Yesterday I performed my last duty for the Digital Humanities 2013 conference, which didn’t feel like a duty at all: I co-led the local tour of the Nebraska State Capitol and the Quilt museum for a small group of two. After that, I read a book I have been meaning to for a while (Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane), played with my dog, took a nap, and cleaned up around the house. I feel like my life has been on hold for a while, at the same time, I hardly know what to do with myself when I don’t have to check email every half hour.
This was my second DH conference (my last was in 2009 when I was able to attend as a student) and I got more out of it this year. For one thing, I am actually in a job where I make things this time, so I had a lot more to talk to others about. Second, I have been in touch with many in the community from attending THATCamps and other events, which made it easier to connect. There were a lot of panels I enjoyed, and I got to talk to a lot of very interesting people doing very interesting things. What follows is a jumbled list of my impressions after not enough sleep.
1: Women as role models. One of my few disappointments of DH this year was that I only caught the Q&A portion of thePanel “Excavating Feminisms: Digital Humanities and Feminist Scholarship”. Still, even that was great to see: many people talking about the role of feminism in DH and pedagogy, and how that’s good for men and women. I also quite enjoyed “Against the Binary of Gender: A Case for Considering the Many Dimensions of Gender in DH Teaching and Research“. There are so many inspiring women in the DH community, so many role models, starting with the co-head of the CDRH, Katherine Walter, who almost single handedly organized DH 2013. The head of the program committee, Bethany Nowviskie, is also tireless and tenacious. While at one of the receptions I was talking with two other women, Erin and Molly, and Erin remarked that it was nice to talk to other women about code. Indeed it is, and I had not realized how rare it is to talk to other women about code or technology in general. This conference has inspired me to seek out other technical women and keep in touch.
Beyond coding, though, the women I met at DH were inspiring for their presence, and their commitment to their ideals. I was amazed by the women I saw who were pregnant (it is hard for me to fathom attending a conference like this while growing a human being). There were also women who brought their kids with them. It is inspiring to see women who can seemingly do it all, though I recognize what they make look easy didn’t come easy. To top it off, the terrific closing keynote by Isabel Galina was about inclusiveness — not only of gender, but of all people. The message seemed well received, and though DH is disproportionately white and male, it’s also filled with white males that recognize the advantage of hearing voices unlike their own.
2: DH as community. The longer I am in DH, the harder it is to see myself doing anything else. Besides the fact that what I do now is more interesting than anything else I have ever done, I feel genuinely useful in DH, rather than an interchangeable part contributing slightly to a bottom line somewhere. I sort of stumbled into this, and I am forever grateful for it. Almost every single DH person I meet is fascinating, smart, yet approachable — a tough combo to find. This year, the ADHO sponsored a set of newbie dinners that were amazingly well attended and very fun — one example of how DH reaches out to newcomers.
3: Growing my technical skills. My technical skills have improved so much since the last DH I attended, and it was very gratifying to have very technical conversations I could not only follow but contribute to. I found the work others were doing inspiring, and it has encouraged me to broaden my toolset and, especially, programming languages. It was gratifying to see so many people using SOLR, since I am so enamored of it, and I am excited to try using it in contexts other than the cocoon/XSLT framework I usually use it in.
4: Growing, and solidifying, my design skills. I talked to a few people about designing DH projects, and I always felt sort of rambling and incoherent when talking about design. I have a definite aesthetic I have developed over the last 4 years working on projects, but I haven’t tried hard enough to explain it beyond the actual process of designing sites. I’m also more committed than ever to responsive design and accessible sites (thanks largely to George Williams), and making that commitment clear on the projects I work on.
5: Libraries and DH. Sarah Potvin and Roxanne Shirazi organized a well attended and terrific GLAM meetup (that’s “Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums”) at Yia Yia’s, which was great fun. In addition there is a proposed Library SIG through ADHO. It was great to talk to librarians about what they are doing — visualizations, text analysis, helping students with DH projects, and, of course, the “boring” digitization and digital preservation work that forms the backbone of many, many DH projects.
6: Lincoln. It’s not often we get to host international conferences in our home town, and it was deeply satisfying in a way I still can’t quite articulate. I think it comes from the fact that, as part of “flyover country,” Lincoln is a place that most people wouldn’t see without an event like this to bring them here. Having people from all over the world where I live had the same effect as traveling for me: it rekindled the love I have for Lincoln, warts and all. I find it hard to articulate what I like about Lincoln much of the time, but I believe it is rooted in the peace I find here.
Plus, it’s really great to have my bike at conference and to be able to go home to cuddle with my pets.
I will have more thoughts a bit later on some of the lessons learned building the conference website, attempting to run a social media presence, working on the book of abstracts, and swag (tshirts are hard).