Saturday, January 19, 2013

Digital Humanities @ GW

by J J Cohen

You may have heard that we are sponsoring a little symposium here at GW starting Friday: the GW Digital Humanities Symposium, to be exact. With forty presenters over two days and an auditorium rented out, it's actually not so little. The symposium is co-organized by Alexa Huang, Jonathan Hsy, Daniel DeWispelare, Patricia Chu, and Emily Russell and initiated by the GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute and the Dean's Scholars in Shakespeare Program. Its inspiration and guiding force, though, is my amazing colleague Alexa Huang. She has even designed an extraordinary mobile app for the symposium (every conference should have this: welcome to the paperless future).

If you are in or near the DC area, we hope you will attend -- but please do register beforehand at the website (it's free). If you cannot attend, you can still follow the conference on Twitter (#GWDH13). Eventually the presentations will find their way to YouTube.

Digital Humanities cast a very wide net, and that's part of their appeal. My own interests are mostly in social media as a form of intellectual activity with varying publics. My colleague Holly Dugan shares that interest -- as seen in our dueling tweets this week about the faculty meeting we were both headed towards. Jonathan Hsy has, among many other things, initiated a Global Chaucers project with Candace Barrington. Alexa Huang has an extensive portfolio of digital projects, the most famous of which is Global Shakespeares: his arrival in the department two years ago has jump started digital energy here. With Ayanna Thompson joining the GW English Department this fall, our strengths in digital humanities continue to grow.

We are also introducing DH into our graduate program. My small step was to integrate into my seminar a pedagogy focused on a multimodal array of products ("encompassing the creation of: blog posts and other social media, conference presentations, peer assessment, collectivity, a public, and a journal-ready short critical essay"). Alexa is teaching our first graduate seminar completely devoted to Digital Humanities. I'm pasting the description below because I find it so inspirational.

ENGLISH 6130 Graduate Seminar: Digital Humanities in Theory and Practice
Prof. Alexa Huang

Digital and communication technologies are transforming humanities research. This seminar explores the history of digital humanities, theoretical issues it raises, and major methodological debates. 

  • Develop the skills necessary for working at, and engaging with, the intersection of the humanities and technology
  • Grasp major theoretical developments
  • Examine existing digital humanities projects
  • Situate your own research interests within the larger context of digital humanities theories and practice
  • No computer skills beyond basic familiarity with word processing and Internet access are required
  • Curate your scholarly and digital presence
  • Participate in GW's inaugural Digital Humanities Symposium, Jan. 24-26, 2013. Check the website for
  • Guest speakers in class: Janelle Jenstad (Univ. of Victoria via Skype), Chris Sten (GW), Jeffrey Cohen (GW), Margaret Soltan (GW)
  • Theories of epistemology
  • Access and inclusion
  • Challenges of working with and against multiple media
  • (In)visible histories of race, gender, and avenues of access
  • Disability, cultural difference, and linguistic diversity
  • Visual and print cultures, embodiment, archiving the ephemeral
  • Canon formation, close and distant reading strategies
  • Questions about the values, methods, and goals of humanistic inquiries at the intersection of digital media and theory


Jonathan Hsy said...

YES! Jeffrey, I couldn't agree more: Alex Huang is amazing and a real guiding force behind this DH Symposium - and our English colleague Daniel DeWispelare and grad student Emily Russell have done so much work in co-organizing.

One exciting element of this DH conference is to bridge research, community, and teaching - and in addition to Alex's wonderful grad course there are a number of DH projects on display here that have implications for pedagogy. In addition to co-presenting with Candace Barrington re: "Global Chaucers," I will also be co-presenting the "Digital Pedagogy" session re: the Glossary of Medieval Disability; this is an evolving wikispace that I integrated into my graduate course last term (more about that in our presentation).

This is going to be awesome. (By the way, I am planning a "post-MLA and pre-DHS" posting on ITM next week... so stay tuned!)

Jonathan Hsy said...

Another point: I should say that when we organized the conference program we deliberately avoided breaking down our sessions by conventional notions of subject matter and/or approach: e.g, disability studies is a thread that works its way *across* a number of sessions; and medievalists are *not* thrown together in a single session, etc. I'm so excited we managed to get Elaine Treharne to deliver a keynote on theorizing digital text. And it will come as no surprise to anyone who knows my work that I'm looking forward to some of the Friday afternoon sessions ("Expanding Linguistic and Virtual Communities" and your session on "Transformative Media, Transforming Community"). I'll be very curious to find out what conversations emerge from this diverse group of presenters and participants!

Alexa H said...

Thanks, Jeffrey and Jonathan! Our little symposium has taken on the big guys in town. The presidential inauguration is just the prelude, a warm-up event for GW DigiHum.

Candace Barrington said...

Thanks, Jeffrey, for helping get the word out! Alex et alia have put together an exciting symposium that brings together an intriguing array of perspectives and knowledges. Because I’m particularly interested in the ways DH works to blur the disciplinary divides that too frequently structure our scholarship and teaching, I’m excited about the prospect of some mind-blowing conversations at GWDHS.

Jonathan Hsy said...

Well, Candace, WAS YOUR MIND BLOWN today? Mine was...!