Jess Goes to the Digital Humanities Summer Institute

Here’s a little post about what I did last week.

Since my thesis includes a spatial history element, I have been slowly learning how to use ArcGIS and how it can be used specifically for the humanities. Scholars in the humanities have been incorporating digital technologies into their research for the past few decades now, and one of the fantastic results of these advances is the Digital Humanities Summer Institute held annually at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

What is the DHSI? Well, according to their website:

“The Digital Humanities Summer Institute provides an ideal environment for discussing and learning about new computing technologies and how they are influencing teaching, research, dissemination, creation, and preservation in different disciplines, via a community-based approach. A time of intensive coursework, seminars, and lectures, participants at DHSI share ideas and methods, and develop expertise in using advanced technologies. Every summer, the institute brings together faculty, staff, and students from the Arts, Humanities, Library, and Archives communities as well as independent scholars and participants from areas beyond. Described by one participant as an event that “combines the best aspects of a skills workshop, international conference, and summer camp,” the DHSI prides itself on its friendly, informal, and collegial atmosphere. We invite you to join the DHSI community in Victoria for a time of focused practice, learning, and connecting with (and making new) friends and colleagues.”

I attended the DHSI last week in order to gain some intensive, hands-on experience with ArcGIS. The classroom setting allowed me to ask questions and learn from experts about how to use GIS for visualizing both quantitative and qualitative data, and as a form of exploratory analysis for identifying patterns that help us understand our data on a spatial level. I signed up for Lancaster University professor Ian Gregory’s course on how to use GIS in the Digital Humanities and it has given me a deeper understanding of how to use the program, and a much better idea of the potential that GIS holds for my research. I now have a little more direction as I head into the archives this summer. You can check out the wide range of courses offered here.

We learned a LOT in five days. Through daily lectures and tutorials, I learned how to produce high quality maps, use tabular data and join tables, and properly format Excel spreadsheets to input my data into ArcGIS. I learned overlay and buffering techniques for integrating data from different sources, how to find coordinates for place names and convert them into shapefiles, how to georeference historical maps, and how to create 3D visualizations of our data with Google Earth. The best part was that we were encouraged to use our own data by the end of the course, so we could work with our new skills to produce some basic maps specific to our research. Brock University has some great resources in their map library where I have learned a few of these things already over the last year, but the DHSI classroom format was something that I think pushed all of us to the next level in our research.

The DHSI is not just about going to class though; there were a ton of opportunities for us to collaborate, share knowledge and make new acquaintances. There were participants there from every continent but Antarctica! Opportunities included the Conference & Colloquium, offered in a variety of formats from oral and poster presentations to mini workshops during the lunchtime “Unconference.” I presented on my thesis one evening and felt very welcomed by the event organizers and those who attended the talks. Although I was not sharing research conclusions as many other presenters were, this shows the versatility of the DHSI in that they offer a chance for academics at all levels to share knowledge and ask questions. I was approached by a few people after my talk and was given helpful titles of books and papers to read, people to connect with, interactive mapping software, and GIS tools & techniques to try.

I listened to a number of interesting presentations throughout the week. A few people in my GIS class shared the work that they’d completed in the course with their own data, and others spoke about their research during the evening lightning talk sessions. I heard from people in history, english, music, education, and more. During one lunchtime workshop I even learned how to create a virtual museum tour, which I thought could be useful for the work that I do locally with Nelles Manor.

I am thankful to everyone at the DHSI for organizing the event and allowing me to be a part of it, and am especially grateful for the tuition scholarships they offer that helped with this process financially. I definitely recommend the DHSI to anyone interested in learning more about the digital humanities. The conference runs for two weeks, so you can follow along with the attendees for week 2 if you’re interested by checking out the #dhsi2019 and #dhsi19 hashtags on Twitter.

PS: UVic’s campus is beautiful and this was my first time ever visiting B.C. I also got to visit my brother who recently moved out there and do some sightseeing… Here are some non-conference pics!

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