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A Recap of Re: Humanities '15

Re: Humanities is the first (inter?)national Digital Humanities conference of, for, and by undergraduates and I had a blast at Re: Hum '15. The conference started with a keynote from Whitney Trettien, entitled "Destroying the Book to Come." Trettien discussed her work on the "Harmonies", which were a series of works that the women of Little Gidding cut, copy, pasted and bound together using cut-outs of different religious printed texts and engravings in the 1630s. Trettien showed that digital projects have the potential to preserve or communicate, not just the "content" of the book or object, but also the (past and present) reading processes and material composition that accompany it. Some of her other projects seemed to cross over into what might be more traditionally called Fine Arts and Trettien posed an intriguing question: what would DH look like if we took a more creative and playful stance to our work?

Next were the poster presentations. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to see other people's projects as I was presenting my own, but I spoke with many of the presenters afterwards and they sounded quite fascinating. As for my own presentation, I have never been in a room with so many people who already knew what stereoscopic view cards are, much less have the chance to speak with them. Maybe DHers are just more attuned to weird historical media that pose interesting challenges for digitization? Regardless, there were all sorts of questions that led in different directions and fascinating discussions. What surprised me was how often the questions were about doing the project as much as they were about the final product itself. Among other things, I had technical questions, questions about the labour involved, and questions about how I became interested in stereo cards in the first place. What was most valuable about this conference, for me at least, was being able to step outside the Queen's bubble for a bit and see what DH and undergraduate DH work looks like in other institutions. The projects at Re: Humanities '15 included everything from a fabricated board game on the Popish plot to uses and abuses of social media. I was very intrigued by the diversity.
 

The second day of Re: Humanities '15 featured talks from both undergrads and keynote speaker, Wendy Hsu. Craig Campbell and Mae Capozzi discussed the ways in which digital tools cause us to reimagine or rethink our relationship to space, architecture or even what it means to be human in the digital age. Livi Huval, Andrew Dorrance and Emma Talian discussed how social media shape performances of online identity. Huval demonstrated how fan communities police the boundaries between authentic and inauthentic fans based on everything from Facebook "evidence" to the colour of one's light sticks at concerts. Dorrance and Talian examined the intersections of marginalization, power and privilege in Grindr profiles and how "queer space does not necessarily mean safe space" for certain groups, such as gay men of colour. Andrew Rikard and Allen Williams discussed how historical silences of race, gender, and the literary canon influence the "pure" data we read and the DH projects we fund—despite the usual view that DH is antithetical to this exclusivity. Though DH is often engaged in "recovery" projects, Rikard and Williams pointed out that we must constantly work to uncover biases that we might unconsciously bring over from analog to digital; our tools are, in a sense, always already biased.

For the final keynote, Wendy Hsu offered some thoughts on what it means to be a public humanist in the 21st century. She began with a demonstration of Paperphone, a "scholarly voice & audio processor designed to amplify performativity in academic knowledge production." Her intention was to demonstrate how to "pivot" or reorient a traditional way of thinking about objects or people and then to create a prototype that would materialize this design theory. In this way, through Paperphone and other projects, she demonstrated that "scholars" can become "performers", "consumption" of social media can become civic engagement, and critique can become action that directly affects meaningful change. Like Trettien, Hsu argued for a playful speculation within DH and the academy that has the power to engage with and shape the world outside of it.

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