Digital Humanities 2008

After two days of drizzle and gray skies, the sun came out on Saturday to make the last day of Digital Humanities 2008 memorable and ensure that the participants all remember Finland and Oulu as beautiful and not (only) as gray and wet and chilly. Watching the sun set over the water, a few minutes before midnight, by gliding very slowly sideways beneath the horizon, gave me great satisfaction.

The Digital Humanities conference is the successor to the annual joint conference of the Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH) and the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing (ALLC), now organized by the umbrella organization they have founded, which in a bit of nomenclature worthy of Garrison Keillor is called the Association of Digital Humanities Organizations.

There were a lot of good papers this year, and I don’t have time to go through them all here, since I’m supposed to be getting ready to catch the airport bus. So I hope to do a sort of fragmented trip report in the form of followup posts on a number of projects and topics that caught my eye. A full-text XML search engine I had never heard of before (TauRo, from the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa), bibliographic software from Brown, and a whole long series of digital editions and databases are what jump to my mind now, in my haste. The attendance was better than I had expected, and confirmed what some have long suspected: Kings College London has become the 800-pound gorilla of humanities computing. Ten percent of the attendees had Kings affiliations, there was an endless series of reports on intelligently conceived and deftly executed projects from Kings, and Kings delegates seemed to play a disproportionately large role in the posing of incisive questions and in the interesting parts of discussions. There were plenty of good projects done elsewhere, too, but what Harold Short and his colleagues have done at Kings is really remarkable — someone interested in how institutions are built up to eminence (whether as a study in organizational management or because they want to build up some organization) should really do a study of how they have gone about it.

As local organizer, Lisa-Lena Opas-Hänninen has done an amazing job, and Espen Ore’s program committee deserves credit for a memorable program. Next year’s organizers at the University of Maryland in College Park have a tough act to follow.