DH 2010, day three

Not such an early start, so I missed Joshua Sternfeld’s talk on Digital Historiography. Annoying, but a sign of a good conference is that there’s too much of interest rather than too little.

For me, the important presentation in the Teaching/Managing strand was Nowviskie and Porter’s “The Graceful Degradation Survey: Managing Digital Humanities Projects Through Times of Transition and Decline.The afterlife of digital projects – and websites in general – is not only very important, but quite neglected, seemingly being done on an ad-hoc, voluntary basis. It was more to do with project management, organization and funding; I had hoped to hear something about technical solutions. It did suggest that there is a move to creating smaller, more preservable packets of information: a granular approach insuring against complete meltdown.

Another suggestion was that Digihum projects are increasingly being operated outside the academy. There’s a subterranean current here at DH2010 of extra-academic projects, ‘fragile vessels’ (as mentioned yesterday), small unfunded projects. One of those – a graduate project now continuing independently   – is contextus, which featured in the Scanning Between the Lines: The Search for the Semantic Story panel in the afternoon. Aside from being a very clear and useful introduction to RDFa (foaf etc), and being sprinkled with Doctor Who references, the speakers showed the great potential of the ‘semantic web’, about which I’d previously been a bit doubtful.

Many of the posters displayed, as on day two, were also for small, semi-independent or semi-official projects, using whatever tools are available free (in the financial sense). Somehow, this aspect of the Digital Humanities isn’t getting the full recognition it deserves. The lack of money shouldn’t mean abandoning a good or interesting idea, nor should it be considered a denial of permission to do what we want to do. It’s an obstacle, yes, but not insurmountable. Ways of operating on a shoestring need to be shared. And there is the advantage that without funds, one isn’t beholden to funders.

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