Unpacking from RSA

April 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

After a long flight across the country from San Diego, I finally returned home at 1am, completely exhausted–but also exhilarated. As I return from the Renaissance Society of America, I feel energized and intellectually challenged by all the things I learned from papers, ideas I’ve discussed with colleagues, and already with many plans for next year’s meeting. The day after I get back from a conference is usually my most productive–I am eager to maintain relationships and ideas, and move forward with projects. As we all know, academia can often be a little solitary. For me, in particular, as I work on finishing my dissertation while on a fellowship, it’s even  more so. To be able to bounce back ideas with people, see that we’re all thinking about the same questions and trying out exciting new things is invaluable to academic production (as Sarah Werner /@winkenhimself/ already mentioned yesterday).

In other words, my bags will have to wait a few hours while I unpack my notes.

This was my first RSA. I attended as part of a “conference-within-a-conference”: a five-panel group titlled “New Technologies in Renaissance Studies.” In my presentation, I called out what I think is an important aspect of digital databases: that much like library archives and authoritative editions, databases are informed by specific and sometimes invisible decisions that determine what kinds of searches are possible, what kinds of research is encouraged, and how materials will be organized. Also, much like archives and critical editions, many databases are still working with traditional models of scholarship, privileging authorship and canonical works over (so-called) marginal texts and (literal) marginal issues. I was surprised to see that many of my colleagues were also calling for a critical look at the interfaces that mediate our digital work. I learned so much from their papers it made me feel slightly embarrassed about mine–here I am asking questions, making tenuous suggestions about new projects that use innovative technology, while they are already answering such questions and proposing new directions. But after the initial pity-party, I feel an immediate drive to keep working.

Today, the first order of business is to revise the slides from my presentation and post them online. From there, I hope to continue this conversation and discover what other answers and solutions are already percolating in the minds of my fellow DH-ers on twitter.

Next item on the list is more practical: in September, Network Detroit plans to bring digital humanists from a variety of disciplines to work together on ways to make DH more collaborative and inclusive and especially to put departments and institutions in touch with each other. The deadline for proposals is May 1. It’s the perfect time to take my RSA energy and start applying it towards a concrete essay. I’m especially excited to think outside the Renaissance parameters, and force myself to address issues that were widely relevant across the board.

Sometime this week (hopefully today), I also want to write a little blog post about personal archiving and digital-time management. As I read my emails on my iPad while I waited for my flight to board, I thought about my horrible habit of not deleting anything  on my inbox. I hardly ever organized items in folders, and my Wayne State email has about 3,000 archived messages. This got me to think about the many digital aspects of academic life, and I’m curious about how managing our personal digital environment can have an impact on our work.

Another great conversation that came out at RSA was on the subject of pedagogy: what do we want our students to “get” from using new technologies? What kinds of skills are we promising they will acquire? How do we conceptualize and teach methodology, practice, and critical engagement in the digital environment? How do we assign credit and get students to work on projects that “matter” (as opposed to exercises for the sake of point-distribution)? I don’t know what I’ll be teaching next semester yet, but I think a lot of my assignments tend towards making the text more engaging for students, or playing around with new ways to do research. This doesn’t seem to be enough. If there is no practical component to their work, I risk reinforcing the fact that DH is just a way to “play” with texts, and not an important contribution to the community, or a way to connect people across institutions and majors.

Finally, I need to get started on my next dissertation chapter. Step one of that process entails logging on to EEBO and patiently downloading all the primary sources I need to look at. Because I work with all surviving editions of a text and also compare individual texts to the rest of each printer’s (or publisher’s) entire carreer, this can take a lot of time. Once I dowload all the files, I put them on inbox and download them to my ipad, where I can use PDF Expert to annotated, highlight, and make notes. Time-consuming, but better than dealing with hundreds of printed pages!

It’s not surprising that a conference can fire up so much academic excitement, but it has been nice to be part of actual conversations that don’t happen in my head. How do you unpack from conferences?
Skip to toolbar