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DH2015: Lots of Questions and Not So Many Answers

by José de Kruif & Melvin Wevers

Digital Humanities is still a booming business, even though at this year’s global DH conference fewer papers–some 260 papers and posters–were presented than in previous years. The fact that the conference took place in Sydney, Australia probably made attendance difficult for some. On the other hand, this location meant more submissions from Asia and Oceania, though the US was still dominant.[i] 

With regards to representation of gender, the DH community still has some catching up to do. As with many conferences nowadays, a parallel conference was taking place on Twitter. During one of the keynotes, an interesting twitter conversation arose about the under-representation of women in DH authorship and on boards.[ii] At DH2015, women made up 46% of the attendees, 34,6% of the authors, and 33.3% of the keynotes (1 out of 3). Moreover, the editorial board of the newfound journal Frontiers in Digital Humanities has zero(!) womenThese issues were addressed by organizer Deb Verhoeven in an introductory talk on the third day of the conference. 

The topics of papers and posters ranged from archives, digitization, text mining, visualizations, to network analysis. Many presenters described work in progress with a promising future for their specific tool. Unfortunately, only few talked about how computation had actually helped to answer their research question. The papers that did, stood out. For instance, Micki Kaufman’s paper Quantifying Kissinger showed how different tools can be used in conjunction to research the paradoxes in Kissinger’s political behaviour.

The Translantis team was represented by José de Kruif and Melvin Wevers. The latter presented a paper he co-authored with project members Tom Kenter and Pim Huijnen. In the paper Concepts Through Time, they showed the use of distributional semantics for conceptual history. They argued for the close collaboration of humanists and computer scientists throughout the entire research process, from coming up with a hypothesis relevant to both fields to answering it. Much too often, these two research communities only meet tangentially. 

Participants also had ample chance to reflect on Digital Humanities in plenary sessions. During the meeting Building Communities and Networks in the Humanities, it was mentioned that several Arabic countries as well as Taiwan will join the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO). Moreover, this meeting revealed that similar concerns are popping up everywhere. What kind of science is it that we pursue in DH? Should every digital humanists learn at least some coding to do proper DH research? And how do we explain DH to students? And lastly, how can one obtain facilities to deploy suitable tools within major university structures?

In sum, the conference brought to light that there is much work to be done within the Digital Humanities community both on a infrastructural level, as well as on the level of the actual research content. After a long time of making promises, the actual work has just started. Let’s continue by writing papers that emphasize how computation actually helped to answer research questions.

[i] Some of the figures in this post taken from Scott Weingart’s Blog

[ii] For more on this discussion, see: Melissa Terras’s blog