At this time tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, I will be safely ensconced in a hotel in Orlando. I am attending and presenting at HASTAC 2017.
This is a different type of presentation for me. It is a soapbox talk which means I am restricted to 5-8 minutes of speaking time. Honestly, that works well for this talk; although, I need to rehearse more before Saturday. My talk is on the gaps in the digital humanities and the role that Digital Humanities labs can play in addressing those gaps. In a very real sense, it is me on a soapbox. I don’t really feel I am sharing anything ground-breaking. This isn’t cutting edge research. This is me saying, “We need to look beyond ourselves and our research and evaluate how we are actively reaching out to others.” In this instance, I am talking specifically about other scholars, but I believe that we need to do the same in terms of the broader public as well.
So mostly, my talk on accessibility and outreach within digital humanities labs, and the roles labs can play as spaces for human-to-human interaction on digital humanities topics. We do a great job of talking tech, but we often forget that others are not comfortable diving into those topics. We mysticize and mythologize technology and, in so doing, we move it further and further out of reach. In most cases, this isn’t a mindful act. I have always been impressed by Digital Humanists desire to share and teach. The trouble is that too often we teach the tool and not the application. When we see technology, we often are thinking of ways to apply it to our research. This is a learned skill, and its probably the most important thing we can do to help bridge those gaps.
Digital Humanities labs are places for showing new research, conducting workshops, and in some cases act as resource collections for digital tools. This is great for those of us who already are Digital Humanists. The most important feature the labs have, however, are us. If labs can work to foster more direct connections between digital humanities scholars and scholars without as much experience in the digital humanities, I think we would see some tremendously useful work.
That has been my experience, at least, in industry and in academia. The more I sit down and talk with people, the more I understand their needs and their use cases. Instead of overwhelming them with tools or tech-speak (which they often see as a form of condescension), I can actually help them do something that impacts their research directly. When that happens, they leave feeling that the valuable time they just spent working with something new was productive and useful, and I leave with a greater sense of how those tools can be used in a variety of different use cases across multiple disciplines. If you ask me, that is a win-win.