Digital Humanities 2012 Hamburg – Some Thoughts on the Diversity of DH 2012

As an assistant at the Digital Humanities 2012 conference and at the same time being presumably one of the very first Swiss students obtaining a degree in Digital Humanities (at least under this denomination), I was pleased by Enrico Natale’s suggestion to share some of my experience here. After enjoying the engaging first THATcamp Switzerland that was held in Lausanne last November it seemed well worth to also attend an  international gathering in order to experience the field in its full width and to see and hear (and talk to) some of the people that had already gotten somewhat familiar from journal and mailing list contributions. The annual conference of the ADHO, the Digital Humanities, of course affords these opportunities very well and the time at DH 2012 indeed turned out to be very rewarding.

The following are three thoughts that evolve around the central notion of this year’s conference theme – (digital) diversity:

  1. Whereas the conference theme in many cases may inform the keynotes and some formal addresses, but other than that not noticeably resonates with the bulk of workshops or presentations, this was quite different for the DH 2012. Here, the conference theme ‚Digital Diversity – Cultures, languages and methods‘ had implications that went beyond the more formal occasions and promise to have a bearing for the future configuration of the field. The most notable development with regard to this is the foundation of the DHD, the regional charter of the ADHO that yet needs to precisely define its inclusiveness and final name (Enrico Natale already reported Swiss perspectives on the subject). As Paul Spence, chair of the International Program Committee and local organizer of DH 2010, notes „the DH community is clearly developing in new and exciting ways, and it is particularly exciting to see non-Anglophone groups develop a stronger presence on the international DH stage.“ Similar sentiments were echoed on Twitter during the conference and it is great to see this development honored by anglophone members of the DH community.
     
  2. The diversity of Digital Humanities also became manifest in my very direct environment during the week in Hamburg. The local organizing committee was joined by a handful of local students and three international students from Asia, South America, North America and Europe respectively. 1 This brought a notable diversity into the team that not only related to the geographical and cultural provenience, but also to different educational backgrounds and areas of interest ranging from buddhist informatics to urban acoustics or typography. Not everyone was equally immersed with the various theories, concepts and technological approaches that were debated during the week, but there were always common grounds of interest that allowed for interesting conversations. In this regard I was reminded of the THATcamp in Lausanne and it was a welcome change to the discussions with my classmates that – while not less interesting – are often based on the same or very similar literature and in comparison are much more homogeneous. I would encourage future organizers of the DH conference to explicitly invite international applications for student assistant bursaries and to perhaps follow the lead of DH 2012 and allow for a per continent quota in order to reflect the worldwide DH research community (provided there are enough eligible applications).
    It was nice to learn that some of my international colleagues also took the opportunity to attend other events preceding or subsequent to the DH conference such as the Digital.Humanities@Oxford Summer School or the European Summer School in Digital Humanities in Leipzig, which is certainly a great thing to do. With their emphasis on workshops and practical training these summer schools are indeed excellent complements to the DH conference.
     
  3. While the disciplinary and thematic diversity of the contributions was remarkable, language and literature related fields continue to represent the biggest share of the program. As a historian I tried to follow sessions and presentations that focussed on historical research questions and historical objects of research, but this was not always easy to reconcile with my schedule that usually involved a half-day of session coverage or presence at the reception desk. On thursday in particular, things got complicated for historians. Several sessions of interest to historians concurred and a number of them could be seen quietly packing their things and swiftly changing lecture halls between two presentations. Matters were somewhat different on Friday afternoon when Dino Buzzetti and Manfred Thaller addressed a large audience with an impressive dialogic presentation (see here, here, and here) that touched on more than a few fundamental aspects of markup theory, textuality, interpretation and semantic relations. I deem it very desirable that presentations and talks that highlight a specific research problem or showcase an ongoing project are complemented by this kind of encompassing and thought provoking discussions that have the potential to bring various disciplines of digital humanities forward.

Notes:

  1. On the student assistants‘ tasks and some technical issues:
    The tasks of the student assistants encompassed live coverage of the session via a shared twitter account, sharing reflections and anecdotes on the students’ blog as well as recording most of the presentations on video. Personally, I had the pleasure to record Marc Alexander, who was later proclaimed the winner of the 2012 Fortier Prize that is awarded to the ADHO Bursary winner whose conference submission is judged by the Bursary Award Panel to be the most outstanding. While perambulating the stage area during his stunning presentation, Marc gave me a hard time keeping the camera on him at a reasonable level of zoom. As this recording might figure among the ones that are watched most frequently I am glad that the recording of the slides went flawlessly.
    Recordings such as this one were generally made available as streams within short time after the sessions, which brought a lot of praise from the audience both present in Hamburg and from remote locations. Occasionally however the Lecture2Go system that was used to record the audio and video signals and the presentation slides using an Epiphan frame grabber (the Lecture2Go setup very much resembles the SWITCHcast system used by Swiss universities) proved to be too intricate resulting either in cropped slides or no usable output altogether. Both the responsible technicians and the recording students identified room for improvement with regard to the technical aspects of the session recording.
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