Expanding Access: Building Bridges within Digital Humanities

My opening remarks for our #mla13 #s22 roundtable


  1. Information on the when and where.
  2. The proposal itself for the panel with some background.
  3. "The purpose of this roundtable is to bring together digital humanities scholars working in a variety of languages and approaches. It seeks to find ways to build bridges between the “Anglo-American” center of DH with the rest of the world of DH, both within and outside of the US borders. Because the Digital Humanities seem to reinforce traditional disciplinary and geographic boundaries while simultaneously claiming interdisciplinary and international status, this roundtable hopes to appeal to a broader DH audience as well as traditional scholars in linguistics, comparative literature, and translation, in the hopes of introducing DH tools and approaches to an audience that has yet to embrace DH (or be embraced by DH)."
  4. Digital Humanities is interdisciplinary, but coming from a so-called interdisciplinary field (comparative literature), I am all too aware as to how difficult true interdisciplinary can be.
  5. One of the dangers of DH being limited to English departments (or any traditional disciplinary department) is that, linguistically, it can limit the reach of the tools. An example:
  6. Popular tool, developed in Canada, supports multiple languages. You can compare texts. I asked one of the developers, at a workshop, if you could compare two texts in different languages side-by-side (I was thinking of comparing original and translations). No one was sure; it had never occurred to anyone to do that. 
  7. DH, in my view, holds great potential for working in and with translations. We can compare versions, map word frequencies, how translations have evolved over time, and even (ambitiously) how translations impacted the author's image over space and time. But we need people thinking about and developing tools that will allow multiple languages. As put by Ernesto Priego, we need openness and "reliable multi-lingual metadata."
  8. We miss you, Ernesto! 
  9. As humanists, we also need to ensure that machine translations do not become the standard for access to work in different languages, and in that I also include DH tools. Language departments need to become more involved in the development of tools, both to meet their needs as researchers, but also to make the tools more accessible in different languages. 
  10. A great example of this is the work being done at The CulturePlex at the University of Western Ontario (Canada). Their focus for developing their tools is Hispanic and Latin-American Studies, thus all the tools are available in Spanish and English (with the goal of also providing them in Canada's other official language, French). These tools also create opportunities to work with the emerging DH communities in Mexico and other countries in Latin America, expanding access. 
  11. This interdisciplinary, however, comes with a price, particularly for graduate students or early-career academics: we still hire along traditional disciplinary (and linguistic) lines. And thus, these bridges ultimately lead nowhere, unless these skills are actually valued by departments, hiring committees, and academia.