Digital Humanities Network: UTM hosts annual tri-campus conference

Open book balanced on the keyboard of an open laptop computer
Wednesday, August 29, 2018 - 4:41pm
Blake Eligh

U of T Mississauga will host digital humanities scholars from across U of T on Thursday, Aug. 30 for the annual meeting of the Digital Humanities Network. This is the third year for the tri-campus conference that brings together an interdisciplinary community of faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students.

The day-long conference begins with a panel discussion between new faculty members followed by lightning research talks and demonstrations, and ends with a showcase of digital projects by graduate and undergraduate students. Topics to be covered include human machine intelligence, digital social justice, gaming and digital narratives, and more. 

“This network is a real hub for digital humanities research at U of T,” says Elspeth Brown, network co-chair and professor of historical studies at UTM. “It helps to connect students, researchers and teachers, and brings them together to share ideas, approaches. It also helps us to identify the future needs of researchers for resources, infrastructure and collaboration.” 

“Humanities and social sciences scholars make use of digital data and technology in innovative ways,” says Alexandra Gillespienetwork co-chair and a professor of English with UTM’s Department of English and Drama. Gillespie’s own research includes digital initiatives such as Old Books, New Science, an online catalogue of digitized medieval books. 

“Digital humanities offers new ways to access information in ways we have never had previously,” adds Brown, who studies LGBTQ archives and recorded oral histories. “It preserves and makes accessible archival materials that might otherwise be lost. It also brings students into the community, and makes research and archival materials available to a much wider audience.”

U of T’s Digital Humanities Network, which now includes more than 200 scholars, launched in 2016 with the goal of bringing together humanities scholars working within the digital environment from across all three campuses. Funding from the Jackman Humanities Institute supports the first three years of the endeavour. “It’s exciting to see people doing digital humanities work because is part of how people are thinking about the world,” Brown says. “It’s a transitional moment for humanities that takes advantage of new resources.”

While the network of digital humanities specialists is growing across the university, Gillespie notes that UTM is “fostering a real cluster of expertise” in digital humanities. “It’s a space where you see real collaboration across disciplines and also between faculty and staff from Information & Instructional Technology Services and the library,” Gillespie says. “We also have access to the UTM Research Cluster high-performance computing system, as well as new collaborative working space in the new North building where research will happen for a number of projects that have a digital focus. It’s a great advantage to have access to this support.” 

Earlier this year, UTM hosted its first conference of digital humanities and computational science scholars who gathered together to explore common ground between the seemingly different disciplines. The conference featured talks from a dozen UTM faculty and staff with the goal of fostering more communication between the two disciplines, and finding commonalities, challenges and research opportunities resulting from advances in computational technology.

The Digital Humanities Network conference closes with a student “Arcades” event in the Deerfield Hall Bistro. Undergraduate and graduate students will demonstrate interactive research projects, including games and a series of podcasts (produced by students supervised by Brown) that showcase oral histories from Toronto’s queer and trans community. “That’s a digital humanities outcome that is community-facing,” says Brown. “It’s so exciting to see students showcasing their work this way.” 

Gillespie and Brown organized the event with Chris Young, a postdoctoral fellow with the Jackman Humanities Institute.

See the conference program here >