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Digital Humanities 2009: My First Humanities Conference

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Trying to find traction in my pursuit of academic scholarship is quite daunting at times.  There are just so many people in the world doing so many interesting things, and it often feels like an endless catching up with the many experts of today.  What I do know is my childhood aspiration to tell stories through video games drives me on this adventure of discovery.  What I didn’t know was how many communities of thought there would be along the way: communities that care about stories, communities that care about games, communities that care about stories in games.  (It keeps me constantly feeling like the “the new kid” in school.)  And what I take away from this last conference is a new collaboration of interesting research questions that I could’ve very well been working on.  Not that I’m second guessing the path I’m currently on, but rather, I look forward to bringing my own discoveries to the intersection of all these communities.  So, let me share a little bit of what I learned about the Digital Humanities community.

While at the Conference…

In addition to being to numerous Computer Science and Game Industry Conferences, I’ve been to Jazz ConferencesMulti-cultural Conferences, Religious Conferences, Asian American Conferences, and even a conference on “Profound Questions,” but what I am about to share with you is my first participation in a Humanities Conference. I’m currently sitting the Hoffman Auditorium at University of Maryland, College Park.  I registered today at 4 pm for the Digital Humanities Conferece hosted by the Maryland Institute of Technology in the Humanities. Just to give you an idea of the spread in topics of this conference, the first friend I made studies Slavic languages at University of Pittsburgh.

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Selected Poster Titles from the Poster Sessions

The opening keynote talks about “cultural analytics” (I’m paraphrasing from the introductory slide that he currently has on screen ^_^)

  • analysis and visualization of large cultural data
  • theoretical implications, interfaces/visualizations techniques
  • methods for analysis of visual media and born-digital culture

The speaker is drawing attention to the increase of cultural data sets, of user generated content, and digitalization efforts by museums and libraries.  I’ve certainly taken for granted the mass amounts of cultural information (ie. web presence of all professional cultural agents), not to mention the actual culture of our information.  He continues to show tools and applications of these ideas, such as an approach in video summarization: which are linearized pixels from frames that are appended to form a 2-d representation of a video (another described application is the quantization of web comics).

I suppose, my first impression of this area is that it investigates the variety of cultural information whether it is a means to

  • digitize the undigitized
  • mine information for what has been digitized
  • or to visualize and represent the information we derive from cultural data

I must admit that there is a lot I still don’t know about this community, but I’m having a number of great conversations while at the conference– some with people of shared research interests and some with people who have very non-related areas of research.

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A Slide from the Panel “Preserving Virtual Worlds: Models & Community”

“Preserving Virtual Worlds: Models & Community” was one of the sessions more relevant to video games.  There was a lot of discussion on how virtual worlds are identified, quantized, organized, and archived.  It’s never occurred to me that these concerns were of substantial  interest to the museum, library, and cultural studies, but apparent that such research would face challenges in cohering all the aspects of an interdisciplinary area.  For example: in the attempts to preserve commercial games, researchers have limited accessibility (to the games) as a result of proprietary concerns from industry.  Notably, a lot of the preserved information is organized on the internet by fan bases.

After the Conference…

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The books that were on sale during the conference

I’m sitting in my hometown, Delaware, after the conference thinking about what the intersections are.   Or specifically, how do these topics affect me?  Most directly, I found similar pursuits in how we quantize our complicated, not-so-straightforward representations of gameplay and enjoyment (the establishment of appropriate metrics is very important to scientists).  I also believe that through games and virtual worlds we can represent, capture, and preserve a lot of our culture and history by digitizing the undigitized in the form of interactive experiences.

My question is: how do we (re)tell these stories?

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Sitting in Panera Bread reading the Conference Proceedings (photo taken by my XPS webcam)


About the author:  Sherol is a PhD student with interest in telling stories through games. She loves Jazz music, Jesus, and had a crush on Super Mario when she played her first video game at the age of 5. Read more from this author


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2 Comments

  1. Posted July 19, 2009 at 4:53 AM | Permalink

    Just wanted to pass along a word of thanks for this post. I teach at a small liberal arts college in Texas (that I love) where the emphasis is far more on teaching than professional development. That’s the way I like it, but as I’ve begun to explore new media and games over the last five years, I’ve had a similar “dizziness” about how many different (and often somewhat distinct though not always) scholarly communities there are interested in these areas of research. So to have another scholar post a kind of outsider’s perspective on the DH conference–one of a bunch I’d been interested in–is an excellent and compelling idea.

    Thanks again. (Also: maybe there’s more to this “newbie reax” idea?)

  2. Posted July 19, 2009 at 9:58 AM | Permalink

    Brett, you sound like you’ve been teaching for some time. That’s something that I’ve had some, but not a whole lot of experience doing. It’s interesting to see the area of video games education forming itself right before us. Someday, we, but moreso you, can say that we were there when it began.

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