February 8, 2019
Hello, DH fans! As I imagine some of you know (since you are, of course, DH fans) this week has been NYCDH Week -- that’s New York City Digital Humanities Week. NYCDH Week is a week of workshops, panels, and talks happening all over New York City at institutions like Fordham, the New School, Columbia, NYU, CUNY, and more, all centered on the Digital Humanities. Digital Scholarship Librarian and fellow DHC team-member Madiha and I have been dashing around the city like Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, but instead of “fashion” or “having a really mean boss” we’ve been fired up over learning new skills and discovering new projects in DH happening all over our city.
NYCDH week kicked off with an all-day event of panel discussions, lightning talks, and presentations of work, hosted at Fordham University. I don’t have world enough or time to share with you all the incredible projects presented at this kickoff event, but I’d like to touch on a few conversations from Monday.
Keynote speaker Meredith Broussard opened things up with a talk about AI -- what AI isn’t (sorry Data from Star Trek, you may be my favorite character but you’re pure Hollywood mythmaking), what AI is (really complicated statistical analysis), and how AI can reflect the biases of both the people creating it and the society in which it is created. She warned against the hubristic refusal to acknowledge that technology is not the inherently perfect saviour of humanity it is sometimes thought of as but is in fact as flawed as we are; a term she calls “technochauvanism” and traces to the overwhelmingly white, male, and ivy-league educated founding fathers of the field of computer science.
Next, Barnard Library’s own Jenna Friedman took the stage, along with our neighbor from across the street, Columbia Digital Scholarship Librarian Alex Gil, and Juber Ayala and Wendy Hayden, of the Newark Public Library and Hunter College, respectively, for a roundtable on Information, Democracy, Archives, and Absence. This roundtable raised a lot of fascinating points, and sparked a conversation that I believe is still continuing on twitter, about absence in the archive. Should, for example, all data be publicly accessible? And when we talk about democratizing the archive, how do we discuss the complicated interwoven roles of librarian, archivists, and professors? Jenna, for one, made the excellent point that if a library’s collection is uncomfortably un-diverse, it may not have been entirely at the discretion of the librarian, but also reflective of the curricular needs of professors. In other words, it's all related! And it's on all of us to interrogate our library and archival spaces.
I want to conclude with highlighting one of the neatest projects presented on Monday. Katy Gero of Columbia University won one of NYCDH's gradute student project prizes, for her tool, metaphoria, aimed at generating metaphorical connections between concepts. You can explore metaphoria yourself here, but what I found most interesting is the ways Katy described poets working with metaphoria. Some poets, she explained, mostly wrote on their own, turning to metaphoria if they were in a jam or needed some specific input, using it much like one would use a thesaurus. Others took a metaphoria suggestion as a starting point to riff on at length in their own words. A third poet build a poem more or less entirely out of metaphoria outputs, effectively co-writing the piece with the tool. I found this range compelling as an example of the elasticity of Digital Humanities tools -- there are hundreds of ways to relate to technology in our work, and it’s always a treat to get to peek in on some of them.
NYCDH week has continued with a full schedule of workshops with DH tools and concepts, taking place all over the city -- Madiha and I have attended workshops learning about data epistomologies, wikidata, DH in the classroom, and many many more. All of the workshops are free and open to anyone interested in the Digital Humanities. Next year, I hope to see you there!