I was kindly invited to Umea, Sweden for the Sorting the Digital Humanities Out Workshop convened by Patrik Svensson (@patriksv) from HUMlab, which has left me with lots of inspiration for the digital humanities community at UC Berkeley. I was also really struck by the nature of international discussions on digital humanities, particularly when it came to addressing transnational challenges regarding community and infrastructure (institutional, spatial, and digital). The workshop brought together graduate students, post-docs, professors, alt-ac, digital publishers, and technicians from Sweden, the United States, France, Norway, and Denmark. While the majority of the participants were from Sweden and the United States, there was a tremendous diversity of perspectives purposefully gathered under the ‘big tent’ of digital humanities.

At the conference, we were divided into smaller groups and given the task of coming up with an implementation plan for the digital humanities within the next 5-7 years. It seems that the openenddedness of the prompt was to allow room for flexibility and innovation. However, the ambiguity of the task met further difficulty considering the incredibly different institutional, national, and disciplinary backgrounds the participants came from. As one of the participants, Adeline Koh (@adeline koh @dhpoco) rightly pointed out, the discussion seemed to speak of the ‘digital humanities’ without proper consideration of what that meant for each person. I couldn’t help but look around the room to nodding heads and reflect upon the different manifestations of digital humanities on each campus or institution. This made me think too of the constant debate on definitions within digital humanities that both paralleled debates in other interdisciplinary identities and also diverged in its inherently pubic nature of online debates. (See the following two posts on definitional debates by Andrew Prescott and David Golumbia)

From media studies and digital teaching tools to hierarchies of knowledge and digital access, the discussions branched out in every way possible it seemed. Several of the discussions centered on the position of digital humanities in academia, the university, as well as the larger community. Our smaller workshop group, for example, considered the important perspectives that digital humanists could bring to teaching and learning. Inspired by HUMlab as a space for collaborative learning and building, we also reflected upon how digital media and online teaching can transform the spatial configuration of the classroom.

There are videos of the presentations of group implementation plans available here: http://bambuser.com/v/4159787

Amidst the intellectually stimulating waves of discussion, certain themes emerged around issues of academic legitimacy and modes of inquiry. Most interesting to me was the reemphasis of the ‘humanities’ as a mode of critical analysis, reflection, and significance within digital projects. This focus was made most clear in the comments by Andrew Prescott, Johanna Drucker, and Nishant Shah in a video conference concluding panel. In particular, some of these comments approached the challenges within the digital humanities as embedded within the ‘crisis’ of higher education and the trends in humanistic inquiry.

I wholeheartedly enjoyed the experimental structure of the workshop to bring together immensely different perspectives to address the complex problems of the digital humanities. By bordering closely but not yet completely falling into the realm of generalized assumptions and unstructured ambiguity, the workshop was able to provide a space for real debate, important realizations, and innovative perspectives. I think that the diverse perspectives, rapid talks format, and even the physical communal space coincided well with the experimental spirit of digital humanities to push us to think outside our comfort zones. I hope to mirror this energy for innovation and critical reflection in future events at UC Berkeley, and I respectfully congratulate all those who contributed to putting together such a well-balanced and thought provoking experience!

The workshop was streamed live and two of the seminars were recorded and can be viewed on the HUMlab Stream Website

Click here for a Storify of tweets from the workshop.