Introduction: At the Crossroads

Introduction: At the Crossroads

Brent Nelson, University of Saskatchewan:

Abstract / Résumé

Introduction of the CSDH-SCHN 2012 Conference Proceedings issue.


Introduction, acknowledgements

Every year, the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities / Société canadienne pour les humanités numériques (CSDH/SCHN) meets for its annual conference along with dozens of other scholarly societies at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, under the sponsorship of the Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences. The papers in this special issue derive from presentations given at the 2012 Congress at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, May 28-30. The theme for this Congress was "Crossroads: Scholarship in an Uncertain World," a theme that resonates in the digital humanities. For those working in this field, uncertainty takes the form of possibility. It is not hyperbole to say that digital processes and methodologies are reshaping the humanities, and perhaps in that sense, are contributing to the uncertainty of what the humanities are becoming. For those working within this field, this uncertainty is largely positive and, indeed, generative. This uncertainty comes from not knowing what sort of solution might present itself when one takes a problem in the humanities‒whether theoretical or practical‒and applies digital thinking to it. In the digital humanities, then, we are most definitely at the crossroads, and indeed, we have been here for some time. We occupy an intersection between humanities disciplines, with their traditional and developing interests and concerns, and emerging new ways of approaching those interests and concerns, and from this convergence new directions emerge. A crossroads is also a meeting place where people on different tracks, following different paths, come together. The digital humanities is such a place, a place where, for a time, students work together as collaborators with professors, where a humanities scholar connects with an acoustics engineer to solve a riddle of literary history. It is a domain where technicians and practitioners work alongside theorists, scholars, and teachers to find new questions in the humanities and new ways to explore them.

The essays in this volume address this dynamic intersection in many and diverse ways. Every introduction of new communication technology has brought with it profound social adjustment and change. Ronald Tetreault’s keynote address asks us to consider the implications for (and our assumptions about) privacy at the crossroads of Web 2.0 and social networking as we learn to deal with this new "culture of visibility," a kind of digital panopticon that brings with it both social benefits and personal risk. John Wall’s essay, "Recovering Lost Acoustic Spaces: St Paul’s Cathedral and Paul’s Churchyard in 1622," concerns a project situated at the intersection of sound and image, bringing 3D simulations of space and sound together to model the experience of a sermon preached by John Donne at St. Paul’s Cross, a contemporary meeting place for people from all walks of life in seventeenth-century London. In her article, "Working with the Financial Records of George Washington: Document vs. Data," Jennifer Stertzer asks how the special affordances of the digital medium might present new opportunities for bringing together two types of information with very different functions—textual information and numerical data—in the context of eighteenth century household accounts of Jefferson, so that a researcher might not only read about the exchange of goods and services, but also analyse the data mathematically. The dialogue presented by Daniel Powell and his colleagues, "Conversation, Collaboration, Credit: The Graduate Researcher in the Digital Scholarly Environment," addresses questions about the experience of new scholars at another kind of crossroads, between graduate study and next steps in career and further training, and their experience of engaging with others in this meeting space, from thesis supervisors to research-project leaders and collaborators. Together, these essays represent a conference that spoke compellingly about the important and diverse work being done in the digital humanities at the crossroads in an uncertain world.

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