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June 28, 2012 / Lee Skallerup Bessette

More on MLA 13 and Other News

I was just informed today that our panel, Building Bridges Within Digital Humanities” was selected to be included in the MLA 13 Presidential Brochure as a part of his theme, “Avenues of Access.” What does this mean? Instead of being lost in a long, long list of sessions, our panel will be highlighted and promoted by the MLA and the President himself (at least relative to the other, non-selected panels). Although I linked to the Google Docs file previously, I’m including the complete proposal below.

Oh, and my book on Dany Laferriere and life writing is now under contract at Wilfred Laurier Press. I have until October 1 2013 to get it done. Go me!

Building Bridges within Digital Humanities

In an email sent to the Humanist Discussion Group, Domenico Fiormonte railed against the UCL infographic meant to visualize DH internationally, stating the following:

“I wonder how data about the rest of the world were collected. As it is, this infographics reflects a vision of Digital Humanities as a big Anglo-american Empire with small satellites here and there. It is mono-lingual, mono-cultural, and, above all, poorly researched. Numbers cannot tell an inclusive and respectful story of Humanities Computing, Informatica Umanistica or Digitale Geisteswissenschaften. Dense cultural issues cannot be represented like this. It is not just a matter of being “included” in or “excluded” from a family, it is a sense of an entire international community being flattened and misrepresented.”

The monolithic view of the Digital Humanities Fiormonte criticizes has been reflected in recent scholarship in DH: the book Debates in Digital Humanities, while invaluable, is focused almost exclusively on the United States and projects being done in English. Ernesto Priego indirectly provided an important counterpoint to the book in his blog post, “Globalisation of Digital Humanities: An Uneven Promise.” In it, he points to how we not only need openness, but also “reliable multilingual metadata” for things like academic blogging. Browsing the Digital Humanities panels at the 2012 MLA conference reveals very few DH panels focused on languages other than English, and those that did tended to be grouped together linguistically, potentially reducing their appeal to a broader DH audience. To an outsider, this seems to recreate the linguistic ghettos of traditional departmental and disciplinary divides.

The purpose of this roundtable is to bring together digital humanities scholars working in a variety of languages and approaches. It seeks to find ways to build bridges between the “Anglo-American” center of DH with the rest of the world of DH, both within and outside of the US borders. Because the Digital Humanities seem to reinforce traditional disciplinary and geographic boundaries while simultaneously claiming interdisciplinary and international status, this roundtable hopes to appeal to a broader DH audience as well as traditional scholars in linguistics, comparative literature, and translation, in the hopes of introducing DH tools and approaches to an audience that has yet to embrace DH (or be embraced by DH).

The panelists for this roundtable represent different approaches and linguistic backgrounds, as well as a more international focus for DH research. Ernesto Priego will be talking about “geographies of knowledge production,” moving beyond the anglo-centric scholarship coming out of the USA and the UK, and bringing forward the work done in other languages. Mark Fortin continues the conversation, looking at issues of translation, digital editions, and ethnographic indigenous modernisms. Alex Gil brings comes to these questions with the multi-lingual, multi-ethnic Caribbean context in mind, working on how to include this richness in digital spaces. Brian N Larson is working on using computer programs to bridge these sorts of linguistic divides, while Sophie Marcotte provides us with a case-study of how digital archives may be used to preserve and share the works of a particular author, in this case, Franco-Manitoban author Gabrielle Roy. Lee Skallerup Bessette (who may not be able to participate in the panel as she is being considered as a speaker on other special session panels) will round out the discussion by talking about how digital humanities may be used in the research and understanding of literary translation. Trent M Kays, who will be chairing the panel, comes to digital humanities from a composition and rhetoric background, looking at how digital tools have reshaped and rewritten how we communicate.

By bringing these seemly disparate (at least according to traditional disciplinary boundaries) researchers together, we hope to show how bridges can be built between languages, cultures, and geographical regions in and through Digital Humanities. As put by Amy Earhart in her blog post reflecting on the 2012 Day of DH:

“Disciplines govern our academic lives, from our graduate training, to our positions in the academy, to the type of work produced and valued, to our ability to advance in our careers. Universities continue to organize knowledge groups into traditional subject areas so it should come as no surprise that we find it difficult to work outside traditional structures. We pretend disciplinary boundaries don’t exist to our peril. Instead of shying away from such complexities, we should embrace the heady dissention.  I would love to have an interdisciplinary DH.  I hope that we might work towards such connectivity.”



Leave a Comment
  1. Paul Martin / Jun 28 2012 1:12 pm

    Looks like a great panel, Lee. I’ll be there!


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