Digital Humanities Thriving at Congress 2015

by Jason Hawreliak

This year’s Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences was held at the University of Ottawa from May 30th to June 5th. DH related events, workshops and panels have been prominent at Congress for years, but there seemed to be more interest than usual this year, particularly from Ontario based scholars.

Reflecting many of the current conversations surrounding DH, there were several meta-discursive events examining the state and role of DH today. Some examples include, “Digital humanities at a crossroads: questions and suggestions for next steps” and “DH futures: Conflict, power, and public knowledge.” In a diverse area like DH, these sort of inward reflections are incredibly important. The Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) once again partnered with Congress to offer a series of hands-on workshops. As DH practitioners, it’s great to get the opportunity to learn (or at least be exposed to) the skills and tools we study.

In addition to the DH events offered at Congress, I also noticed a significant spike in DH related panels and papers at my two primary associations, the Canadian Communication Association (CCA) and the Canadian Game Studies Association (CGSA). For a more comprehensive and detailed breakdown of DH related papers at Congress, head over to Geoffrey Rockwell’s blog here.

Panels and papers on DH typically have a strong showing at CCA. If you check out the full program you can see how many DH related panels there were this year. A paper I really enjoyed—and on my own panel, no less—was Wendy Freeman and Monica Batac’s (Ryerson) “Packaging social media for higher education.” This paper essentially looked at how faculty members use social media in their classrooms, finding that faculty members who use social media in their own lives use them differently than those who use them in teaching contexts alone. As I think about it, Ryerson had a really strong showing at CCA this year, particularly in the areas of DH.

CGSA also had many DH related panels, ranging from big data and online privacy to rhetorical analyses of digital tools. For starters, the first day saw a joint panel with the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities (CSDH) on GamerGate. The panel included both a general discussion of GamerGate as well as an overview of what it means to be the target of online harassment. Among other things, this panel highlighted how game studies can benefit from the analytical methodologies of social media prominent in DH. Perhaps unsurprisingly, GamerGate supporters got wind of CGSA’s discussion and swarmed the conference hashtag (luckily after the conference was over!)

Another CGSA panel that had a distinctly DH flavour was “Making a Mess of Capital.” This panel examined the intersections between game studies, maker culture, big data and the Desire2Learn LMS. Trevor Tomesh’s (Regina) paper on “Do-it-Yourself” gaming was particularly illuminating. In it he discussed the various game systems made using Arduinos (such as the Gamebuino), Rasberry Pis and other maker platforms. In the same panel, Rob Parker (Waterloo), discussed how he uses principles from game studies and Twine in online course development for the Desire2Learn LMS.

Seeing all of the interest in DH at Congress from Ontario scholars really highlights the value of a provincial DH organization. Although DH is of course gaining momentum all over the country, it’s clear that many institutions in Ontario—and southern Ontario in particular—are doing great work in DH. The idea of a central provincial hub to encourage greater communication and collaboration is really exciting.

Jason Hawreliak is an Assistant Professor in the Centre for Digital Humanities at Brock University.

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