Editing Modernism in Canada


June 13, 2012

Twenty-two reasons to go to DHSI

Things you don’t even know about yet that will make your life better. PressBooks, which lets you produce beautifully formatted e-books in multiple formats: thank you @isleofvan. Free digitized historical maps from the David Rumsey collection. Visible Prices, a tool by @paigecmorgan which uses the SIMILE scripts to help render historical prices in literary texts comprehensible to modern day readers. OxGarage, a tool for converting just about anything to (lightly marked up) TEI. The beautiful Van Gogh Letters project, whose elegant interface has helped me to think through some of the design quandaries I’d been puzzling over for my own EMiC project: thank you Beth Popham. Many other resources flowed past me on presentation screens and on Twitter, too many to list here.

Things that make you think differently about how you do your own work. Using text mining in the attempt to map conceptual space alongside geographical space in Olaudah Equiano’s Narrative (a project by one of my GIS classmates, Elizabeth Maddock Dillon at Northeastern). Using tags to get students to think about the thematic content and structure of their writing (@chris_friend).

Things that will make you more literate, not just as a digital humanist but as a member of a mediated society. One unconference session taught me the basic principles behind machine translation (= statistics, not linguistics). Another drew back the curtain on the curious inefficiencies in transforming printed books into e-books, and challenged those of us in the room not just to rethink the structure behind the model, but to imagine ways to change it.

That moment when the technology you’ve been wrestling with the whole week actually works, and you manage to do the thing that you came to DHSI specifically to do. Euphoria!

Vicarious pride when @jmhuculak gives a demo of the the EMiC modernist commons and virtual flutters of delight ripple out on the tweetstream. This is completely unjustified on my part as the construction of the commons is nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the brilliant folks at Islandora, but when Matt gave the demo, being a part of EMiC made me happy. What a fabulous bunch of people, and what an awesome resource this will be.

Collegiality. The ability to explore research questions in new ways with technology might have been what initially brought me to DH, but what keeps me here is the friendliness of the community. In addition to an emphasis on mentoring, there’s also a close critical attention to questions of academic labour, and the material consequences of institutional practices, especially on early-career scholars (on edit: see Alana’s post below).

Sharing the love. Three of us got talking on the shuttle from the airport; one person had not heard of Zotero, and her eyes got rounder and rounder as we explained how it pulled bibliographic data directly from the web into a browser plugin where it could then be sorted into libraries, published to the web or dropped into a Word document where it would appear in an already-formatted output style of her choosing. @benwbrum, who I don’t think was even at DHSI, was happy to hear about the Google doc from the regular expressions session for his regex-for-humanists workshop (and actually … where can I sign up for that?). Meanwhile Neatline will be exactly the thing that a non-DH colleague of mine at Strathclyde needs for the C18th correspondence project she’s in the middle of grant-writing for, though she doesn’t yet know it.

Generosity. This time last year @mbtimney graciously gave up a lunch hour to do a WordPress install on my server. And I’m particularly happy to have been invited to bring the data from my map of Memoirs of Montparnasse to the Paris map app that Paul Hjartarson, @hquamen and others at UoA are developing for the Sheila and Wilfrid Watson letters. It’s a great example of the connections between editorial projects that EMiC has helped to facilitate.

The fact that there’s a decent chance that the person teaching your class, chatting to you in the coffee queue or retweeting your observation is at the top of their field. I had the chance to learn humanities GIS from Ian Gregory. The Omeka demo at the unconference was given by @clioweb who (I think) helped to develop Omeka. And I didn’t realise in my first year at DHSI that one of the people out the front of the class, Julia Flanders, was a world expert in TEI, because she was so approachable and no question was too basic for her to answer.

And leading on from the two points above: an emphasis that we are all learning. Expertise in this field can only ever be in process, and those with that expertise are almost always more than happy to share it.

Things you’ve been longing to learn which someone volunteers to teach during the lunchtime unconference. Regular expressions. QGIS. Python. While an hour or so isn’t enough to learn these in any systematic way, it is still amazing how much easier it is to figure something else out on your own once you’ve had a quick introduction and the chance to ask questions.

The serendipitous possibilities that open up when you move outside the orderly conventions of regular academic conferences and ask people to organise themselves into sessions based on what interests them right at that moment, rather than nine months earlier when everyone wrote abstracts based on what they imagined their findings would be. There is a place for carefully written conference papers and formally structured sessions, of course. But when you take a group comprised of, say, librarians, publishing interns, university press employees, TEI devotees, TEI sceptics and academics, and give them a chance to debate the ideas raised in a colloquium session about academic publishing and shifts in the infrastructure of book production and distribution, you create the conditions for all sorts of intriguing insights to arise from the meeting of different disciplinary viewpoints and different forms of practical expertise.

Twitter. This post is a testament to the many useful things I’ve discovered through Twitter, and indeed for many people it needs no introduction. If you are yet to use it for scholarly purposes, though, then there are two reasons to start. First, as one participant pointed out – on where else but Twitter – having conversations with other people on the #DHSI2012 backchannel makes it a fair bit easier to talk to them in person. (And also convenient: someone I was exchanging messages with turned out to be sitting behind me, and quickly walked me through the tool we’d been discussing when the colloquium session was over.) Second, for those who feel overwhelmed with the sheer number of projects, clever tools, programming languages etc that it feels like you have to keep a handle on, Twitter can function as a useful filter. Once you are following enough of the right people, you can more easily keep track of which resources are being used and are generating excitement, and you can prioritise those.

Using your brain in a different way. Attending non-DH conferences now feels to me like a curiously one-dimensional affair. Following three threads of a lunchtime unconference on the backchannel while sitting in a fourth, with part of my head trying to figure out a problem that came up with my data that will need to be fixed that afternoon, I emerge feeling like I’ve been to not one but multiple DHSIs. It can be draining, and requires a different form of attention to the kind one gives to a task such as immersive reading, but given that travel and time are both expensive, I very much appreciate the way that DHSI packs a great deal into a short space of time.

Excellent, inspiring presentations, many of them by talented graduate students. Digital humanists think hard about the way they present information, whether it is part of a Prezi slideshow or a digital edition. (And even when what is being presented is inspired silliness, the production values are still high). I learned much this week about how to engage an audience without compromising the substantive content of the message.

Access to tools you might not have at home. ArcGIS is proprietary software, and expensive, but with a little bit of running between sessions on the final day, I got it to crunch through a massive dataset of Paris roads, polygons and points and extract the bits I needed. Seven minutes before my shuttle to the airport was due to leave on the other side of campus, it finished its export and now I have a set of shape files I can work with in the open-source program QGIS. Result.

Twice-in-a-lifetime astronomical events, conveniently-placed telescopes on top of the astronomy building through which to view them, and charming UVic astronomy profs and grad students to explain in lay terms what is going on. (OK, so the transit of Venus may not happen every year …)

The joy of building. Lots has been written about the ethos of building in DH, and this is amply in evidence at DHSI. Of the apps that were showcased in the final session, my favourite came from @mchlstvns: in a few days he built an app for walking around Dublin in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom. And the #digiped folks didn’t just talk about digital pedagogy for a week, they built a resource for the rest of us.

A chance to make your own work meaningful.I had fun building a SIMILE map as a sandbox for other lit folks to use if they wanted to explore the geographical dimension of a text without going to the bother of constructing a map interface themselves. After various conversations at Monday’s reception, it will now have a few more users, including some at Algoma who I may never meet, but I’m happy if they can make use of it.

Connections. A grant call crossed my desk the other day for bringing people together for expert meetings, and I couldn’t quite see how to use it at the time. After the mapping and visualisation session, though, I now know exactly how it could be used not just to drive forward my own EMiC project, but also support the research agendas of several other people and projects.

Old-school face-to-face conversations. Learning that another EMiC project needs to investigate the same archive I do, and that we can perhaps team up and save some time and labour. Comparing notes on how to keep on top of an ever-shifting array of technologies alongside the research and teaching and service we’re expected to do as part of our jobs. If I’m lucky I’ll see EMiC folks here and there throughout the year at conferences, and exchange the odd email with a few people, but DHSI brings home to me that nothing substitutes for the sustained conversations and relationships that are made possible when people come together in the same physical space. (Which is entirely appropriate for a project which is interested in the social networks and geographical placedness of Canadian modernism.)

New friends as well as old. Hello, fellow Aussie Anya, fellow Londoner Bo, and fellow Canadianist-outside-Canada @readywriting. Hello, Georgia Tech librarians in my GIS class who were surprised to learn that their Vertically Integrated Projects had been exported to Strathclyde as one of the ways we teach DH. Hello, talented literary folks scattered across the US and the Pacific who are pursuing the same kinds of research questions I am with maps, networks, visualization and modernism. I am so happy to have made your acquaintance!

And this is not even to begin on the breathtaking beauty of Victoria, tame deer grazing casually outside the student residences, local BC beers, and the impressive quality of EMiC’s collective karaoke chops.

Thank you, Dean, and thank you, EMiC colleagues and friends. It’s been a fabulous, invigorating, beyond exhausting week. And now I’m going to crash.

2 Responses to “Twenty-two reasons to go to DHSI”

  1. […] from the Editing Modernism in Canada blog]  Posted by Anouk on June 13, 2012  Tagged with: […]

  2. Melissa says:

    This is fantastic! Thank you!

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