Everything I Know About Breaking Silos I Learned From You, It’s True: Lessons From Crossing Disciplinary Boundaries at HASTAC 2015

[Editor’s Note: the ACH awarded Caitlin Christian-Lamb a bursary to attend HASTAC 2015. The award came with an invitation to reflect on the experience in our blog.]

As a conference, HASTAC 2015 seemed remarkably focused on interdisciplinarity and experimentation—in projects, in pedagogy, and in forming collaborations. My experience with HASTAC-connectivity began prior to my arrival in Michigan—a few weeks beforehand, Thomas Padilla and I began planning a dh+lib/DHIG meetup. As part of our preparation, I compiled a list of sessions that mentioned libraries, archives, or museums in their descriptions. It turns out that there were a lot, which is a testament to the interdisciplinarity and the inclusion of LAMs topics with the HASTAC community. As an archivist who works in an academic library, I’m always on the lookout for other LAM folks at digital humanities conferences, and want to see how others with similar roles are engaging with and participating in digital scholarship. The meetup was intended to provide that opportunity, but HASTAC’s interesting keynotes and sessions were also rife with chances to connect with people working in and with libraries—as well as learn from colleagues working in different fields.

The first conference session included one of my favorite panels,“The Georgia Virtual History Project: A New Way of Seeing the Past.” GVHP models a unique university/high school partnership, and the panel featured speakers (Jon Deen, Anna Kate Foshee, Christopher Lawton, Laura Nelson, Randy Reid, and Sachi Shastri) that ranged across the different roles involved in the project: University of Georgia faculty, an undergrad student who was about to start a graduate program, high school teachers, and a high school student. Randy Reid (Athens Academy) summarized the reasoning behind getting high school students involved in a digital local history project: “We wanted to provide the students with the opportunity to do the work that historians do.” Chris Lawton (UGA) summed up the whole project beautifully: placeness of local and oral history is key to the power that these stories hold with “the ability to go to a place and hear these stories.” The Georgia Virtual History Project creates that place digitally, producing public, popular, and local history that is accessible to a wider audience.

I served as the designated tweeter for two sessions, “Student-Centered Pedagogy and Technology: An Interactive Long Table Conversation,” and “Social Praxis and the Digital Archive.” Both sessions ended up being highlights of the conference for me.

“Student-Centered Pedagogy and Technology,” or the #futuresED panel, focused on involving the audience in a discussion about how to teach digital literacy (led by Cathy Davidson, Katina Rogers, Michael Dorsch, Danica Savonick, and Lisa Tagliaferri). We began with a think-pair-share exercise. Attendees were provided with butcher paper and markers, and asked to write down three learning goals for a class (past, present, or future iterations). We then brainstormed with the person sitting next to us, prior to sharing with the room— my partner was Anthony Curtis, a biology instructor and ecologist. Anthony and I ended up having a rich discussion on the similarities of our challenges, despite his firm STEM background and my interdisciplinary-but-still-majority-humanities role. My favorite of Anthony’s learning goals: “learn how to learn.”

The “Social Praxis and the Digital Archive” panel focused on seven projects that investigate the concept of digital archive as “third space.” As fellow designated tweeter Jen Shook summarized, the third space is “between physical/virtual, [and] between learning/knowing.” All of the speakers highlighted issues of identity-building, disruption of colonialism, and critical thinking on materiality and authority within archives, oftentimes emphasized by the creation and maintenance of digital projects. In particular, I was taken with Michael Pierse’s (Queen’s University Belfast) talk on the “Working-Class Cultures and Conflict in Northern Ireland Since 1945” and “’From Dark Tourism to Phoenix Tourism: The Ethics of Cultural Translation in Urban Festivals” projects, which discussed community collaboration within a context of institutional mistrust and complex sectarian divides. Equally compelling was Bettina Fabos and Sergey Golitsynskiy’s (University of Northern Iowa) presentation on FORTEPAN IOWA, a “public park of images” of Iowan life, the first sister site of Hungary’s FORTEPAN.

When I looked at the schedule prior to attending HASTAC, I marked off the “Doing Digital Liberal Arts: Projects and Pedagogies on Student-centered Campuses” panel as one I’d definitely be attending. I work at a small liberal arts college, so hearing how the panelists (Alex Galarza, Jacob Heil, Bill Pannapacker, Andrea Rehn, and Janet Simons) went about “doing Digital Liberal Arts” was of particular interest. This was a panel where nearly every sentence had me head-nodding or tweeting a hearty “YES!”—the initiatives, challenges, and ideas shared by panelists echoed my own experiences. In particular, Alicia Peaker’s comment on Twitter that Jacob Heil “IS a #diglibarts hub” resonated with me—archivists, librarians, and digital scholars who operate outside of institutional DH/DLA/DS centers often have to generate their own networks and forge connections on their campus. To paraphrase a thought from Brian Rosenblum’s presentation at last year’s Data Driven: Digital Humanities in the Library conference, DH librarians serve as nodes—connecting students, faculty, staff, and community with resources, but also with one another.

I also loved Bill Pannapacker’s talk—he emphasized that Digital Liberal Arts (DLA) is never just about the humanities; DLA is a more inclusive umbrella term than DH, and DLA initiatives and work on campus ideally reflect each institution’s mission. Alex Galarza’s discussion of a year-long undergraduate course he taught, designed to train students to be collaborative project architects, was also very inspiring. The course was split into thirds: one-third learning technological tools, one-third project management and grant writing, and one-third spent conducting research—scaffolded to encourage group and independent work, with lots of freedom for student scholarship.

I feel very lucky to have been part of the “Thinking Outside the Archive: Engaging Students and Community in Special Collections Digital Projects” panel. My co-presenters (Chella Vaidyanathan, Charlotte Nunes, Robin Wharton, and Elon Lang) are all working on innovative ways of connecting and creating archives, and their dedication to creative digital outreach and pedagogy inspired me. In particular, I’d love to crib ideas from the “The History of Student Life at Johns Hopkins University” project presented by Chella Vaidyanathan, and the “Freedom and Imprisonment in the American Literary Tradition” undergraduate course that Charlotte Nunes has been teaching at Southwestern University, both of which encourage digital archival literacy by having students build and use archives.

The final activity of my HASTAC 2015 experience was the post-conference “Workshop on Text Analytics with the HathiTrust Research Center: An Introduction to Tools for Working with Digitized Text and Metadata,” run by Sayan Bhattacharyya (assisted by Sveta Stoytcheva). The workshop was an incredibly helpful overview of the HathiTrust Digital Library’s (HTDL) holdings, and the tools being developed by the HathiTrust Research Center (HTRC). I played around with several of the bookworm applications and topic modeling algorithms, creating a mini-corpus of Titanic-related materials from HTDL to then do some basic text mining and analysis on. Very fun—I look forward to using more of the HTRC tools in the future!

Participating in HASTAC 2015 reminded me of the value of attending interdisciplinary conferences, as opposed to annual organization meetings—while those too are valuable, connecting across our professional silos allows for new ideas and solutions, as well as providing an opportunity of explaining challenges that may be unique to specific roles. I left Michigan with a sense of renewed purpose, full of new ideas to experiment with, and new potential collaborations to build. Viva the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory!

* The title of this post refers to the lyrics of the Taking Back Sunday song, “There’s No ‘I’ in Team.”

By Caitlin Christian-Lamb

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