Humanities Research as a “Digital Native”: Interview with Caroline-Isabelle Caron

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Caroline-Isabelle Caron joined the History Department in 2002. As a historical anthropologist, her specialty is 19th and 20th-century Acadian and Québec cultural history. In her research, she looks at representations of the past, in the form of genealogies and commemorations, and at representations of the future, in the form of science fiction. Her work is fundamentally interested in collectivity: she seeks to get a closer glimpse at the collective “encyclopedias” of North American cultures, to access the sum of the experiences and representations possessed by a person, and more generally, by a collectivity. Her current work spans such themes as commemoration, representations of the past in television and film, and women’s creative fanfic production. We have sat down with Dr. Caron to get her thoughts on how the digital landscape is affecting her research and teaching. What follows is the first of a two-part series based on this interview. 

Your research frequently focuses on collectivity, commemoration, and cultural production. How do you understand your research to be inflected or informed by an increasingly digital cultural landscape? Are there continuities or discontinuities?

Over the course of the last 150 years, I find there have been more continuities than discontinuities in the way communities are formed. The format of community interactions may have changed, and the emergence of online communities is an important development, but a community is still basically the same as in the past: a group of people who recognize each other as being more similar than different, who share similar interests and experiences, who adhere to the same collective identity and recognize each other as doing so. One hundred and fifty years ago, communities were almost only the result of individuals living in the same place (i.e. sharing family, town, city, ethnicity, country, nation). Yet, even then, many families were just as geographically spread out as online communities are today. They kept alive their sense of togetherness through sending letters to each other. For example, a father would receive a letter from a daughter married away, share the letter with all the family members close to him and then resend the letter to another of his children married off elsewhere. This is not fundamentally different from writing an email and cc-ing it to several family members, who then forward it to others. It’s not so different, just much faster. The biggest change with geographically disjointed communities today is that contact can be quotidian and immediate with the advent of the Web, email and large-scale online communities such as Facebook and Renren. Which means, for example, that in the morning I can send virtual hugs to my friend in Singapore who had a bad day as she is getting ready for bed. Sixty years ago, I would only have written her a letter and hope it would be delivered to her within six months.

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Building Data Crosswalks: Dr. Janelle Jenstad Speaks to Queen’s Students and Researchers about how DH can Integrate and Streamline Scholarship

Researchers working in digital humanities are probably familiar with the notion that a lot of DH projects are done in teams. The nature and scope of the work involved tends to require expertise in different areas as well as considerable labour power to populate digital platforms with scholarly data. Despite this collective quality to DH work, it can often feel like digital humanities projects have to begin from scratch. Researchers bold enough to envision DH projects that involve this kind of scope of expertise and labour, and who venture forward to assemble teams and build platforms often feel like they (even with their teams) are constructing isolated tools. However useful, these projects are often conceived as discrete, self-contained works that make use of digital technologies in new (and exciting) ways for the humanities. Speaking recently at the Queen’s English Department Research Forum, Dr. Janelle Jenstad pointed to the need, and the potential, for DH projects to integrate with other platforms and projects  rather than only construct new ones. She emphasized the value of developing “data crosswalks” not only between different DH projects but between such projects and scholarship more broadly.

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Community Brainstorm: Demystifying DH Wants Your Input!

Please join us to give your input on Thursday, 2 April, in the Third Floor Lounge of the Grad Club. Let us know if you plan to come here.

Event Announcement:

Is your research related to the Humanities or the Arts? Are you practicing or interested in practicing your scholarship in the Digital Humanities (DH)? Do you have a project idea that you need technical, skills-based, or community-based support for? Are you thinking about a DH-related research project, but you are not sure what kind of support is available for you? Do you wonder if your project or idea could be a DH project?

The Demystifying Digital Humanities Initiative invites students, teaching fellows, adjunct instructors, faculty, and staff to an informal brainstorming session about DH needs on campus. Please join us on Thursday, 2 April at 2:00pm at the Grad Club to discuss resources that you’d like to see on campus, barriers you’ve experienced to your work, and resources that the Initiative can work towards providing.

The Initiative will have hosted three events this semester, and we’d like to shape the future of the Initiative around what the DH community at Queen’s needs. The Demystifying DH Initiative is a group of humanities scholars at all levels of their career. The Initiative seeks to support collaboration amongst scholars and students; provide opportunities for emerging and established Digital Humanities practitioners to showcase and build upon their knowledges; and facilitate community at Queen’s Campus, at its satellite campus at Herstmonceux Castle, and in the broader community.

The Digital Humanities (DH) is an emerging field concerned with investigating the intersections between digital culture, technology, and traditional arts and humanities disciplines. It includes using digital tools (such as visualization or textual analytics) to address humanistic questions, and applying the skills of critical analysis native to humanities disciplines to the study of contemporary digital culture, both scholarly and popular.

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Scholarly Markup Workshop at the British Library

Last week, Dr. Shannon Smith, (Director of the Digital Humanities Field School and Instructor for IDIS221) and Ms. Emily Murphy (Instructor for IDIS222) co-taught the workshop, “Scholarly Markup Languages: TEI & EAD ” to staff participants at the British Library for the British Library Digital Scholarship Training Programme.

You can find course materials for the workshop here.

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Partnering Up to Sustain Digital Humanities Projects

Last Friday, Dr. Janelle Jenstad shared with Queen’s faculty and students a model for conducting digital humanities projects that benefits projects, students, and professors, while simultaneously addressing one of the key issues faced by DH projects—sustainability. Dr. Jenstad is an associate professor at the University of Victoria and project director of the Map of Early Modern London (MoEML). The MoEML is a set of four interoperable DH projects including a digital “map-like object” and gazetteer based on the 1560s Agas woodcut map of London; an Encyclopedia of London people, places, topics, and terms; a Library of marked-up texts rich in London toponyms; and a versioned edition of John Stow’s Survey of London.

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Come Learn about the DH Field School at the BISC this Thursday!

The deadline for applying for the next session of the Digital Humanities Field School at the BISC is March 14th, 2015!

Those students who are interested in the program can attend an information session on campus this Thursday, March 5th from 5:30 to 6:30 pm at Gordon Hall. Please register for this event here: http://bit.ly/1K8XrFo.

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Closing Ceremonies: DH Field School Hosts THATCamp

DH BISC Students and Instructors

DH BISC Students and Instructors

This summer’s Digital Humanities Field School finished with a splash at THATCamp DH BISC 2014. As a culmination of their hard work, students presented their projects to their peers at Herstmonceux Castle and to members of the wider Humanities and Technology community in the morning, and they hosted THATCamp DH BISC that afternoon.

Attendees at THATCamp DH BISC 2014

Attendees at THATCamp DH BISC 2014

In the morning, students presented their micro-projects in TEI editing to the attendees, providing editorial statements, discussions of their editorial processes, and accounts of the problems and solutions they encountered.

Student Microproject Presentation

Student Microproject Presentation

In the afternoon, students and attendees proposed a series of workshops that ranged from anime fan cultures and social media anxieties to translating emotion in a digital space and industrial software development processes.

Planning the unconference sessions

Planning the unconference sessions

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DH Field School Launched!

The inaugural DHFS Class, with instructors!

The inaugural DHFS Class, with instructors!

The BISC Field School in Digital Humanities has flown by. Our students, from the diverse disciplines of English, History, Political Studies, Psychology, and Chemistry, spent the first couple weeks in a crash course on digital literacy and TEI encoding supplemented by Field Studies with experts in the field. After a wine and cheese reception at the Castle folly, Field School students got to work debating issues in critical digital studies and got the rare opportunity to look under the hood at new projects in the Digital Humanities.

Dr. Clare Horrocks lets us look at the soon-to-be released Punch Magazine Database. Dr. Smith looks through a print-technology version of Punch.

Dr. Clare Horrocks lets us look at the soon-to-be released Punch Magazine Database. Dr. Smith looks through a print-technology version of Punch.

Dr. Clare Horrocks, professor at Liverpool John Moores University, presented the soon-to-be-launched digitization of Punch Magazine, a collaboration with Gale Cengage Learning. The Punch collection at Gale Cengage is among the first large-scale digitization projects of its nature to partner with academic experts in the field, and Dr. Horrocks spoke to students about the nature of collaboration in public-facing projects such as this one. Students also delved into the Punch Ledgers Project, working with the at-yet-unreleased Punch database to try to answer research questions about the contributors to the magazine using historical financial records.

Dr. Chris Jones teaches students the history of Charlwood Church.

Dr. Chris Jones teaches students the history of Charlwood Church.

Dr. Chris Jones from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, led an expedition to two local parish churches in West Sussex and Surrey, one of which houses well preserved medieval wall paintings, and the other which contains a copy of the King James Bible that belonged to the father of English hymnology, Issac Watts. Students discussed these two nascent digitization projects from the perspective of the possibilities and limitations of a digital project. Questions like the preservation of cultural heritage, object-, space- or text-centered approaches to digitization, and the ethics of digitizing ever-changing elements of cultural heritage were central issues in this Field Study.

In the first couple weeks, students gained insight into projects at completion and at the very beginning of their development on an international scale. Over the next few weeks, they will visit some of the state of the art digital workspaces at the British Library, and deepen their understanding of how digital projects may be curated for both academic and popular audiences.

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DH Pedagogy at Queen’s: Jennifer Hardwick

Jennifer Hardwick is a 5th-year Ph.D. student in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s. Her research interests include Contemporary North American Literature, Indigenous Studies, Rhetoric, Youth Culture, and the Digital Humanities. Jennifer is currently teaching a class on Youth and Digital Culture, in which she models her pedagogy on the concept of multi-literacy: that the emergence of new cultural technologies (New Media, Web 2.0) adds to and enriches the existing technological and cultural landscape (books, poetry).

Jennifer Hardwick,  5th-Year PhD Student at Queen's

Jennifer Hardwick, 5th-Year PhD Student at Queen’s

Your class focuses on youth and cyber cultures. How do you feel that the class intersects with or informs your or your students understanding of the Digital Humanities?

The relationship between youth culture and digital culture has been a source of popular and scholarly fascination over the last few years. Cyber bullying, social networking, #occupywallstreet and #idlenomore, the growth of youth-generated artistic production online… all of it has created a great deal of curiosity and controversy. Do we need to save the children from digital media? Or are the children going to use digital media to save us? Books like Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation and Don Tapscott’s Grown Up Digital really tap into that debate.

Of course, the truth of the matter is far more complex and nuanced, which is really the point of my course. Digital technology is a tool, and as such, it is used differently by different individuals. A lot of academic and popular rhetoric surrounding digital media treats it as though it is this force in and of itself — something that has the power to corrupt or save — but the truth is technology needs users. If we want to understand why and how someone uses technology, we should probably look at that person’s social, cultural, political and economic contexts. In that sense, this course definitely leans towards the social end of the digital humanities spectrum. It seeks to better understand youth cultures, and to critically examine how those cultures both inform and are informed by technology and media.

What were some of the challenges that you and your students encountered?

I think both my students and I took our knowledge for granted going into this course. We all use digital media every day, and we know how it functions. We know intuitively that blogs and books are different, and that multimedia changes how we read. However, articulating those differences and changes is surprisingly hard. I struggled to build coherent lectures when dealing with material that was not remotely linear, and I watched my students struggle to draw comparisons and apply their analytical skills in different contexts. Sometimes I felt like we were all in the classroom looking at each other going “we know this. We do it every day. Why is this hard?” I think a lot of it has to do with language — we don’t have a scholarly vocabulary yet to describe so much of DH work. It’s developing, but it’s not standardized in the same way it is for something like literary analysis. As a result, talking about digital humanities work can make us feel inarticulate in a setting where we want to seem intelligent and well-spoken.

What were some of the surprises?

Two of the biggest surprises were related to the challenge of language I noted above. The first one is how adept all of my students were at media analysis, even if they’d never been trained in it. Once they were given a vocabulary and framework they blew me away. It came very naturally. It was like watching 99 people go “oh, this is what we’ve been doing. Cool.”

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Spotlight: DH and Medieval Studies with Dr. Chris Jones

Dr. Chris Jones will join the Field School from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand to lead a Field Study. Dr. Jones tells us about how the Digital Humanities has opened up new possibilities for scholarship from a Medievalist perspective. 

Students of the DH Field School will be able to acquire the employable digital literacy skills that Dr. Jones indicates as the backbone of the field. 

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