Starting with LASTS

As I briefly mentioned here, last week I had the opportunity to attend the Liberal Arts Scholarship and Technology Summit. This was the first official event I went to in my capacity as one of the IAH fellows, and it functioned as a crash course in the digital humanities work that is currently being done at Penn State. But for me it was also a crash course in digital humanities in general—in many ways, I’ve always engaged with digital humanities from a distance, gleaning the easy parts (workflow! websites! Twitter!), while leaving some of the meatier things perennially on my to-do list (theory, method, coding). Even though I only attended the morning sessions, LASTS gave me a much better handle on the buzzwords that are probably commonplace by now in English departments but still seem to me to be on the fringes of American studies.

My shorthand versions go something like this: data curation is a way to reimagine the archive; open-source and web-based journals are a way to reimagine scholarly communication and publication; coding is a way to reimagine reading. As these definitions suggest, good digital humanities work is still very much rooted in the analog humanities, and the best projects are not driven by gimmicky methodology (as critics might have you believe), but by legitimate humanities inquiries that also seriously engage with the new technologucal forms that they deploy. (Are there people doing “bad” digital humanities? Certainly. But that’s stating the obvious, just like there is “bad” work in any academic trend, in any field—transnational American studies comes immediately to mind.)

Many presenters at the conference were also explicitly motivated by access and action: how can philosophy journals better reach contemporary publics? How can we re-politicize intro to women’s studies classes? How can researchers better share data sets? How can senior faculty help any of this count towards tenure?

I understand that these are hardly revelations for people who have been involved in digital humanities work for a long time. But I left LASTS feeling energized, with a head full of ideas for future projects and current ones. I don’t think digital humanities will save us any more than I think it will be our undoing—but the people I met last week were asking big questions about some of the academy’s biggest problems, and I think that’s a good thing.

For additional details and recaps of the conference, see Chris Long’s Storify here and Brad Kozlek’s write up here.

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