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JADH 2012 Post-conference Report

Submitted by A. Charles Muller

On September 15–17 2012, members of CEH, SAT, and DHII hosted the second annual conference at the University of Tokyo, carried out under the theme of “Inheriting the Humanities”— to emphasize the urgent need to treat the numerous problems that are arising in the transition from analog to digital as the primary medium for carrying out scholarly research and teaching. The conference featured presenters from Canada, Australia, the United States, the U.K., along with many scholars from various universities around Japan, headlined by a number of invited scholars. The conference was highlighted by three regular keynote presentations by eminent scholars in the field of DH, as well as a major pre-conference lecture. The conference was also preceded by a full-day workshop given by Dr. Elena Pierazzo (Kings College, London) on doing XML programming with the TEI and SVG technologies. With a total number of registrants of 92, it was the largest English-language DH-related conference in Japan to date. The conference program is here.

Events started with a pre-conference workshop delivered by Elena Pierazzo from the Digital Humanities Department at King's College London. Dr. Pierazzo has been extremely visible in recent years in the field, being involved in a number of projects, most notably the TEI, where she has been a member of the TEI Council since 2007, and recently was elected as Chair. Her workshop started off with a quick introduction to the creation of TEI-XML documents using <oXygen/>, and then moved swiftly into more advanced problems of presenting original versions of complex manuscripts along with edited overlays using SVG technology with the SVG editor Inkscape. The workshop was a valuable experience for our steadily-growing local TEI users community.

Elena's workshop was followed by a fascinating pre-conference plenary lecture by J. Stephen Downie, on the “HathiTrust Research Center: Pushing the Frontiers of Large Scale Text Analytics.” The HTRC, which, among other things, is building an online repository of texts aimed specifically to serve as the object for scholarly analytical tools, is clearly one of the most significant projects to have come on the scene in recent years. Dr. Downie's talk was eloquently commented on by Prof. Shunya Yoshimi of the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies.

On Sunday morning (9/17) we began the conference proper, running two parallel sessions that continued throughout the two days of the conference. The conference was highlighted by three plenary lectures. These three lectures had significant overlap in content, as all three consisted of deep and realistic reflections by those with extensive experience in the field of Digital Humanities on how it has changed over the past decade. They spoke of dreams and realities, setbacks and new possibilities, change and resistance to change.

As the final event of the first day, we enjoyed a plenary lecture by Susan Schreibman of Trinity College (Dublin), whose paper had the title of “‘In Dreams Begin Responsibilities’ The Politics and Hermeneutics of DH.” Drawing on her long experience as a scholar deeply involved in the growth of Digital Humanities, Susan discussed the contents of various contemporary debates regarding who and what is at the center of Digital Humanities, and how Digital Humanities is seen from the perspective of the broader humanities. She observed how the contours of the relationship between Digital Humanities and Humanities are in a state of change in a variety of ways. Central in this flux is the changing status of Digital Humanities within the political structure of the academy, where to some it is seen as playing the role of savior of the field, while to others it is seen as a force bringing destruction of the values and interpretive methods upon which the edifice of the Humanities have been built for centuries. But far from being a simple critique of those embedded on the side of "traditional humanities," Susan's paper called most of all for the maintenance of an flexible attitude on the part of Digital Humanities practitioners. Responding to Susan was Ray Siemens (University of Victoria), co-editor with Susan for the Companion to Digital Humanities.

Our next plenary, delivered by Elena Pierazzo, was entitled “Teaching DH: an absurdity or a necessity?” From her vantage point of several years of experience as a faculty member in the Department of Digital Humanities at King's College, Elena provided many valuable lessons for those at other institutions who might embark on their own attempts at developing programs. Elena's presentation was especially useful in that she spoke in considerable detail about aspects of the program that have not been successful, something that may allow the rest of us to avoid going down similar paths without due consideration. Of particular relevance was the history of the travails of trying to maintain a DH undergraduate program. The first undergraduate program at KC London was eventually closed down due to small enrollments, only recently being revived in a modified form. A central lesson in this experience was that for undergraduate students, whose studies have not yet reached the level of advanced research, many of the methodologies and topics of DH do not resonate, since they deal with tools and strategies for research. On the other hand, undergrads seem to be more attracted by topics in Digital Culture.

The themes of education, program development, and the finding of a useful and sustainable niche in the academic structure that were broached by Dr. Pierazzo continued to be addressed by Bethany Nowviskie of the Alderman library at the University of Virginia, in here plenary talk entitled “Too Small To Fail: the Scholars' Lab at the University of Virginia Library.” Again, we had the opportunity to learn from the experiences of someone in a long-term administrative position at an institution that has a relatively long history in organized DH. The lessons learned at UVa are those of doing what is really necessary, and really useful with DH tools, and providing instruction on a scale that is sufficient, but without trying to create a massive program that might eventually need to be closed down. Again, this was great food for thought, especially for those of us at the University of Tokyo as we begin our own efforts at creating a program in Digital Humanities.

In addition to the scholars mentioned above, we were graced with the presence of a number of long-time leaders in the field of digital scholarship who traveled from overseas to offer us their knowledge and experience. Opening remarks to the conference were offered by John Nerbonne (University of Groningen, and Chair of the ALLC), while Harold Short (King's College London) offered closing remarks along with Hidetaka Ishida (University of Tokyo), in the final session chaired by Christian Wittern (Kyoto University). Other foreign guests who chaired sessions and offered expert commentary included Lisa Lena Opas-Hänninen (Oulu University, Finland), Espen Ore (Norway National Library, Oslo), Lynne and Ray Siemens (University of Victoria). We were also happy to be visited by Paul Arthur, chair of the recently-founded Australasian Association of Digital Humanitiess, which was, like JADH, recently accepted as a member of ADHO.

Social events at JADH 2012 included a banquet dinner on Sunday night at the Tokyo Garden Palace hotel in Yushima, and a performance of the traditional Japanese musical instrument called the koto, offered to us by the members of University of Tokyo koto club.

The conference was a very stimulating event for the development of Digital Humanities in Japan, as Japanese presenters had much opportunity to interact with, and learn from each other. At the same time they had the opportunity to view presentations by foreign participants, and receive valuable comments from foreign scholars.