DHSI Musings

I arrived at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute on a Sunday evening with the first session due to begin the next day. My luggage arrived five days later, but that is an Air Canada story involving heart break, tragedy, and the triumph of the human spirit. My Digital Humanities Summer Institute story is much more upbeat and utterly lacking in the trip through the seamy underbelly of airline policy.

I am at the end of my first year as a PhD student at Texas A&M University and this was my first time to attend DHSI. I walked in with truly no digital tools under my belt, but with a strong conviction that this is the direction I want my career to move toward and a willingness to learn anything that anyone would teach me. I already have a project conceptualized but lacked the tools to realize my ideas. I stated my intent to pursue the Digital Humanities Certificate and the incredibly supportive people that make up Texas A&M’s Initiative for Digital Humanities Media and Culture at Texas A&M strongly recommended DHSI at the University of Victoria.

After looking up the course list I had to agree that this was a great opportunity. I financed my trip with funding from various places including a scholarship from DHSI itself, a professionalization grant from the English Dept. at Texas A&M and of course the bursary from the wonderful people at the Association for Computers and Humanities (ACH). Through the generosity of all three of these organizations I was actually able to fund two weeks at DHSI.
My first week was spent in David Hoover’s “Out-of-the-Box Text Analysis” course. I was deeply intimidated, but Dr. Hoover was incredibly thorough (and patient!) with his explanations. We used Minitab and the Intelligent Archive to generate analysis of different texts. This can include using word frequency to compare authors, genres, texts, etc. The sight of the spreadsheets on the first day ratcheted my anxiety to worrisome levels, but this really is a course that a novice can enter and comprehend. Dr. Hoover will hold your hand and walk you through painstakingly if you need it—which I did at times.

Over the course of that first week I attended several of the lunch unconference talks which involved some pretty useful mini-workshops on introductory digital topics like command line. I also met some great people along the way and found a thriving and warm community. During the second week I attended the Sounds and Digital Humanities course with John Barber. This was a very different vibe from the week before as Dr. Barber allows his students to create the class they need. He gave us sound tools such as Garage Band and Audacity and allowed us to use them as we saw fit for our own projects. This actually resulted in my own project really getting a jump start that week.

At the end of each session at DHSI there is a class showcase. Our showcase for Sounds and Digital Humanities was actually incredibly cool. We created a loop of sound from each of our personal projects and piped it through Dr. Barber’s retro-chic egg chair to deliver a sound experience. What struck me was that as you are in the egg listening you become a visual display for everyone else. People unabashedly stare into you as you are immersed in something they cannot hear. Two experiences are created. You are isolated, yet on display.

My two weeks were incredibly interesting and really jump started my own research. On a final note—Victoria itself and the campus are breathtakingly beautiful. Every morning I got up to run and found myself in this strange little forest wonderland where the deer do not even run from you. Downtown Victoria is really easy to reach by bus and a lot of fun when you get there. Overall, it was just a thoroughly worthwhile experience and I fully intend to return next year, so thank you to ACH for the critical help I received financially through their support.

By Sally Schutz

Comments are closed.