Torn Apart is a part of a growing vanguard known as the digital humanities, an interdisciplinary cohort of researchers who combine 21st-century technical skills and classical research practices to do a new kind of cultural interpretation—and sometimes activism. DH projects include historical and cultural research, archival preservation, crowdsourced mapping, social justice activism, or some combination of those things.
“Our team is the perfect example of what Digital Humanities can be: a body of work that really cuts across units at universities, libraries, departments, and roles like faculty administration and staff to think about the ways digital tools can help us better understand culture,” says Roopika Risam, a professor of English and library fellow at Salem State University and author of New Digital Worlds, about promoting equity and justice in the digital cultural record.
What can we, the digital humanities community at Carleton, be doing to address the issues that confront us in this country? Gill and colleagues have put together ‘The Nimble Tents Toolkit’ for what they call ‘Rapid Response Research’:
[…] quickly deployed scholarly interventions in pressing political, social, and cultural crises. Together, teams of researchers, technologists, librarians, faculty, and students can pool their existing skills and knowledges to make swift and thoughtful contributions through digital scholarship in these times of crisis. The temporality of a rapid response is relative and will vary depending on the situation, from a matter of days, to a week, or several weeks. […] Another way of looking at RRR is as a new intervention in the fourth estate, between long-term scholarly commitments and the press. Closer to investigative reporting, but without shedding its scholarly frameworks, RRR breaks through several obstacles of contemporary journalism: a) RRR is not pressured to provide “two sides” to the story; b) despite its speed, RRR does not have as high a demand on turnaround as the press during a crisis; c) RRR can focus on a single project for a sustained period of time, as opposed to the competing demands on major journalistic data teams; d) we do not need to compete for scoops.
October 2: Rapid Response Research workshop with Alex Gill eventbrite; free
‘Symposium on African Digital Storytelling’ Kansas University. October 8th and 9th zoom; free “The importance of storytelling in African societies dates back to different forms of oral tradition that make knowledge, history, and experiences transferable across time, cultures, and groups. The symposium on digital storytelling in Africa will center the ways in which digital media hardware and software expand the forums and techniques available to Africans to tell stories about different aspects of life on the continent. We bring together participants from different parts of the world, including African locations, to think together about digital storytelling and what it might mean in the context of African digital cultures.”
‘Designing with Data: crafting inclusive user experiences’ Here at Carleton zoom; free; “his workshop will delve into how to create data visualizations for various contexts to serve user needs and business goals. We’ll go through a few case studies of design work from the public sector at the Canadian Digital Service (CDS), including a look at the making of the COVID Alert app. We’ll also examine some popular open-source tools that are useful for creating data visualizations to help further our design goals and hypotheses. This will include a detailed walk-through of one tool that makes creating beautiful data visualizations simple and accessible.”
‘Collaboration: DH Conference’ from UBC, Oct 28 - 31 website “Collaborations of one kind or another are at the heart of most digital humanities projects: collaborations between researchers, between disciplines, between institutions, or between creators and users. The conference is designed to showcase DH research and infrastructure at UBC and beyond, to discuss the various types of collaboration made possible via the digital humanities, and to explore potential collaborations with colleagues at other universities in Canada and abroad.” The keynotes are by Dr. Tara McPherson (“Designing for Difference”) and Dr. Deanna Reder (“Using DH Tools to Examine Neglected Indigenous Texts: Edward Ahenakew’s Old Keyam”)
Canadian Research Knoweldge Network Conference link October 1 - 29th. Theme is ‘Access in Transition’.
Nic Fewings, via Unsplash
I grew up on the north shore of the Ottawa River; in the fall, the bay near my house would always be filled with geese as they migrated south. This time of year in my memory is all cold mornings and plaintive calls reaching a crescendo as they gathered in the hundreds in this one tiny bay. It’s always a bit wistful, to hear the geese.
In that frame of mind, thinking of sound and memory and history, I want to put the spotlight on an MA project from a year or two ago, Cristina Wood’s ‘Songs of the Ottawa’, a sonified environmental history of the Ottawa River. Cristina’s work takes historical information about the cycles of the river and turns it into sound, to deform and confront our ideas of linear time. Cristina is now pursuing a PhD at York University in environmental history, to pursue these ideas further.
As a reader of many MA projects in DH, what I really like about the format of Cristina’s work is the way that the public digital component complements the written reflection - each part does different work to make a single whole- and how the actual digital representation of the historical information prompts new historical questions and reflection.
I love student run journals; at the University of Glasgow the students in the archaeology department have resurrected their journal ‘Barrow’; its latest edition can be found here. The theme is ‘archaeological futures’, and if you think archaeology is about the past, this edition might make you think differently.
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