THATCamp Transform DH

This past weekend I had the awesome experience of going to the Transform DH (Digital Humanities) Conference and THATCamp organized by Alexis Lothian in collaboration with, and supported by, many others, including folks in the Transform DH Collective, the UMD WMST department, MITH, and WMST graduate students. The two days spent with other interdisciplinary scholars was truly energizing!

Friday was set up like a traditional conference with panels, a plenary and keynote, as well as two video show-cases. Although I missed the morning, I enjoyed the afternoon panel on disability studies and digital humanities, and Lisa Nakamura’s keynote brought up the importance of considering the invisible labor in digital spaces, especially the invisible labor of women of color online. For a great re-cap of Friday, see this blog post by Moya Bailey (which includes videos of some of the talks!)  

I left Friday’s conference with a greater appreciation for digital humanities research (and a better sense of what DH is). Still, my favorite part of Transform DH was THATCamp on Saturday.  For those who don’t know, THATCamp is an unconference where attendees organize sessions on the spot based on interest and skills of those attending. I had heard lots of great things about THATCamps, but had never been to one, and was super excited about this one!

The rainy weather brought on by Tropical Storm Joaquin meant we had smaller numbers than originally expected but this was okay, especially when considering the five principles that our unconference was based on:

Whoever comes are the right people.

Wherever it happens is the right place.

Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.

Whenever it starts is the right time.

When it is over, it is over.

(Inspired by Open Space conferences in the UK). 

I loved the free-flowing nature of the unconference. Panels were proposed on post-it notes and voted on by marker, and then we broke up into 45 minute sessions. First, I went to a session on ethics/internet research/IRB, and then one on public scholarship.  During lunch I met with folks who had gone to the ethics panel in the morning, and we worked on creating a Humanist IRB best practices document.  Talking about ethics and the IRB made me realize the way that my own work dissects with digital humanities, as I have often had questions about the ethics related to my work on blogs. I feel that the IRB’s treatment of them as solely texts inadequately addresses the ethics/questions/potential risks involved in analyzing them. And yet, if one chose to get IRB approval for this type of research, the application doesn’t provide a useful format for projects that rely mostly on published online texts, given its focus on medical/scientific research.  We also talked about how IRB approval relies on researchers being able to promise anonymity, but is this really possible with the internet? Even pseudonym twitter accounts can be traced to their IP addresses, so how do we adequately consider the risks of online research and engagement with the creators of hashtags, etc? One thing that kept coming up with our discussion of a Humanist IRB was the importance of not creating something prescriptive, but rather something that would be a guide, and that would offer important questions for researchers to consider.

In the afternoon there were more great conversations! I loved the discussion about “hacking the institution” as well as our final conversation of the day on the future of DH.  “Hacking the institution” included a discussion of “magic words” and ways to present our work to make it legible to grants and institutional structures, and it was here that I felt myself becoming re-invested in the idea of academia as a place for me.  It showed me that it is possible to carve out our own spaces and reminded me that there are scholars who have similar investments as I do in regards to research and creating a difference in communities that we care about.

I also really appreciated the future of DH discussion, where we talked about scholarly collaboration, and more senior scholars offered their advice and shared their stories and experiences. It was great to hear stories of success, but it was also important to hear stories of failure.  Adeline Koh pointed out that everyone has faced rejection at one time or another, and sharing stories can help others who might be dealing with anxiety about rejection. The conference also reminded me of the importance of continuing connections with other graduate students in my program (even as we move away from UMD), as well as the importance of collaboration with people across universities and at different points in their career.

All in all, THATCamp was energizing and invigorating! I loved the mix of people there, graduate students, undergraduate students, post-docs, tenure-track folks, directors of DH centers. I particularly appreciated the way that the conference felt productive and collaborative. It is the first time that I have been in a conference space, where we have created documents together, on the spot, collecting collaborative notes, and created working documents to take with us afterwards. I loved the supportive, productive, and critical environment that was created throughout the day. I can’t wait to see where-else #TransformDH might go!

Also, I finally joined twitter! You can find me @jvoor12. I am still figuring out how it all works, but I am happy to be there, and was lured onto it by all the great conversations that were happening at the TransformDH hashtag.

[TransformDH Graphic: Embroidery by Melissa Rogers, Photograph by Reed Bonnet.]

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