Thoughts on the Tercer Encuentro de Humanistas Digitales (and slides of my talk)

This week started with a day at the Archivo General de la Nacion. I always get a rush in there. It’s cold, it’s dusty and musty. The level of monitoring and control borders on the East German. There is no wifi. But I get lost in time on those uncomfortable chairs, and a day there goes by in a flash. I am already looking forward to my next visit.

The rest of my time in Mexico was dedicated to the 3rd meeting of digital humanists at the Colegio de Mexico, organized by great library staff and DH team. The papers have been fascinating – there is such a serious concern to protect the independence of the information infrastructure, from the library’s ability to share its assets and protect this access, to critiques of the commodification of the internet, digital collections of Mexican recipes, digital memory projects, DH infrastructure, DH in the middle east, DH and social movements, and one of my favorite topics, meta data and DH infrastructure.

It’s hard to rank favorites, but because this is my blog and because I love photographic images of the first half of the 20th C in Mexico, my fave today was this, a collection of photographs from 1915-1943 Mexico by Vicente Cortés Sotelo. It includes visually embedded meta data on the people or locations and landmarks in the images. Historypin has a hispanic site- I would love to see this collection pinned collectively.   Beyond this, the last couple of days have been a fascinating exposure to what is going in DH in Mexico and beyond.

DH is also has a strong home in libraries and archives, but also in the social sciences, literature, linguistics, theater and history. And as is the case in general, but perhaps more so here, DH is a young person’s field, and the participants and panelists were definitely born in the late 20th C, with some exceptions (me).

My contribution was to present my zombies to Mexico, and look forward to seeing a  Zombis Digitales site and hear of Mexican students taking selfies with the librarians at the Colmex and other institutions, or the archivists at the Archivo General de la Nación. I just spoke with a librarian from the Autonmous University of Querétaro about just this, so I feel a collaboration coming on.


I realized yesterday that this was my first DH conference. Apart from DHSI in the summer, it turns out I have never been among only DHers at a conference.  Beyond the content, which gripped me thoroughly, I was surprised that even in DH conferences, the spatial organization of the conference remains wedded to conference structures of old. Panelists are on a stage, behind a table, seated below a huge screen. DH for me has been an introduction to a methodology that begs to overturn existing and entrenched hierarchies, that incites participation and generates collaboration. It is the opposite of a ‘sage on a stage’ mentality, and the locus, for me at least, for thinking about how to do what we do differently, in a computational and digital context and with a view on how we will evolve in this context in the 21st C.

As I once tweeted brashly (someone help me find that tweet!), I really want to end the tyranny of the academic panel at the AHA. I still do. And this conference showed me that I’d like to see panels disappear everywhere. If not among the innovative, rebellious, hack-friendly DH community, where? Come on, let’s hack the academic conference!

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