No You Are Not Crazy: What I learned from Presenting a Paper at the Joint ACH and CSDH/SCHN Conference 2015

Presenting my Paper “Towards a Quantum Digital Humanities” at a Digital Humanities conference was a wonderful opportunity to simultaneously share my views of where I believe the future of where Digital Humanities is headed and to connect with the larger community of scholars. In the newcomer’s lunch, I was able to make some meaningful connections with other faculty and graduate students that have helped shaped my confidence in practicing Digital Humanities.

As apart of my Master’s Degree at King’s College London in Digital Humanities, I needed to take a class on the Methods and Techniques in Digital Humanities. Listening to and reading about the plethora of approaches to the digital, I often wondered what I could bring to the conversation. Would like look at new ways of text mining or would I look to something new? It seems to me that any discipline grounded in technology, must constantly be looking forward to understand new technology as it develops.

With this in mind, I started to look at what new technologies might be of interest to the Digital Humanist. I came upon the topic of Quantum Computing through a news story that CNBC ran in September of 2014 that discussed how important Quantum Computing could be to airline manufactures. The story went to theorize that through this new type of computer, simulations could be accurately made to represent what happens when a piece of machinery fails during a flight. The CNBC correspondent talked about how it was the complexity of the problem that could not be handled by traditional computing and that only Quantum Computing could deal with this sort of problem. I immediately thought of the act of reading and how very complex it can be, and thought could this new computer make it possible for a machine to read?

I set out to try to either prove this right or wrong. Initially it was very difficult to get a grasp on the literature about Quantum Computing, since it is written in computer science theorems and equations that were hard to understand without a computer science degree. Still, I ventured on and started to understand part of the conversation that was happening around Quantum Computing. What stuck me is that all of the literature was very focused on results and rarely talked about implication. This is where my paper began and ended, how to first approach this subject that could benefit immensely from Digital Humanities.

The finished paper seemed like almost science fiction rather than scholarship, and with great nervousness I decided to submit it to the joint ACH CSDH/SCHN conference. I decided to present this paper, because I more than anything wanted to know if I was onto something. It was also a hope that I could inspire other scholars to take a closer look at new technologies like Quantum Computing and to try to understand and critique them. When the email came through that my paper had been accepted and that the comments on the work consistently pointed to an interest in the subject, I became instantly nervous. I hoped that my work would come clearly through in my presentation, and that I would not be too nervous presenting my paper in front of many scholars that I respected.

The day came for the presentation, and I had rewritten and rethought about my paper the entire week leading to conference. Then in the blink of an eye, I had read my last sentence and I looked to the audience for any questions. This had been the part that I had dreaded the most, the questions. My fear was that some scholar would ask me a question I had no clue how to answer. However, many of the questions were pointed to make me think more clearly on my paper and I felt that the community of scholars in front of me were cheering me on, wanting me to succeed. It was a wonderful feeling to have and I keep it with me when I am every uncertain about my work.

Grant Glass, King’s College London

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