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DHSI 2022 Conference & Colloquium Special Issue of IDEAH: Introduction

Published onMar 19, 2024
DHSI 2022 Conference & Colloquium Special Issue of IDEAH: Introduction
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The Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) 2022–Online Edition Conference & Colloquium took place June 10, 2022, chaired by Caroline Winter (U Victoria). It was one of seven aligned conferences or events. As in the previous two years, the 2022 iteration of the Conference & Colloquium was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To facilitate participation across time zones, it featured pre-recorded conference presentations, digital posters showcased in an online exhibit, and live discussion of these materials. Additional conversations took place on twitter.com via #DHSIConf and the general event hashtag #DHSI22.

This special issue, which brings together a selection of papers arising out of the DHSI 2022–Online Edition Conference & Colloquium, is the sixth such collection. In our introduction to the previous special issue, Lindsey Seatter, Caroline Winter, and I echoed many others before us by pointing out how, despite the pandemic, technology allowed members of our scholarly community to stay connected. Indeed, one of the unifying themes we identified for that special issue was “the role of infrastructure in shaping community” (Jensen, Seatter, and Winter). This year, we again observed the many ways that digital platforms and tools continued both to facilitate and to constrain connections between members of our dispersed networks. However, we were also struck by an apposite idea advanced during at least two of DHSI’s Institute Lectures: digital infrastructure does connect people, but it may also be true that “infrastructure is people,” as Leslie Chan remarked during his talk, “Is Open Scholarship Possible without Open Infrastructure?” (Chan; emphasis added).

Chan’s statement might conjure up images of precarious human pyramids or other acrobatic formations; more helpfully, and perhaps more to his point, we would argue that it serves as a helpful and necessary reminder of the human ingenuity, expertise, labour, and relationships that go into the creation and maintenance of digital infrastructure of any kind—of the tendency of infrastructure to be reliant on human factors. Chan illustrated this point with an image that, he noted, would likely resonate with many of us; indeed, some of us may identify with the lone researcher whose legacy project supports shaky digital infrastructure (Figure 1). For better or worse, then, we would echo Chan in asserting that if “infrastructure is people,” it is also true that “infrastructure is relational.” The question, perhaps, is how one can foster and maintain the human relationships that comprise digital infrastructure, ideally ensuring the long-term health and positive evolution of each.

Someday ImageMagick will finally break for good and we'll have a long period of scrambling as we try to reassemble civilization from the rubble.

Figure 1: Dependency, XKCD, https://xkcd.com/2347/ (licensed under CC by NC)

In her own DHSI Institute Lecture, “The People and the Text, Neglected Indigenous Works, and the Anxieties and Ethics Around Making Indigenous Content Public,” Deanna Reder provided a number of responses to this question. Drawing on Warren Cariou’s “On Critical Humility” as well as the Indigenous teachings and values that inform this essay, Reder suggested that genuine humility and care are required if one takes seriously the notion that digital infrastructure is something made up of, and governed by, humans and human relationships. Reder, rewriting a passage from Cariou’s reflection on criticism and the work of the critic to address its potential implications for digital humanists, posits that “if we were to understand the act of criticism building a website/creating a database/assembling a digital archive as an encounter with a living being, or perhaps even with a spirit, then perhaps we could better comprehend the ethical dimension of the critic’s researcher’s work, and the importance of humility in that work” (Reder; cf. Cariou 8). As both Cariou and Reder emphasize, this reinterpretation of the critic’s relationship to their work—or, in the case of digital humanities researchers, to digital objects—constitutes a radical departure “from the common western critical situation in which the work is construed as an object, a thing” (Cariou 8). As such, this kind of approach deserves much more discussion than we can provide here. Even so, Reder’s lecture serves as an accessible, useful, and provocative entry point into these larger themes and intellectual frameworks. Its invitation to humbly and ethically reimagine infrastructure is one that digital humanists of all stripes would do well to take up individually and in conversation with others, both now and as an ongoing scholarly practice.

While not all of the essays gathered here address the topics of human relationships, humility, or human imprints and dependencies in digital projects and infrastructures, most gesture in some way to the inevitable challenges and opportunities that arise as a product of human-computer interactions.

For example, several of the authors examine communities using digital tools. In “Ethnographic Research and Cultural Rhetorics: A Digital Collection of Post-2020 Wine Narratives,” Bailey McAlister reflects on interviews and community consultations with members of the wine rhetoric community. Combining digital ethnographic and social media research strategies, she explores how movements towards diversification, inclusivity, authenticity, and accessibility have started to shape the wine industry, and how we talk about it, in positive ways. Although challenges remain, the study highlights multiple initiatives aimed at building and supporting community—including through social media, other digital platforms, and podcasts—that have already begun to ferment a “new revolution in wine.” Like McAlister, Jeffrey Lawler and Sean Smith are interested in how digital platforms or tools might be used to draw attention to the ways in which people have historically failed to build truly inclusive, diverse communities. Their papers are best read together, since each explores different aspects of Lawler and Sean Smith’s larger digital history project about gaming spaces and race in post-war Los Angeles. In “Lacking for Leisure: Spatial Constraints in Non-White Communities in Los Angeles,” Lawler uses maps and census data to trace relationships between “a topography of race” and a “topography of place” in the postwar period. His analysis suggests how discriminatory, racist attitudes and approaches to city planning and development have had lasting detrimental effects on Los Angeles and the many communities that comprise it. Sean Smith’s “Pinballers, Videoits, and the Arcade: Race, Segregation, and Leisure Space in Twentieth Century Los Angeles” outlines a cultural history of gaming spaces, revealing patterns of racial segregation for arcades that reflect and further entrench larger patterns of racism and vilification of racialized gamers throughout those geographical areas.

Other studies in this collection focus on the methods and processes undertaken by communities of researchers to create DH projects. In their discussion of “top-down” versus “bottom-up” approaches to digital projects focused on large textual corpora, Jacqueline Sundberg, Nathalie Cooke, and Ronny Litvack-Katzman note that “OCR errors and omissions are silences introduced by human actors.” Their article “From Archive to Interaction: Two Case-Studies in Exhibiting Digital Collections” also effectively communicates just how much human labour is necessary to develop and launch digital projects such as the Riddle Project and Ciphers of The Times—both of which address OCR errors and other issues involved in the digitization and digital mediation of textual objects. Along similar lines, in “Visualizing the Irish Submissions to Richard II,” Margaret Smith describes Submission Strategies: The Irish Submissions to Richard II, 1395, a prosopographical project that analyzes and visualizes data about the networks comprising Ireland’s social and political landscape in the late fourteenth century. Margaret Smith explains how focusing on data transparency, including the use of authority files, effectively addressed many of the project’s ongoing challenges related to working with fragmentary, ambiguous, and heterogeneous data. Also focusing on process, in “Conceptual Analysis through Corpus Text Patterns: Researching W.E.B. Du Bois’ Concept of Democratic Despotism via Regular Expressions,” Robert Williams outlines his exploratory process of using regular expressions with a concordancer to find and tease apart the concept of “democratic despotism” in a corpus of Du Bois’ work. Williams situates this technique for conceptual analysis alongside other methods for text analysis, noting that this allowed him to identify expressions of the concept across texts even when it was not named explicitly. Williams presents his workflow step by step and the regexes he used and invites other researchers to adapt his technique for their own investigations.

Finally, other authors discuss DH projects that aim to connect users to people and places from the past. Caterina Agostini’s article “Reading Collections in the Edison Papers” serves as an introduction to Reading Rooms, a digital environment that facilitates access to the Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers University. Taking advantage of Application Programming Interface (API) and International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) protocols, the Reading Rooms prototype allows visitors to read, annotate, compare, share, and interact in other ways with digitized materials from the Edison Papers and beyond. Looking to the future of this large-scale project, Agostini also identifies some of the collaborative, public-facing applications of the Reading Rooms prototype. John N. Wall’s article “Materializing Lost Time and Space: The Virtual St Paul’s Cathedral Project” similarly discusses the collaborative development of a virtual visual and acoustic model of the cathedral, including the challenges involved. By recreating the spatially situated, embodied, interactive, and multisensory nature of worship, Wall argues, the virtual model enables a deeper and richer understanding of religious practices in early modern England.

Although we have clustered the articles in this collection in this particular way, there are of course other ways of reading them in relation to one another and to the work that they build upon. In 2022 as in every year, the variety of methods, tools, approaches, and strategies showcased at the Conference and Colloquium illustrates the wonderfully rich, messy, and complex field of DH.

Works Cited

Cariou, Warren. “On Critical Humility.” Studies in American Indian Literatures, vol. 32, no. 3, 2020, pp. 1–12.

Chan, Leslie. “Is Open Scholarship Possible without Open Infrastructure?” Digital Humanities Summer Institute, University of Victoria, 7 June 2022, https://doi.org/10.25547/Q029-D548.

Jensen, Graham, Lindsey Seatter, and Caroline Winter. “DHSI 2021 Conference & Colloquium Special Issue of IDEAH: Introduction.” Interdisciplinary Digital Engagement in Arts & Humanities, vol. 3, no. 2, 2022, https://doi.org/10.21428/f1f23564.244a4759.

Reder, Deanna. “The People and the Text, Neglected Indigenous Works, and the Anxieties and Ethics Around Making Indigenous Content Public.” Digital Humanities Summer Institute, University of Victoria, 6 June 2022, https://doi.org/10.25547/S3NZ-A584.

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