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These are my notes on the online conference of CSDH-SCHN 2020. Originally this was to be part of Congress 2020 at Western. When the pandemic hit Congress was cancelled and the Programme Committee of CSDH-SCHN had to quickly reorganize. I should say that they did a great job.

The schedule is at There are links in the schedule to the papers which had to be uploaded the week before.

As is inevitably the case, there will be errors in these notes. I could misunderstand a presentation, or get distracted, or grind some ax of my own instead of listening. The lesson is don't trust the notes, especially since the papers/slides are up to be interpreted directly.

I might ask then what is the point of taking notes when the full conference is recorded and the papers are up on Humanities Commons? (I'll get to an answer by the end.)

Day 1, Monday June 1

Session 1: Digital Methods

Capta by Juxtaposition: A Rich-Prospect Approach to the Visualization of Information: Milena Radzikowska and Stan Ruecker

Milena and Stan started the session off with an interesting discussion of how they used Johanna Drucker's challenge of "capta" (as opposed to "data") to question ideas about design process. There are many different design processes, but they looked at 6 step one that is influential. They deconstructed it (literally by cutting the diagram).

The nice thing about their video (see is that it embodies one of Drucker's points about visualization - that a visualization should show that it is an embodied perspective and not an objective god-like perspective. The video has Stan talking and Milena's hands cutting things up and arranging them. Right there you have two perspectives that I'm not sure were always synchronized making the parallax point - ie. that you can break the hold of God's view by having two in parallax.

A comparison of top-down and bottom-up approaches to recognizing component assemblies in image mining electronic schematics: William J. Turkel and Zain Sirohey

This paper presented a briliant project that has been identifying and extracting electronics diagrams and then trying to recognize the components and study the language of circuits. I'm stunned by the mix of techniques being deployed and how they constructing a new text for the history of science and technology.

Beyond Close Reading: An Empirical Approach for Annotation and Classification of Multimodal Texts: Asen O. Ivanov and Kenzie Burchell

Ivanov presented this project which is dealing with a gnarly problem of dealing with multimodal texts. They are looking at journalistic texts that have images, video, text, side bars and so on ... all on a page. How does one recognize the components and the sequencing of the components?

Respondent: Paul Barrett

Panel Session 1: Digital Humanities PhD Postmortems: We Did It, We're Still Here, Ask Us Anything!

This panel brought together PhD students or recent graduates to talk about the challenges of doing a PhD in DH.

François Dominic Laramée: ""A Lone Wolf in Winter: Lessons from a Fifty Year-Old Postdoc"" Zoe LeBlanc ""Reflections on a DH Dissertation"" Jonathan Armoza ""The Future Humanist"" Julia Polyck-O'Neill: ""Sympathetic Networks:Negotiating Multiple Scholarly Identities as a PhD Student""

Respondent: Kim Martin

There were too many good points made in the discussion. Here are some that I noted:

  • Importance of finding mentors
  • Difficulties around securing resources to do projects
  • Value of going down "rabbit holes"
  • Challenges of interdisciplinarity
  • Time it takes to both learn disciplinary skills and the DH ones and to then apply one to another
  • Need for resilience

I worried a bit about the rhetoric of exceptionality, ie. that in DH we have exceptional problems which we overcome (and therefore become exceptional ourselves). I know I have argued the DH is exceptional and I now regret it. I think it is the nature of PhD programmes at big doctoral farms that we (the grad students) are all abandoned to our own devices in ways that we can experience as traumatic. Many of us who survive (and many of those who decide to leave) end up thinking we are exceptional for different reasons. We need to be careful in DH to not think we had it harder than others. Everyone is being forced to be interdisciplinary these days.

Session 2: Digital Early Modern Studies

""An Urn Curiously Wrought"": Structuring Data for Interaction and Visualization in the Social Network of Early Modern Collectors of Curiosities Project

Kyle Dase presented the project. See They wanted to focus on the material object in their social network visualization. They use the event to do so. I asked why they used an event to document the object. Why not use the object and then link to events associated. The event lets them show how objects were exchanged between people.

I was struck by how objects carry more than just history. They have an aura to paraphrase Benjamin. The Epicureans and Neo-platonists treated certain objects as philosophical "texts" on which to meditate in order to understand a deeper truth. The icons could cease to represent the godhead/idea and become the transcendent itself. Do we still feel some residual aura to things? Does that carry over to our practices?

I asked about collecting and whether what we are doing is another form of collecting. Does it give us some purchase or mastery to feel we have collected a phenomena. A number of great points were made then about collecting:

  • Most of the objects are mundane ... another rock ... But sometimes there is something uncanny like a finger.
  • Collecting (as in cabinet of curiosities) shifts into a Baconian notion of systematic observation/cataloguing.
  • Baudrillard talks about how a collection can be defined by what is missing
  • What is the role played by sets and lists?

What's Past is Prologue: Rewriting and Interfacing Shakespeare in Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Mark Kaethler presented his paper. See Mark is looking at the video game Life is Strange: Before the Storm that has Shakespeare as a backdrop or frame. It is a "re-gamification" of the Tempest. It joyfully fails to reproduce Shakespeare. It queers Shakespeare. The paper nicely challenges whether the Tempest is a work, or a process, or an interface. The play (work) is performed (process) and in the game you play (interface with) a character echoing the play.

Respondents: Laura Estill

Afternoon Coffee DH Hangout 1: Topic: Multilingual DH

Quinn Dombrowski organized the closing hangout about multilingual DH. We talked a bit about the challenges people who are not native Anglophones have to face. We talked about infrastructure challenges. We also talked about the challenge of tools and data in other languages. Kim made the point that people can be shy about using a different language, but they shouldn't be. Here in Canada it should be understood that anyone can ask a question in French or English or an indigenous language and we should handle it.

Day 2, June 2, 2020

"Session #3: Future Thinking

Quantifying the Relationship between Link Topology and the Planned Obsolescence of Online Digital Humanities Projects

Luis Meneses and Jon Martin presented on their project to track online resources and whether they are changing. See This is an important project that is tracking how soon digital projects disappear.

Archiving Database Driven Websites for Future Digital Archaeologists

Bennett Kuwan Tchoh presented our project to develop a tool for better archiving database-driven web sites like TAPoR. Bennett has exported the data marked up in XML. See


The Respondent, Constance Crompton then asked about our processes for checking tools. We talked about how we renew and check TAPoR. Dan O'Donnell had a great question about infrastructure and openness. Do projects like TAPoR pretend to be infrastructure? The problem is that TAPoR is infrastructure and no one wants to fund infrastructure. I wrote a paper on the infrastructure turn titled “As Transparent as Infrastructure” - see

Important to the survival data is the recognition of stewardship as scholarly work. The Tri-Council published a policy framework on “Capitalizing on Big Data: Toward a Policy Framework for Advancing Digital Scholarship in Canada” - see We also deposited a report on “Data Management Plan Recommendation for Social Science and Humanities Funding Agencies” calling for cultural changes

Susan Brown made an important point about the need for our community to talk to the emerging organizations like New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization (NDRIO).

We talked about how infrastructure should or could be managed and funded. Is the Library the right model, or the Academic Journal or should it be left to software professionals. I pointed out there have been attempts like the Bamboo Project to pass this over to professionals and those failed.

What we probably need is a space for experimental infrastructure where researchers experiment. When the experiments build up a constituency then they might get imitated or taken over by commercial or professional organizations. This was one of the outcomes of the Edwards, P. N., et al. (2007). "Understanding Infrastructure: Dynamics, Tensions, and Design".

We talked about how infrastructure should or could be managed and funded. Is the Library the right model, or the Academic Journal or should it be left to software professionals. I pointed out there have been attempts like the Bamboo Project to pass this over to professionals and those failed.

What we probably need is a space for experimental infrastructure where researchers experiment. When the experiments build up a constituency then they might get imitated or taken over by commercial or professional organizations. This was one of the outcomes of the Edwards, P. N., et al. (2007). "Understanding Infrastructure: Dynamics, Tensions, and Design".

Susan shared a link to Critical Infrastructure Studies.

Graduate Student Lunch

We held a discussion with graduate students about mentoring. The students are all so talented. We started with how to prepare for the job market. Some of the questions/thoughts include:

We had some great questions:

  • What about Alt-Ac positions? Can you get an academic position after an Alt-Ac position?
  • What about interdisciplinary PhDs?
  • If there are no suitable DH supervisors, how can we get support?
  • What advice is there for getting postdocs?

Session 4: DH for the Public

Reorganizing The Social Organization: Collaborative Editing, Museum Collections, Indigenous Knowledges, and the Franz Boas/George Hunt Archives

Aaron Glass presented on this project. They are creating a critical edition of Boas' book with George Hunt on the Kwakiutl. The book was collaborative and the project is too. They talked about the history of the book including the sources. They are telling the story of the making of the book and bringing Hunt's later notes back in. They started with a collaborative wiki as a tool for compiling the materials. They are now working with UBC Press with Ravenspace (an implementation of Scalar) to build out new tools and designs to turn Ravenspace from a book publishing platform to a critical edition publishing platform.

Charting the Loyalist Migrations: Digital Public History, Shared Authority, and Descendant Communities

Timo Compeau presented this project that is in the early stages of tracking loyalists as they migrated. It is project that is partnered with the United Loyalist Association of Canada who provided support for students to work on this. All sorts of loyalist family historians have gathered the stories upon which this is based. It is an attempt to build trust between family historians and academics. They are overwhelmed by the positive response from family historians.

Visual Matters: Experiments in the Public Visualization of Text

I presented this project, but it represents work jointly with Stéfan Sinclair, Chaolan Wu, Jingwei Wang, Bennett Tchoh, Ali Azarpanah. I showed this short video of the Book Map which was one of the scenarios sketched out. (Book Map was actually prototyped and works.) This project set out to imagine through speculative

The respondent was Julia Polyck O'Neill

O'Neill asked an interesting question on the ethics of using the loyalist or the Kwakiutl materials. In the case of the loyalists the materials are mostly open and published by families. In the Kwakiutl case there are sensitivities especially around names in the book. The reconstruction of identities is an issue as they are sometimes contested in the community. The project needs to avoid inscribing one side of the story. It is not up to the non-native editors to make judgements. It is up to them to make archival materials available to the community who can then judge them. Bettina Berendt and I tried to tackle some of the issues around datafication in a paper for the EBR: Information wants to be free, or does it?

Dean Irvine talked about doing design at a distance. We had this problem after the pandemic started and had to start working in a distributed mode. The irony is that Scalar was meant to be bomb-proof. They are having to abstract it so that they can change the interface.

There was a question about who the loyalists are. Many had to move up from the USA without wanting to necessarily. Right now they are working with those who think of themselves as loyalists, but then the project will expact.

I asked about the ethics process of the other projects. The Kwakiutl project is developing ideas about licenses and labels with the community which seemed the way to go for me. They have a white paper here

Day 3, June 3, 2020

Session 5: DH Communities in Canada

Knowing Ourselves: Building an Interactive Researcher Map at the University of Alberta

Luciano Frizzera presented a paper I was involved in along with Morgan Cselinacz, Mihaela Ilovan, and Astrid Ensslin. The paper was about the Research Map we developed for the Kule Institute for Advanced Study. The map can be seen here The Research Map was developed to allow people to explore interdisciplinary links between people and interests at the University of Alberta. Some of the challenges include:

  • Getting reliable data on colleagues - there is not central registry of data about colleagues
  • Maintaining the data
  • Developing a data format that is easy to use over time
  • Abstracting the project so others can use it

Towards a Linked Infrastructure for Networked Cultural Scholarship

Susan Brown and Kim Martin talked about LINCS a CFI funded project to develop a humanities Linked Open Data (LOD) repository and

  • Conversion - How to convert existing data to LOD. Denilson Barbosa is leading this part of the project at U of A
  • Storage - U Vic and U of T will lead this
  • Access - Ways of getting access to the information (which includes Voyant notebooks)

Susan talked about the importance of critical infrastructure studies to thinking-through what we are doing. We need to be careful about representing difference and diversity.

The respondent was Julia Polyck O'Neill who asked us about what is obscured. We talked about what is shown and not and the difficulties of finding common terms that can link people.

Susan talked about the challenge of recognizing difference and intersectionality in times before the terms were common. She also talked about the challenges of using technologies that assume that tags are simple. One of the opportunities of LINCS is that we can better understand how

We talked about issues around the ethics of datafication - Susan is weaving these considerations into their agreements. I've been thinking about the underlying assumptions in favor of openness in datafication -

Panel Session 2: Journals in the Digital Age: penser de nouveaux modèles de publication en sciences humaines

Marcello Vitali-Rosati started by talking about the importance about public spaces not private spaces. We need to think critically about the tools we use like Zoom, Google and so on. They ran the panel on Jitsi.

Some of the projects they talked about include:

Marcelo argued that we need a plurality of models as there is not a standard journal. We need different values, reviewing practices, platforms ... The plurality of ways to think/know then we need a plurality of different tools.

They introduced a persona that could protest against authorship. The persona is Guido O. Gagnon. He is meant to satirize the Man of the digital humanities. He was developed with "parodic intent - as a way to bust from the inside a certain figure/stereotype of the academic/DH guy."

There was a discussion about challenging the peer review system that often leads to tired fast reviews by people with no desire to do them. See Lets abolish the peer review system.

Dan O'Donnell talked about Force II and multilingualism. We need to be careful not to normalize a form of English. He also mentioned that this is about academic knowledge and the academy.

Covid has provoked us to reimagine the very tools of doing academic work. The new spaces could end up sticking around. The spaces could resemble the public agora or private clubs.

In the chat we had a nice discussion about standards and dialogue. Lou pointed out that the internet standards started as Requests for Comment (RFC). These RFCs were a form of dialogue, though one limited to a set of boy-geniuses. Now we need to open the dialogue around standards.

One of the great things about this discussion was that it was a mix of French and English. A hopeful sign that we may able to have bilingual discussions at the very least.

Session 6: Analyzing Texts

Word Embedding for the Historian: Employing LSI to Understand How Words were Historically Used

Lisa Baer-Tsarfati presented a very interesting paper looking at how "ambition" was used in 16th-17th century. She showed how word embedding can be used to develop a sense of historical language use. The texts she used were "instrutional" which includes moral instruction. She was trying to see how values were presented in this period.

The Historical and Geographical Patterns of the Provisions of Children in World Peace Agreements since 1990

Yadira Lizama-Mue talked about how children are left out of peace negotiations. She looked a number of peace agreements. These tend to get translated into English as they are international.

Big Data Literary Style

Harvey Quamen talked about how difficult it is study style in historical documents. He does part of speech tagging and then throw out the words and keeps just the POS information. He is looking for patterns of grammatical constructions. Milton borrowed Latinate constructions - Quamen is looking at the ablative. Quamen also talked about how stylometry disappeared. It was a popular approach that has disappeared by and large.


Bill Turkel asked if the research approach is deterministic or probabilistic. He asked about the dimensionality - do we know how to figure out the right number of dimensions. He asked Harvey if he had thought of finding a way to not throw out the words. He also asked about dependency grammars.

Harvey asked if we assume language is used differently in different countries (England, Scotland, and Ireland) and then use analytical tools to see if we can see the differences.

We talked about why stylistics disappeared in the 1970s or 1980s. I proposed that Stanley Fish's article on What is Stylistics was an attempt to kill it. Harvey suggested that it may have also moved to linguistics.

Day 4, June 4

Session 7: Experiments & Examinations

Replicating Fortier's THEME System for Digital Text Analysis

Kaylin Land presented this paper that I and Stéfan Sinclair worked on. She described her attempt to replicate Paul Fortier's THEME system that ran on an IBM 360 back in the 1970s. THEME was based on French symbolist theory. The idea was to follow themes, defined by lists of words, through a text. She talked about understanding computing in the past - media archaeology.

Diodorus Siculus: A Digital Defence

John Walsh talked about his interesting Diodorus Siculus who was generally ignored by a generation of classicists. Diodorus was a 1st century Sicilian writing about the collapse of the Republic and rise of the Empire. He writes in direct and informal way. Walsh has used Voyant to show that there was authorial purpose behind the text. He was able to convince his colleagues of patterns of composition in the text.

A Collaborative Color Laboratory: Using 3D Modelling, Texturization, and AR to Challenge White Supremacist Uses of Ancient Classical Sculptures

Delfina Sol Martinez Pandiani talked about how ancient classical sculptures were never meant to be white. She talked about how the whiteness of sculpture has had an effect on the ideals of beauty of our era. White supremacists have used the whiteness to argue for a white Europe. She has been using 3D modelling to play with the colours of sculptures. The idea is not to create an accurate recreation of the sculptures, but to create an interactive work that allows people to play with the colouring of sculpture.

For more on the polychromy of ancient sculptures see Gods in Color and the New Yorker article The Myth of Whiteness in Classical Sculpture. Delfina talked about the reaction to the idea that these classical works were painted. Why are people so attached to the myth of whiteness.

The respondent was Constance Crompton. She talked about how conference supercharge one for the year. I agree ... too many good ideas.

Day 5, June 5

Session 9 Games and Analysis

Social Media and the Production of Self in PokémonSwordShield: Identifying Gameplay Mechanics Through Correspondence Analysis of Tweets

Jérémie Pelletier-Gagnon presented the paper. They are assessing text mining tools for studying gaming communities. Games are performed in the playing so it is not enough to just look at the text itself. They are looking at the social life of games through fora like Twitter. This goes beyond the playing. Their case study was the Pokemon community online. They looked at the English, French and Japanese linguistic community. They scraped Twitter for certain hashtags.

The Digital Privilege Game

Barbara Bordalejo and Daniel Paul O'Donnell presented their Digital Privilege Game. They talked about how it is played in person and the development of the digital version. You can try the game at

Jason Boyd asked an interesting question about why data analysis is so rare in game studies.

Sarah Roger asked if there was a bias in studying Twitter towards those who have accounts and are therefore probably adults. The medium skews the data. Jeremie talked in response about other ways the study is skewed. Some tweet about a game without having played it. There are also linguistic skews.

Sarah asked if the Privilege Game puts more emphasis on those who are disadvantaged. Does it draw attention to those who are disadvantaged. Others followed up saying that certain questions could be a trigger and make players feel uncomfortable. There seemed to be concerns about putting people on the spot to answer questions like "Have you been sexually assaulted?"

Panel Session 3: On the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence

I chaired and contributed to a panel that included Emad Mousavi, Howard Nye, Katrina Ingram, Tugba Yoldas, Jared Bielby, Ali Azerpanah, and Jingwei Wang. I wasn't able to enter notes as I was presenting.

Session 10: DH for Social Justice

"I'm a hero... in a game!"" Augmented Technological Mediation from Zombies, Run! to Tendar

Abi Lemak and Kiera Obbard presented their critique of AR games, specifically Pokemon Go. They suggested ways the game could be improved. They talked about the issue of where locations are and the red-lining that can take place. They aim to imagine a truly intersectional game that is safe for all.

Black and Trans Approaches to the Digital Humanities: Using the Transgender Media Portal to Explore Black Trans Filmmaking

Laura Horak presented her paper about the Trans Media Portal. She focused on ethical challenges like how to collaborate with "marginalized trans artists, curators, and community members?" How to ethically represent trans people and their work? And how to build a portal that respects privacy and security concerns?

From Feminist Participatory Co-Design to Research-Creation: Developing a Digital Fiction for Body Image Bibliotherapy

Astrid Ensslin presented a project that is developing a mobile web app using feminist action research and community design. They have convo turns that are used to generate content. The goal is to address body image through bibliotherapy. The stories use a mechanic called "docility value." Abstract shapes change as the value changes.


Barbara Bordalejo was the respondent. She asked why Pokemon Go. She asked if a truly intersectional game is possible given the many forms of vulnerability. Abi and Kiera talked about how Pokemon Go is one of the most popular games and how an ideal may not possible but one can still strive towards.

Barbara asked what advice Laura Horak would have for people trying to study vulnerable groups. Laura started with the importance of listening and doing your homework. Read the scholarship before jumping in. Form relationships with the communities.

Barbara asked Astrid about post-feminism. Astrid and Christine talked about going beyond representations on the screen that are bodied. They are using fluid abstract shapes that are designed to go beyond what is seen in the media. The shapes model states of mind rather than bodies.

I was struck by how sensitive the presenters were to listening to vulnerable groups. This is something we need in the digital humanities where too often datafication is seen as a transcendent good.

Abi talked about how the digital and augmented reality can change your perception of embodiment and can be dangerous. Laura talked about issues of consent and how the slicing of knowledge can be an issue.

Christine made an important point about how the digital triggers the storytelling and the imagination. The limits of the digital may be overcome by the imagination triggered.



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