Digital Humanities Conferences

The day that I attended the New Voices conference, there were four talks from digital humanities scholars from several universities. My favorite talk was by Dr. Kevin Winstead. He presented about a fake Twitter account that was very popular around the time of the 2016 election. That topic is obviously very relevant in current events, since I feel like I read a lot of news articles about Russian bots and how they influence elections in the US and political discussions in general. I also enjoyed the talk by Dr. Kalenda Eaton from OU, because she addressed the implementation of digital humanities projects in a college classroom, which I think would be fun to do in my own classes. It was also interesting to hear her talk about her experiences with computers & technology slowly coming into the classroom, since I think a lot of college students just grew up with them and don’t think of them as something professors intentionally bring into the classroom as a teaching tool. One thing that surprised me about the presentations was how different their topics were, from classroom implementation to social media and sentiment analysis to GIS. They all really underscored how digital humanities is both its own field and a tool that can be applied to so many others.

At the VIS 2020 conference, I watched two panels. The first one, “Why Should I Stay in Academia? Bridging Generations of Researchers in Visualization,” turned out to be more focused on STEM careers than I thought. However, it still gave me some interesting information to think over about workplace culture differences between academic and non-academic careers, as well as work pace (in the chart below). I also liked how one presenter chose to emphasize that professors should be making academia more welcoming and supporting instead of wondering why so many students leave.

Academia Pros

  • Pursue own ideas in independent research
  • Interaction with students/research colleagues
  • International research projects/collaborators
  • Sabbaticals

Academia Cons

  • Only 75% of the salary is funded
  • Funding is difficult to get
  • Must attract good graduate students
  • Juggle research, teaching, and service

Industry Pros

  • Salary is fully paid
  • Projects have a broader application
  • Can receive bonuses
  • Mentor student interns

Industry Cons

  • Work on specified project (less independence)
  • Startups can fail, have long hours

The second panel I attended at VIS 2020 was my favorite out of both conferences, because all of the presenters linked their research to its social outcomes or directly addressed positive real-world outcomes as a goal of their work. Dr. Michelle Borkin works on projects that give students digital skills at the same time that they provide a tangible product for a real organization, like Mothers for Justice and Equality. She uses this framework, in visual form in the graphic below, to direct data visualization projects that are good for the community. Community organizations have values and commitments like civic responsibility, community involvement, social good. At the same time, students who are studying visualization need practical experience, opportunities for professional development, direct teaching in visualization, and multiple learning environments. Service learning through visualization projects has the potential to bridge the needs and values of these two groups.

Bubble map of Dr. Borkin's model for data visualization with and for the community through pedagogy

The second presenter, Dr. Catherine D’Ignazio, spoke about data feminism, which I’d never heard of before. The goal of data feminism is to ensure that technology doesn’t end up perpetuating power imbalances and oppression, so it sounds like a really important field. The final two presentations touched on how to get data scientists to engage with the larger social context of their work and to design information in a way that is accessible to the people who are consuming it.

These two conferences were great for getting a taste of the diversity in the field of digital humanities, and I thought the panels had a lot of important conversations.

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