For the past five days, I’ve been at Nerd Camp for Adults in Victoria.
Except we call it DHSI, or the Digital Humanities Summer Institute. This year it consists of 420 academics in different stages of their careers–M.A.s, Ph.D.s and professors–who join together to discuss the roles of the following in the humanities: markup languages, big data, visualizations, computational analysis, digitizing text, building better online text interfaces and, most importantly, how to crowd-source vital information, like the location of the best beer in Victoria.
The experience has been incredible, and I say that despite having spent every waking hour that wasn’t devoted to DHSI preparing for the presentation I gave today (over Skype) and the related paper (due Monday). In fact, I should be working on the paper now. But procrastinating is far more fun.
On a slightly separate note, if you’re interested in either George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda or in finding out more about the work I’ve been doing this quarter on turning books into visual…art is a strong term, check out this post on our group blog, Ludic Analytics, for details. It’s got lots of colors and even some thoughtful responses. And if you’re feeling adventurous, check out the rest of the site to see what else we’re up to.
But this is about DHSI. The experience of being here has entirely made up for the stress of getting here. Which was no picnic. I was supposed to fly from Santa Barbara to San Francisco and then from San Francisco to Victoria. I’d be there by 1 pm, I would have time to relax on Sunday before gearing up for the conference on Monday, I would have time to argue with security if they refused to let my frying pan through. (Yes, I brought a frying pan. I needed to eat and there wasn’t going to be any food on Victoria’s campus I could eat other than salad. I was not living on salad for a week. I just prayed that none of the security agents had ever seen Tangled.) It turned out I had ample time, as my flight was delayed two hours, which meant the poor ticket agent had to find another way to get me to Victoria as I would miss my connection. SFO was having issues. So she eventually got me on a 145 flight from SFO to Vancouver and then a 7 pm flight from Vancouver to Victoria. She couldn’t guarantee that I would be in Vancouver to make any earlier flight, as the delays around San Francisco were so bad.
As it turns out, the delays worked in my favor. I also probably looked very pathetic. And didn’t have any checked baggage. When I got to San Francisco, it was 1135 and there was an 1141 flight that had been delayed for half an hour due to traffic. So I managed to get on that flight (they had space and, as I said, I looked and felt and probably was pathetic) and landed in Vancouver at 230. One hour later, I was through customs and had 3 and a half hours in Vancouver to kill. So I killed them by finding the Air Canada ticket counter and begging to go on standby for the 4 pm flight to Victoria. Amazingly enough, it worked again and I was on the ground in Victoria by 430, on a bus to the University of Victoria by 5 and checking into my room by 530. Only three hours later than I should have been had all gone well.
So I’m not going to provide a day by day accounting of what I did, as I assume that will be boring for anyone not rabidly interested in whether there’s an <inspiration> tag in TEI, for example. But I do want to talk about a few things.
Unconferencing: One of the things I love about DHSI is how well it works as an unstructured entity. During the lunch breaks, people gathered together in different classrooms around campus to discuss random topics of interest. The topics were chosen on day one and people just wandered in and out of group conversations about things that were on everyone’s mind. Reading on a screen, for example, or ways to practice digital pedagogy. And it was a great way to explore a topic and find out what other people in the field are doing with it in a casual way. I’m not the first to laud the power of the unconference, but this was my first exposure to it and I thought it was great. It creates a new level of discourse that involves the audience on a stress-less level, without the seriousness and presentation-y-ness of a conference.
Twitter: And speaking of casual involvement, I have to put in a word for Twitter as an academic tool. No, really, hear me out. I was aware that there was an academic Twittersphere before this conference, (weren’t you?) but I hadn’t quite figured out how it worked. During a colloquium, or a class, people would have their computers open to take notes, but instead or along with taking detailed notes on talks or classes, they would tweet in quick bursts about the discussion and tag it #dhsi2012 along with other relevant tags, like the speaker’s name. This creates a public notebook, so to speak, where people can retweet other people’s notes if they find them helpful, reply to them and start a whole new discussion, ask the presenter questions that she can answer later and, every so often, exclaim about the rain of caterpillars that was plaguing the campus.
A caterpillar just fell onto my iPad screen even though I’m sitting inside at the colloquium. The invasion has begun. #dhsi2012
— Liz Shayne (@Jabenami) June 6, 2012
What, you thought I was kidding?
It requires a certain amount of multitasking to pull off and not everyone participated, but I really benefited from having this whole, second level of discussion going on underneath the primary talk. It also gave me a chance to catch up when I inevitably snuck in to the 8 am colloquium at 830. (As I mentioned to my mother, DHSI is tiring. It begins at 8, ends at 6 and then there’s all my other work to do.)
General Geekery: I have to say, though, one of the best bits about DHSI is the geekiness of everyone involved. Aside from the fact that a number of the people involved in DH switched in from jobs in computer science, so many of the topics felt like stuff that would have been out of bounds even 5 years ago in the academic establishment. Like using games for education, or creating interactive classrooms. People are doing really cool stuff. Also, I’ve discovered that there is a standard nerdy sense of humor that seems to infect everyone. I came back to our townhouse last night and discovered my roommates watching Monty Python on an iPad.
To leave you with something other than just the vague sense that I’m so glad I came (and the less-vague sense of impending doom as I pray that all my flights and connections tomorrow are on time and I don’t get stranded anywhere), here are a few pictures from this excursion.
So this is where I’ve been all week. It’s been about 55 degrees and alternating between cloudy and sunny. This was taken just as the clouds were clearing this afternoon.
Can I complain, just a little, about how gorgeous the first year housing is? It’s a two-level townhouse with kitchen, living room and four single bedrooms. (The kitchen was critical for me…and I am so grateful that they had electric burners which take all of five minutes to make kosher. This is why I needed them to not take away my frying pan when I went through security.) But why couldn’t the universit(y|ies) I attended have such amenities?
This is where I’m sitting right now.
I’d show you the actual pictures from DHSI, but it’s just people sitting in an auditorium or a computer lab or a classroom looking busy. You can’t see that awesome things are happening but, trust me, they are.
Oh, and if you’re interested in what I actually DID while here, check out the following link, which has some of the results of the text analyses I learned how to make over the course of this week: Back to Textual Basics.
P.S. – I am amused by the fact that it’s the Queen’s Jubilee this week and I’m using money with her face on it. Also the 2 dollar coins here look like 10 shekel coins, which makes sense in my head, but the 1 dollar coins look like 1/2 shekels, which completely throws me off.