Decoding Digital Humanities Bloomington

An informal monthly gathering to discuss issues related to the digital humanities. Come meet people studying or working in DH!


A Digital Renaissance: Imaging the Iliad

Please join us for the April meeting of Decoding Digital Humanities, an informal, international digital humanities discussion group.

Friday, April 27, 4-6pm, in the Wells Library E174

April’s meeting will focus on a screening of A Digital Renaissance: Imaging the Iliad, a film documenting the digitization of the oldest complete copy of Homer’sIliad in Venice, in 2007. 

During the summer of 2007 researchers from the University of Kentucky, University of Houston, College of the Holy Cross, Furman University, and Brandeis University gathered in Venice, Italy at the Marciana Library to digitally preserve the Venetus A, the oldest existing complete text of the Homeric Iliad. Meticulously crafted in Byzantium, the Venetus A has been stored for 500 years in the Marciana Library. Its thousand-year-old pages contain handwritten notes recoding a tradition of scholarship going back to the Ptolemaic scholars of the second century BCE. In addition to digital photos, the text was also scanned in 3D with each page now fully preserved as a 3D model.

During this time the Vis Center produced a documentary entitled, A Digital Renaissance: Imaging the Iliad: . The film premiered on the University of Kentucky campus in December 2008 and then was first broadcast on Kentucky Educational Television in January 2009. Since then at least 25 public television stations around the United States have aired the documentary. The film has also been shown at the Islamic Manuscript Association at Christ’s College in Cambridge, England. In summer 2010, Imaging the Iliad was nominated for an Emmy Award.

Find out more about the film and watch a trailer here:

The film is one hour long and the screening will begin at 4pm, with discussion to follow. We’ll have a few people who took part in the digitization project joining via Skype. Snacks will be provided!


Alternative Academics

Please join us for the February meeting of Decoding Digital Humanities, an informal, international digital humanities discussion group.

Friday, February 17, 4-6pm, in the IU Memorial Union Starbucks

February’s theme is the alternative academic, or “alt-ac” movement.  This movement is when academics, usually those with a PhD, decide to take positions that are not as tenure track teaching faculty.  Instead, these academics find jobs in other areas of academia or perhaps even leave academia but still continue to research and publish. This is a movement that is affecting the humanities, as scholars take positions outside of the standard humanities teaching positions, but still influence what is going one within the academic community.

Our discussion this month will focus on two readings.  One, a blog post by Bethany Noviskie which started the trend: and the other is by William Pannapacker on alt-ac being the future of the academy: Feel free to check out resources or follow the  #altac or #alt-ac hashtag on twitter to see what is going on currently with the movement.

Come join us for friendly face-to-face conversation and coffee.

Note: Future DDH meetings are scheduled for March 16, April 20, and May 18 (the third Friday of each month). Please contact Nancy Meuth (njmeuth at imail dot iu dot edu)  if you would like to propose a topic of conversation for one of these meetings.


Making (digital) humanities understandable to non-(digital) humanists

Please join us for the November meeting of Decoding Digital Humanities, an informal, international digital humanities discussion group.

Friday, November 11, 4-6pm, in the IU Memorial Union Starbucks

November’s theme is “Making (digital) humanities understandable to non-(digital) humanists”

First, have a look at this post on the HASTAC blog from Cathy Davidson, “Best Idea for Higher Ed Since About 2002” ( The post discusses The Conversation, a collaborative project out of Australia that seeks to make scholarly research (mostly from science, technology, business, and policy) understandable to a more general audience. Then check out The Conversation at Look through the site to gain a general feel for it and then reflect on how useful this site or others like it could be.

Topic for our discussion: What are the implications for this approach to the humanities? Would it be worthwhile to do something similar and if so, on what level (University, Organization, National)?

Come join us for friendly face-to-face conversation and coffee.


Issues of Representation in Digital Imaging

Please join us for the September meeting of Decoding Digital Humanities, an informal, international digital humanities discussion group.

Friday, September 30th, 4pm-6pm in the IU Memorial Union Starbucks.

September’s theme is “Issues of Representation in Digital Imaging”
For the meeting, please read the following article:

Melissa Terras’ “Artefacts and Errors: Acknowledging Issues of Representation in the Digital Imaging of Ancient Texts.”

As digital images of primary sources become more accessible, many scholars tend to interact with images of sources rather than with the sources themselves. What are the scholarly implications of this move? Can we trust our digital surrogates, and if not how can we trust our readings of them? Although Terras’ article focuses on sources used for study in the Classics, the issue will be of interest to any scholar who uses primary sources, no matter the discipline or time period.

Come join us for friendly face-to-face conversation and coffee.


GIS and the Spatial Humanities

Please join us for the April meeting of Decoding Digital Humanities, an
informal, international digital humanities discussion group.

Friday, April 29th, 3-5PM at the Irish Lion. (Upstairs. This is an all
ages event.)

March’s theme is “GIS and the Spatial Humanities”
For the meeting, please read the following article:

What possibilities can thinking about space, in qualitative and quantitative terms, afford us? What are the possibilities for GIS in humanities scholarship?
Come join us for friendly face-to-face conversation and beer.


March 2011 Meeting Recap (Amy’s POV)

Amy is a newcomer to Decoding Digital Humanities Bloomington; she also has a blog,  She shares her perspective of “Building,” the discussion topic for March, below.

It was a blustery Friday, and orders for drinks and appetizers were aplenty.  While some of us preferred the onion rings to the fried pickles and still others elected to nibble on soda bread, we all agreed with Stephen Ramsay and Matthew Kirschenbaum: a digital humanist must be able to code.  As Ramsay explains in “On Building,” coding represents a radical, significant step from “reading and critiquing” (i.e., the activities of a traditional scholar) to “building and making.” 

I wondered how “building and making” might transform my work, so I’d like to indulge that question here, if only to illustrate the inherent difference between traditional and digital humanist scholarship.  Consider Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives (1890), which focuses on New York City’s immigrant underclass: a literary scholar might critique the text’s representation of the Lower East Side’s transportation pathways, including its meandering sidewalks, nefarious streets, and subterranean sewer passages; however, a digital humanist might build a program that would spatially map these pathways so that users ultimately could compare Riis’ version of the Lower East Side with actual maps of this area. 

Had each discussion participant been a programmer, our conclusion about coding’s fundamental place in the digital humanities would have been unsurprising.  But, several of those in attendance had no knowledge of code—myself included.  Interestingly, I didn’t come to the meeting with the mindset that a digital humanist must be able to code.  I was skeptical of Ramsay’s assertion that “building and making”—that essential thing a digital humanist does—only boils down to one practice (i.e., programming.)  In fact, before the discussion, I agreed with Lincoln Mullen who claims that “we’re all digital humanists now” because the field not only is a spectrum of activities, but also is built on an “ethos of inclusion.” Although Mullen’s piece didn’t make the discussion agenda for March, I want to mention it here because it sharply contests the group’s ideas about coding as well as the claims advanced in the readings we examined.

The group’s lively discussion about tenure and funding in the digital humanities perhaps is what brought me—and maybe other non-coders—to Ramsay and Kirschenbaum’s camp.  Granted, deeming coding as a firm line in the digital sand might seem undemocratic; however, the promotional structure of academia necessitates such a strict standard.

We revisited the issue of “who is getting credit for what and for what purpose” when we turned our attention to collaborations between traditional scholars and digital humanists—that is, between one who has idea and one who has the tools and expertise to build as well as refine the project.  In this kind of partnership, who is the digital humanist, and by extension, what kind of “credit” on the institutional level does each individual receive for his/her work?

Because several participants were graduate students, we also discussed Kirschenbaum’s claim that humanities students whose projects would benefit from programming expertise should learn coding languages and receive foreign language credit for such study.  The consensus?  A resounding “Like.” 


Building Things

Friday, March 25th, 3-5PM at The Irish Lion (upstairs; reservation is in Grant’s name).


One of the persistent tropes in defining DH is the idea that digital humanists build things. Tools. Objects. Stuff. The degree to which they should be engaging in such differentiates scholars’ definitions of the field. Whether, for example, humanists should learn to program (to, among other things, facilitate building things) is currently being debated as we struggle to define our field.

What is/should be our relationship to creating digital objects? What roles do we/should we play in such? (Primary investigators? Cowboy coders?) How are the things we see DH practitioners creating related to the kinds of things humanists have always created (books, articles, etc.)?

Come join us for friendly face-to-face conversation and beer.

For the next meeting, please read:


October 2010 Meeting Recap (Grant’s POV)

Another successful and engaging conversation! Perhaps it was the pitcher of Smithwicks.

In attendance were the Suzanne Lodato and Clara Henderson of the Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities, Dot Porter of the Digital Library Program, Bob Noel, the head librarian for the Swain Hall library (i.e., the one that specializes in physics, astronomy, mathematics, statistics, computer science, and informatics), as well as students from English and Library Science.

If I may speak for everyone, I would venture that we were all intrigued by Peter Suber’s "Promoting Open Access In the Humanities", which for many of us, was our first indication of the varied nature of open access between disciplines and the fact that such access grew out of disciplinary necessities.

Bob indicated that the preprint strategy, popular for many years in the sciences, works because it is “good enough.” As a programmer, I see in my day job many instances in which “good enough” is the best that can be expected; anything better than good enough leads to over-designed solutions. Perhaps what we need to approach in the humanities is an open access solution that is good enough, meaning it is not ideal but meets the needs with regard to openness, quality, and long-term hopes for preservation (i.e., open formats, etc.).

One question I asked of this diverse group was whether they, being at various points in their academic careers, would publish in a peer-reviewed open access journal. I myself did not answer the question. I suppose I owe it to everyone to do so now. What worries me about publishing in open access journals is not quality. I have faith in the peer review process; it does not need to be coupled to the academic printing (read: corporatized) structure. And many open access journals seem like the perfect fit for the kind of work I’m doing. What worries me is essentially brand recognition and how such journals will be seen in the tenure review process. Established (read: not open access, usually) journals have a cachet that the (inevitably younger) open access journals don’t yet have.

With that in mind, here’s my personal plan of action. I can’t wait for these things to be taken seriously. They’re already doing serious work. I will submit to where my article makes sense. At the same time, I will advocate more for open access journals to be taken more seriously in the tenure process.


Open Access, or, You Cannot Get a Database from Interlibrary Loan: October 2010 Meeting

Thursday, October 21st, 4-6PM at The Irish Lion (upstairs).


For the next meeting, please read:

With digital technology comes new affordances, including, paradoxically, the ability to more effectively limit access through digital “rights management” (DRM) schemes. Without disabling such protections, DVDs cannot be copied, copy-protected files will not be authorized for play, and passages from a Kindle book cannot be cut and pasted into an article.

It is this new world that DH practitioners must navigate in the use and creation of digital objects. But as both creators and users, we are in a ideal position to discuss the issues and ethics surrounding access and licensing.

Come join us for friendly face-to-face conversation and beer (two of the best reasons to temporarily unplug).