HASTAC Highlights: Digital Scholars Descend on Michigan State University, May 27-30

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With the generous support of both Southwestern University and the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), I recently had the privilege of attending the HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) 2015 Conference at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.

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The HASTAC 2015 Conference brought digital scholarship practitioners together May 27-30, 2015.

It was an utterly stimulating few days of reconnecting with my fellow CLIR Postdoctoral Fellows in Academic Libraries and making new connections with people building exciting digital projects all over the country.  Check out the HASTAC Panel and Event Schedule here.  Following are some highlights from #hastac2015.

Inspiring digital tools and projects to explore:

  • The web-based Palladio data visualization platform.  Andy Wilson uses Palladio to map and examine international aspects of the Nicaraguan Sandinista Revolution.  He blogs about his research here.  In response to Wilson’s presentation, Devin Higgins made a great point by tweet: “Nice to hear about network visualization being used as one step in a research process, not as the final product.”  We need to remember that data visualization and spatial analysis tools are good for more than providing flashy visual research products; they can also transform research methodologies.
  • The Homestead Nebraska Project.  Rebecca Wingo presented on this fascinating digital project, which uses the platform Gephi to visualize ethnic communities, neighborhoods, and identities of place on the Nebraska plains.
  • Open Folklore.  This comprehensive online resource for folklorists represents a partnership between the American Folklore Society and the Indiana University Bloomington Libraries.
  • Library Juice Academy.  This online professional development site is the Lynda.com of the library world.
  • The AfroLatin@ Project, the LatiNegrxs Project, and Afro-Digital Connections, presented by Amilcar Priestley, Jessica Marie Johnson, and Eduard Arriaga, respectively, on the panel “African and African-Descendent Cultures in the Digital Age: Adoption, Adaption and the Emergence of Complex Identities.”  The panel, which also included Dorothy Odartey-Wellington on born-digital African literature, offered an in-depth examination of the digital tools engaged by Afro-Latino, African American, other Afro-descended users and communities.  Arriaga discussed the function of the Afro-Digital Connections repository to illuminate the variety of ways African and African-descended artists, academics, and activists use digital tools to construct digital identities.  I look forward to keeping in touch with Arriaga about possibilities for involving students in contributing to the Afro-Digital Connections repository in future World Literature classes I may teach.
  • HASTAC Forum on Colonial Legacies, Postcolonial Realities and Decolonial Futures of Digital Media.

Selected pearls of wisdom from HASTAC presenters and panels:

I had opportunities to present on two panels: “Tales From the Library Basement: Doing Digital Humanities as CLIR Fellows” (with co-panelists Rachel Deblinger, Emily McGinn, and Alicia Peaker”) and “Thinking Outside the Archive: Engaging Students and Community in Special Collections Digital Projects” (with co-panelists Chella Vaidyanathan, Caitlin Christian-Lamb, Robin Wharton, and Elon Lang).

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CLIR Fellows unite! From left to right: Charlotte Nunes, Justin Schell, Alicia Peaker, Emily McGinn, and Rachel Deblinger.

Both panels were followed by extremely useful discussions.  During our discussion, gracefully moderated by former CLIR fellow and current Director of the Center for Digital Learning and Research at Occidental College Daniel Chamberlain, about doing Digital Humanities as CLIR fellows, we compared tensions and challenges in various institutional settings where we circulate not exactly as faculty, and not exactly as librarians.  It can be a very productive (if sometimes uncomfortable!) place to be.  Despite our very different project responsibilities and position descriptions, all of us function as “human hubs,” or “Collaborators-in-Chief” (Dr. Chamberlain’s term), working as intermediaries between libraries, academic departments, and other bodies on campus.

All of my fellow panelists on “Thinking Outside the Archive: Engaging Students and Community in Special Collections Digital Projects” are doing fabulous work to enhance undergraduate education through engagement with archives and special collections.  Check out the Hoccleve Archive project run by Elon Lang and Robin Wharton.  And see Caitlin Christian-Lamb’s absorbing blog posts about archives-oriented digital projects she’s undertaken at Davidson College Archives and Special Collections here.  Christian-Lamb recommends that DH practitioners hone a “DH and Archives elevator speech” to effectively and directly articulate the benefits of allying digital humanities work with archives and special collections.

During the panel discussion, I posed the question of how to assess student work on digital archives projects.  Here are two ideas from the audience that I look forward to implementing:

  • Badges.  Beau Case, Head of the Arts & Humanities Team at University of Michigan Libraries, suggested implementing a digital skills badge system as a way to incentivize and assess student work on digital archives projects in the semester-long classroom setting.
  • Student-generated rubrics.   offered her experience guiding students in setting the priorities of a given assignment by collaborating on rubrics for assessment.  Her HASTAC blog posts here and here offer insights into the collaborative process, while her article in the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy provides a complete case study.

Other pearls of wisdom from the conference at large:

  • With regard to building digital humanities projects in libraries: Julie Bobay of Indiana University Libraries emphasized that libraries need a “digital humanities consultation checklist” to work with faculty to anticipate audience, impact, sustainability, rights, grant-funding prospects, and other crucial criteria for successful and sustainable projects.  She added that it’s important to align project goals with existing support and infrastructure.  Nancy Maron of Ithaka S+R suggested the Sustainability Implementation Toolkit as a first step toward building sustainable digital projects.
  • With regard to digital archives projects: in her presentation on the 9/11 Digital Archive, Dhanashree Thorat reminded us that we must examine not only the content but the structure of archives to learn how they may privilege and/or de-privilege certain voices and perspectives.  Dorothy Odartey-Wellington argued for the preservation of “inactive voices” (such as discontinued blogs) as crucial for the historical record.  And Rebecca Wingo analogized digital humanities and archival research: we can go in with an agenda, but we must be open to a journey elsewhere, since both digital humanities and archival projects often take on lives and identities of their own, regardless of original intentions.

Huge thanks to the HASTAC Conference Organizing Committee for making this dynamic, inspirational, and beautifully-run event possible!

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