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Navigating Culture in an Age of Digital Abundance – Presentation

[updated 19 November 2014]

Today I am giving an Ignite! talk at the Being Human Festival, based today at Senate House at the University of London. The overall theme of today is “Too Much Information,” and I am excited to be taking part! As an Ignite! presenter, I will have five minutes and twenty slides to present on my topic–Navigating Culture in an Age of Digital Abundance.” Each slide will be on screen for 15 seconds.

I’ve done similar things before, but usually as Pecha Kuchas, where you get 20 slides at 20 seconds per slide, for a total of six minutes 20 seconds. Ignite is quite a bit shorter, necessitating some difficult choices with regards to images, talking points, and how best to get my point across.

In brief, my presentation argues that the best way to think about information overload in a digital age is to better think about how we can develop systems and networks to make information more usable. This information could be catalogue holdings, youtube videos, scanned books, music files, whatever. The important thing is that for this mass of content to be discoverable, usable, and enjoyable, it has to be organised and accessible. Trusting in crowdsourced networks to assess goods and media, to organise and catalogue, and to recommend content is perhaps the only effective way to grapple with the sheer numbers. As Clay Shirky says, “It’s not information overload–it’s filter failure.” And the best way to make filters is to join together in networks and do so as a community, a radical change from how culture and knowledge have been put forward in the past.

Given the time constraints, I’ve pasted my slides below in PNG format; those in the room might find it easier to revisit and/or follow along here than in real time!

[Edit: Since presenting, I have gone through and added text to these slides, giving a more accurate, though not word for word, account of the presentation and significance of each slide.]

 

ignite_talk_djpowell2.001

 

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DH 2014 – Roundup and Reflections

It has been about two weeks since the end of Digital Humanities 2014. Taking place in Lausanne, Switzerland, the conference was a wonderful gathering of senior faculty, graduate students, #altac professionals, and the usual type of folks you find at a digital humanities conference or workshop. As my first DH (I missed Nebraska last year because of a scheduling conflict), I was suitably impressed at the range of topics on display, the projects that people were showcasing, and of course the keynotes.

Despite recently moving to London to take up an Early Stage Researcher position to explore digital social editing and the scholarly edition, I found myself (as always) drawn to panels and papers basically professional in their nature. In other words, rather than more esoteric topics. Regardless, here are some of my favourite presentations and sessions from the conference: Continue Reading


The London Job – An Introduction to DiXiT and Social Editing

[This post is cross-posted with the newly-created DiXiT Blog, on which all project participants will be posting about their research for the next three years.]

When one turns to the Pythia of our age, Google, and enters “textual editing” as a search term for images, an interesting set appear.

From left to right, they are

  • The logo of the Textual Editing Framework, a framework designed to create model editors for textual notations.
  • A still shot of a video of Elena Pierazzo, president of the Text Encoding Initiative Council, teaching a course on Digital Textual Editing at DH Summer School 2013 in Bern, Switzerland.
  • The cover of the book Electronic Textual Editing, an anthology edited by Lou Burnard, Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, and John Unsworth.
  • A student with a Macbook laptop, an external monitor, and a towering microfilm reader (presumably editing some text).
  • A cropped medieval painting of a wizened old man, likely a monk, consulting a book placed on a pedestal in front of him.

These images, taken together, do a fairly good job of providing a snapshot of current debates, trends, arguments, and issues in what we broadly consider to be “digital scholarly editing.” After all, editors do something quite established (the monk & his book), often with cutting edge tools (the Textual Editing Framework, the laptop), sometimes with very old tools and materials (the microfilm reader), the results of which are often disseminated in seemingly dated forms (the scholarly collection on Electronic Textual Editing). Social_RedAt the same time, digital scholarly editing is a field of inquiry constantly in redefinition, in argument, and in propagation (the new media form of a video recording of a lecture devoted to changing ideas of what a scholarly edition is and can be). The manner of inquiry (querying Google) is also telling: it relies not on my personal knowledge of the field, but upon the collected “wisdom” of untold writers, image uploaders, programmers, software developers, scholars, and so on. The contours of textual editing as suggested by these images are fundamentally social.

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He’s Still Here

The last few months have been, even for me, hectic. Usually, I make sure to carve out time to update this blog, keep my CV in order, and so on and so forth.

Since December or so, that’s all gone out the window. A combination of conference travel, job applications (and interviews and negotiations), several weddings across the continent, and a major grant for the Mellon foundation has not only kept me off the blogosphere, but also taken its toll on my academic writing (read: my dissertation), and my bank account.

A quick accounting:

January – MLA 2014 in Chicago, where I organized a panel of six graduate students on New Models for the Dissertation. It was well received, and even led to some press for some of our participants in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s hipper, more well-designed sister site Vitae. I managed to, amid the din and chaos, interview some folks for an ongoing research project looking into digital collaborations and community engagement.

February – INKE in Whistler, British Columbia. One of two yearly gatherings, this one centred on the future of scholarly publishing and featured an absolutely wonderful group of participants theorizing what the next few decades of academic publication might look like. I presented on the Renaissance Knowledge Network, an integrated research, analysis, and publication environment that we are currently laying the groundwork for in the ETCL. Leadership from Iter and the Advanced Research Consortium also had the chance to sit down with us to strategize next steps for the grant to start work on ReKN.

March – Digital Humanities Australasia 2014 in Perth, Australia, preceded by over a week of meetings, consultations, invited lectures, and general academic networking in Sydney, Australia. In Sydney, I presented on Digital Humanities Spaces and Microclimates, with particular attention paid to libraries, centres, and so on, as well as meeting with a variety of folks at the University of Western Sydney (my hosts & sponsors), the University of Sydney, and the University of Technology, Sydney. In Perth, I presented on regional networks of digital scholarship, with a particular emphasis on the Pacific Northwest. At the same conference, I participated in a debate on the necessity of literary visualizations pace Moretti, and give my 18 cents on a panel/workshop devoted to #altac careers. This was an amazing time, but draining.

April – Literally 24 hours after returning from Australia, via Hong Kong, my partner and I left for South Carolina for two weddings, one of which I helmed as best man to a dear old friend. We got back to British Columbia last week, on 8 April.

Throughout that, I’ve managed to revise a collaboratively written article that is about a year behind schedule, revise a course proposal for DHSI 2015 with Melissa Dalgleish, apply for an academic position at King’s College London, interview for that job, undertake multiple revisions to a major grant with the Andrew Mellon Foundation, serve as graduate representation on the Hiring Committee for a new departmental chair in English, attend a half dozen meetings of our university wide graduate student society, organize a panel for our university on current research in digital literary studies, and even, believe it or not, write some of my dissertation.

And in June, my partner and I move to London for me to take up a position at King’s College as a DiXiT Early Career Researcher researching Social Editing. So now we have to packup our lives here in Victoria and get rid of everything we can’t fit in a suitcase.

This morning I was reading Melissa’s piece on Hook & Eye, one of my favourite websites (and run by Canadian academics! ), on self care and the risks of burnout. Because I’ve been so busy, as “briefly” outlined, it really resonated with me. I think academics in general, and especially academics who teeter on the edge of overengagement and overinvestment, are simply terrible at self-care. We also like to compete for the award of most busy, which is absurd (and within the context of which my above writing looks ridiculous, I know). I hate being busy. My dissertation has suffered tremendously, even while my professional profile has grown. I know more people than ever, but sometimes I feel I have less and less to say because I haven’t had any time to get in the archives and research, to read secondary literature, or to even roughly jot down my thoughts on the topics I’ve chosen to write a book on!

So like Mel, I’m trying to figure out what a work life balance looks like, and questioning whether or not the type of academic I hope to be–dynamic, personable, collaborative, rigorous–is compatible with the life I want day to day.

Figuring out that equation is hard, as is forcing yourself to take care of yourself-especially when it’s cold and rainy outside, as it is here in Victoria. On the other hand, the trees and meadows are vibrantly green, the flowers are blooming in most places, I have a supportive and incredible partner, and my professional life is fine. Sometimes I just need to remind myself of that.


Rocky Mountain MLA

I’m writing this from a lovely little coffee shop in downtown Vancouver, Washington called Torque. The space is large and open, with a number of old dining room tables scattered about and a big, U-shaped bar in the middle. The shop lies at the foot of the I-5 bridge that crosses the Columbia River to Portland, Oregon, in an area that seems to have been mostly railyards or light industry. The building itself was obviously a garage of some kind, and they still have the original doors on. It’s great.  They serve the best espresso, roasted in house, that I have ever had. And I live in the Pacific Northwest, so we know coffee.

Torque is right across the street from the Hilton Hotel in Vancouver, location of the just completed Rocky Mountain Modern Languages Association conference. In its 67th year, RMMLA (pronounced ‘rim-la,’ I have learned) brings together a number of language and literature academics from (theoretically) the western regions of the United States and Canada; in practice, presenters arrived from as far away as South Carolina, Texas, Arkansas, and New York.
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