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Thursday 2 July 2015

#DH2015 with a woman’s touch

Digital Humanities 2015, University of Western Sydney, 29 June-3 July 2015

By Suzana Sukovic

It was a great day, Digital Humanities. After 15+ years of following, I thought I moved on to other things. But, you moved on too, and here we are again... More importantly, you haven’t quite become a well-established field yet. Actually, there is so much going on to keep many different people interested. And that makes you, DH, still interesting.

I have to say I’ve been having my doubts about all the DH inclusiveness talk for quite a while. Last week Scott Weingard posted a very interesting analysis on why women are so well represented in the audience and so poorly on the speaker’s podium. To simplify his more complex argument, male DH movers and shakers (and they are the majority) aren’t keen on all the talk about culture and other soft topics. They don’t like strange names that aren’t clearly male or female either. That’s what Weingard’s quantitative and digital analysis indicates – and, in machines we trust. 

The real shakeup, however, came with the announcement of the keynote address this morning. Deb Verhoaven from the Deaken University started lightly and inconspicuously before she launched into a DH version of the “misogyny speech”. Funnier and friendlier than Julia Gillard’s speech (for a reason), Verhoaven delivered the same poignant message about a “parade of patriarchs” seen at DH during the previous sessions. I hope that someone made a recording and will share the speech and the reaction in the audience. It nearly ended with a standing ovation. 

It was an unexpected moment of inspiration followed by Genevieve Bell’s fantastic keynote address. Who knew that a talk about the history of robots could be so interesting? History, culture, perceptions and human hope to breathe life into things, combined with funny situations when an anthropologist met a full room of engineers in the Silicon Valley 20 years ago, came together in a fascinating talk about people and machines. Most likely accidentally, Bell illustrated Weingard’s point that women like to talk about culture. And the audience was delighted – just look at the Twitter stream #dh2015.

The second plenary session was shared by a panel on the Indigenous Digital Knowledge. Hart Cohen, Peter Radoll, Susan Beetson, Julia Torpey and Peter Read (convener) discussed the use of technology in ways meaningful for Indigenous people. Peter Read referred to the project A History of Aboriginal Sydney* to discuss possibilities of a 3D presentation of spaces significant in Aboriginal history. He asked the audience to think how imagination and technology can open uncovered perspectives and lead to deeper historical understanding. Peter Read said that all his life he studied place and people and now wonders about uncovering emotions of the past.

It seems, after all, that the Program Committee had a good sense of the Other when they planned plenary sessions today. Listening is also a good sign of a healthy, vibrant field.

There were many excellent papers delivered in English with many accents by both (all?) genders. I can’t do them justice, but glimpses of a great range of papers and a sense of engagement can be seen on Twitter and notes by Geoffrey Rockwell.

*The website has been recently transferred to another server which caused some glitches. They will be corrected soon.  

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