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HASTAC 2015 Conference Reflections

The 2015 HASTAC Conference was both thought provoking and invigorating. As a first time attender, the informality, pace, and eclectic nature of the presentations came as a bit of a surprise, and I am grateful for the time I have had since the conference to process and reflect on all I saw and heard.

For me, the HASTAC Scholars Unconference was one of the most valuable aspects of my time in East Lansing. During one of the break out sessions we compiled a list of tools in the digital humanities, and while I was familiar with many of them, quite a few others were new to me and it has been useful to tinker with them over the last two weeks.

As for the conference itself, the panels were rich and diverse. Two in particular stood out to me. The first was a panel on media ecology. Bobby Smiley, Meredith Hoy, and Clayton Benjamin’s papers raised a well-rounded set of theoretical, practical, and technical questions at the intersection of spatial representation, environmental agency, and the relationship between these factors and our experience of ideas, sounds, and cultural transmission. Bobby Smiley’s attempt to map the sounds of religion in the American Midwest was interesting in particular for the collaborative nature of the project.

The second panel that I especially enjoyed was the one I had the pleasure of moderating: The Material Turn and the Digital Archive. Drew Vandecreek presented on the dangers of data corruption to our digital archives, and Jentery Sayers offered a swashbuckling and thoroughly enjoyable consideration of the differences between storage and memory, matter and meaning, as well as a general encouragement to consider more carefully the theoretical consequences of how we conceptualize and speak of the things we store digitally and the ways we store them. Eric Hoyt introduced a fascinating new project called Arclight, a powerful search engine for recently archived early twentieth century film and radio periodicals at the Library of Congress, and he challenged those of us in the digital humanities to develop better interpretive methods and questioned our tendency to want “go beyond search.” The powerful search capabilities of Arclight made me wish for a similar application capable of processing the seventeenth century printed texts that I spend so much time reading courtesy of Early English Books Online.

Many more things could be said, but those were the highlights of my first HASTAC Conference. Many thanks to all those whose thought provoking research and presentations expanded my horizons in so many ways. I look forward to my next HASTAC Conference with great anticipation!


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