Navigating the Digital Humanities: An Evening with the Experts

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Posted in Events, Methods Research, Past Projects, People, Projects, Research, Talks

Presented on 8 November 2012 by the  ABQLA (Association des bibliothécaires du Québec/Québec Library Association) College and Research Libraries division and the Digital Humanities at McGill, the “evening with the experts” was held at McGill’s Islamic Studies library and featured Dr. Stéfan Sinclair (McGill Faculty of Languages, Literatures and Cultures) and Dr. Jamshid Beheshti (McGill School of Information) alongside  Concordia librarians Annie Murray and Jared Wiercinski. The panel presented a variety of perspectives the Digital Humanities and outlined some of their current work, including the “Spoken Web” project currently under development at Concordia.

The evening began with an introduction to the Digital Humanities by resident Digital humanist Dr. Sinclair, who described the variance and breadth of accepted definitions for the discipline. He proposed the idea of “building as a way of knowing” to highlight the supportive role of technology within the Humanities and emphasized the historical presence of technology in the Humanities during the 20th century. Additionally, Dr. Sinclair highlighted the need for further and deeper co-operation between libraries and humanities departments. He noted the pivotal role that librarians play in the research process, both as information professionals and as researchers themselves. Dr. Sinclair concluded that Digital Humanities provides a variation of form for humanistic study, but does not replace more traditional models of scholarship.

Dr. Jamshid Beheshti continued the evening with an introduction to his virtual education environment project ENVI, which recreates the 19th century Québecois community of St. Hilaire as a virtual tool to teach history in elementary schools. Dr. Beheshti outlined the goals of the project, completed in 8 months using a grant from Heritage Canada, and noted the benefits of an immersive, virtual environment to re-inforce classroom teaching. The project faced 3 significant challenges: the need for a linear narrative to be transformed to a believable virtual environment, the technological complexity required to build the programme and the extremely tight timeline required by Heritage Canada. Ultimately, Dr. Beheshti’s team was able to complete the environment, but was unable to fully test it due to time and budgetary constraints.

The final presentation was made by Concordia librarians Annie Murray and Jared Wiercinski, both of whom are currently involved with the Spoken Web  project at the university. “Spoken Web” provides an online, audio portal to the extensive collection of mid-century poetry readings performed at the then Sir George Williams University and is designed to encourage the act of “close listening” through its integrated text and audio transcriptions. Ms. Murray and Mr. Wiercinski spoke about their role in designing a user friendly data base and their further research interest in the role of “multi-modality” in the scholarly research process. They concluded the evening with examples of other highly interactive websites developed by the Smithsonian Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, which served to highlight their future goals for “Spoken Web”.