DDH Bloomington had its first meeting yesterday at the Irish Lion. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was free WiFi but found myself too engaged in the conversation to tweet about the meeting. So, to satisfy the curiosity of those who’ve asked me, I’m doing a selective writeup of the event, from my perspective.
In attendance were students, faculty, and alumni from Folklore and Ethnomusicology, English, Communication and Culture, and the School of Library and Information Science.
We focused most of our time on Melissa Terras’s DH 2010 keynote speech, Present, Not Voting: Digital Humanities in the Panopticon. Since The Chronicle of Higher Education had just published an article about UCL’s Transcribe Bentham project, which figures prominently in the keynote, it seemed a fitting place to start.
In our e-mail out to local listservs, Dot and I had provided a link to both a text version and a video version of the lecture. To be honest, I didn’t watch the video, opting instead for the “safer” traditional text (an unexamined, unconscious choice, to be sure). I did a quick poll and found that most people in attendance had watched the video version. Some digital humanist I am.
Our discussion started with the issue of crowdsourcing. Transcribe Bentham has a clearly defined task: that of transcription. Would the reliability of said transcriptions depend on the number and dedication of participants (i.e., does Wikipedia work because there is a critical mass of diligent editors)? How would crowdsourcing work for a project that required other forms of editorial judgment? Why do I seem to be scared of crowdsourcing when I’m not scared of open source software (and, in fact, welcome it), or, as someone diligently pointed out, I’m not worried much by the reliability of medieval scribes? (That is, I trust that the protocols of textual criticism will prevail over error.)
Crowdsourcing led to discussions of the boundaries between the academy and the “outside,” between the professional and the amateur (i.e., the one who does it for love), and between research and activism. (At one point I asked what it was about the digital humanities that elicits these questions so often.) The role of knowledgeable amateurs was a particularly interesting discussion. Most seemed to agree that digital projects shouldn’t be walled gardens and that we limit potential productive relationships by arbitrarily walling off the rest of the world. Who, after all, are we expecting to transcribe Bentham? I’m sure there are Benthamites out there with no connection to the academy. Prison architects, perhaps? (That got mild laughs yesterday so I’ll try it again.) Joss Marsh discussed her work, with David Francis, on magic lanterns, specifically that the project encourages and needs participation by those from outside the academy with knowledge about magic lanterns. It’s a written project requirement that the public be allowed to contribute.
In short, we had a productive first meeting. Dot and I will send out information about the October meeting soon.