Digital Humanities and Humanities Computing in Canada

I did two talks in Canada on humanities computing and digital humanities this week. Yesterday (Nov 6) I talked about “The Landscape of Digital Humanities” at University of Alberta and on Tuesday (Nov 4) I gave a lecture titled “From Humanities Computing to Digital Humanities” at University of Toronto. It has been a very productive week and I have greatly enjoyed having discussions with a range of people doing interesting work within and outside the digital humanities.

Yesterday I had a chance to talk to Geoffrey Rockwell (my host), Stan Ruecker and Sean Gouglas (among others). They are all involved in the Humanities Computing program at UA. I know Geoffrey’s work from before (not least from my previous visit to McMaster) and it was great to catch up and see the development of previous and new projects. We talked quite a bit about methodology, rapid prototyping and tried out a new tool that allows for querying/concordancing a text, looking at frequencies and visualizing changes over time.  Very nice. I am very appreciative of Geoffrey’s approach to tool development, and I find myself quoting his work frequently in my own writing. Also, I appreciate the inclusive nature of both the humanities computing programme at Alberta and the Multimedia programme at McMaster – supporting multiple modes of engagement with the digital. This makes for interesting interaction between faculty and students with rather different “ways in”. I had an opportunity to meet some of the students in their lab environment and also at my talk later. It seems as if many of them have quite interesting projects, and it reminds me of the importance of supporting creative student projects – creative also in the sense of producing software.

It was great to have humanities computing specialists (with a sense of the history of the field) present at the talk. This will help me in my continued work on my three articles on digital humanities and humanities computing.  We talked a fair bit about names and the reason for ‘digital humanities’.

In Toronto, I was hosted by the iSchool and Matt Ratto who was a postdoc in HUMlab last year. I had a great stay in Toronto and I got to see Matt’s Critical Making Lab and talk to people like Alan Galey (who just moved to Toronto from University of Alberta) and Brian Cantwell Smith. There was quite a crowd at my talk and a good discussion afterwards. Wendy Duff, for instance, brought up the question of linear/non-linear in relation to my “story” of humanities computing and the importance of local, instituional context. This was a rather different crowd than the Alberta one, of course, and it was very useful to also get comments from people who are outside of humanities computing or the digital humanities. Another question was “Why digital humanites?”. Why would the humanities need “digital” when others do not. That is a kind of question that I had not anticipated, but it is useful to have to think about his – also because it helps making concrete the motivations behind a discursive transisiton to “digital humanities”.