Lightning Talks Connect Digital Humanities Projects

The humanities are going digital. From embedding sound recordings in a composer’s biography to developing a complex software program for interactive musical improvisation; from using new digital archiving techniques to creating interactive historical maps and collaborative public history projects, humanities scholars and librarians are using digital technologies to shape, enhance, and preserve their work.

Last Thursday, the Humanities Institute and Shields Library partnered to bring together scholars and librarians engaged in the digital humanities. A series of “lightning talks”–short, dynamic presentations–provided an introduction to a vast array of projects and technologies and gave the UC Davis community an opportunity to survey the diversity of digital humanities work from across the university.

“Our goal was to bring people together,” said Amy Kautzman, Associate University Librarian for the Humanities and Social Sciences. “At UC Davis, we have lots of people with fingers and toes in the digital humanities, but most are isolated. No one thinks that others are doing digital humanities work.”

The breadth of topics and technologies reveal the diversity of the digital humanities as well as the difficulty of developing a single definition of what constitutes digital humanities work. Professor Eric Smoodin (American Studies) presented his work in reconstructing the moviegoing experience in 1930s Paris using digital tools such as Second Life and the Keck Caves. Kautzman introduced a suite of publishing and data preservation tools hosted by the University of California Curation Center (UC3). Professor and composer Sam Nichols (Music) gave an overview of Strand, a music composition tool he is developing in order to record, alter, and interact with improvisations. Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian David Michalski showed how the Cultural Atlas of California Wine makes use of digital technology to create interactive maps of the historical and cultural impact of California’s wine regions and provide new ways to conceptualize landscapes.

“There is no solid definition of the Digital Humanities, and it’s exciting to be a part of defining it,” said Phillip Barron, Digital History Developer for the History Project at UC Davis. Barron presented his work on creating a digital archive of the rare and fragmented primary documents of the indigenous slave trade in colonial Central and South America.

In just under two hours, nine presenters introduced a wide variety of digital projects and tools and started discussions about the future of the digital humanities at UC Davis. Presenters and audience members lingered after the presentations to ask questions about projects and to begin sharing ideas about how to facilitate digital humanities collaborations on campus.

“This is a beginning,” said Kautzman. “It’s still ad hoc, much like the internet. It’s still in the early stages. I hope that these conversations will help people to connect and will lead to further collaboration.”