I am glad I discovered that Azar Nafisi would be speaking at the Sydney Opera House during my time in Sydney before I bought tickets to the opera Turandot (although I’m sure that would also have been enjoyable). Her talk on July 5, 2015, was so timely to everything I have been experiencing at a university in crisis, which pours money into STEM and sacrifices the Arts, and enrolls students who would rather stare at their phones than read a book.
She reminded me why literature is so important, and why it is one of the first things to be banned in authoritarian states. I immediately wanted to re-read her book Reading Lolita in Tehran and soon after the talk bought and devoured her new book, The Republic of Imagination.
It wasn’t easy taking notes in the cramped environment without a desk, but I didn’t want to forget some of her best points:
- Books are irrelevant? What would a post-book world look like and would we want to live in it?
- iPhones change every year but books don’t.
- We need a wonderland to go to in order to refresh ourselves. We can transcend reality’s limitations. This helps us transcend tyranny of humanity and time.
- “Irrelevance of the humanities” by the elite ignores that humans like stories, mythologies of creation.
- We live in society that segregates science and technology and the humanities. Passion of scientist and precision of poet (quote).
- 30-year-olds in Silicon Valley forget that creating a visual representation of water is not the same as actual water.
- Power of curiosity. Margaret Atwood described how she saw a cleaver that “needs to be investigated” and this is how many authors come to write their stories.
- All religious texts begin with a story.
- In American, we box everybody.
- Book wither and die if there are not new readers. Shakespeare, Moliere, Homer are validated when they’re translated.
- Basis for empathy is curiosity.
- Culture takes you to worlds you have not been to (would be great if our leaders did this).
- Crisis of vision (not just crisis of economy, politics) since 2008. The Rein of Ignorance is threatening us.
- In criticism, there’s an element of respect. You think they should know better. (Idea that FGM [female genital mutilation] is ‘just their culture’ is ridiculous and demeaning.)
- Every culture has something to be ashamed of. Society is more sophisticated than the regime (pro- and against veil argued since 19th century).
- Clinton, Palin, and Obama are all Christian, but who is more Christian? (same as her grandmother with the veil and her mother without it, but both are Muslim).
- Immigrants bring new and alternative perspective.
- Brutality is obvious in authoritarian countries. And authorities know the power of imagination to challenge authority. Engineers are not sent to jail; writers and artists are. Art shows us that we are all the same…we all fall in love, etc… Insidious and complex are threats to freedom that are less obvious in the West. We want to be laid-back, be entertained, let things go by (Kim Kardashian kind of thinking).
- If you love your country, what kind of American do you want to be?
- Can democracy survive without a democratic imagination?
- American only had its newness to offer (Huck Finn and American literary independence).
- Danger is complacency. How violent conformity can be.
- As readers, we need to start conspiring, where we ask basic questions that our leaders are not.
- Recommendations for authors to read:
- Dick Davis, British poet and translator of Persian
- Ferdowsi’s “The Book of Kings”
- Faces of Love (translator Dick Davis)
- My Uncle Napoleon
- Mage Publishers (Iranian Persian literature)
- They demolish you because they can’t understand there can be other people who are different. (I think referring to terrorists and extremists.)
- Monsters don’t come to you in monstrous shapes (lesson learned from Lolita).
- Commercializing the imagination (Google, FB) is a bad thing. And our compliance, we’re buying this stuff.
- With expanding canon, would minority writers be as popular? Reading Sojourner Truth in Tehran. (I think she said, she wouldn’t see why not.)
These recommended resources for Digital Humanities projects and management have been suggested at the barcamp and conferences I’ve attended:
These notes are from the National Digital Forum (NDF) Barcamp in Christchurch and two presentations by Adrian Kingston, Digital Collections Senior Analyst at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington. All were held at the University of Canterbury in June 2015. The presentations and barcamp were well-attended by academic staff and students, GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) staff, and other interested members of the public.
Benefits of humanists having at least a minimal knowledge of digital language
- Able to moderate content on a website (copying and pasting text, getting rid of excess HTML code, modifying a line break) without having to contact administrator.
- Able to tell programmers what you want to achieve and not being limited by what you think is possible (programmers have certain Myers-Briggs personalities – about 5% of population – so they are thinking in a completely different way from most people).
- Challenge: humanities graduates should be designing the tools instead of letting programmers and corporations be in control.
- Everyone needs some digital literacy to operate in a global, digital environment.
- Knowing Microsoft Word, etc. is proprietary software that you are not in control of (file format, long-term viability).
- Knowing how PDFs work.
Issues around Data Infrastructure in DH
- Open Standards: we’re heading toward digital dark ages (documents, Adobe products, etc. won’t run in the near future) and need to raise awareness of it at the creation level.
- Far more complex needs in humanities infrastructure compared to STEM (community blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
- Humanities can’t just ask for a telescope when needing infrastructure.
- Public sector has a good proportion of data that humanities scholars need.
- DH subdiscipline of analyzing infrastructure could be helpful and necessary.
- Need common metadata standards and interchangeability between projects (like converters for different outlets).
- How to archive losslessly.
- Derivative data sets need to be stored along with master data set to allow fact-checking of articles, as well as avoid other researchers having to replicate data cleaning (example: if you clean up a dataset of tweets by getting rid of extraneous ones, that should be linked to the original dataset).
- Permanent identifiers.
Issues around Conservation and Preservation
- You need to be able to make changes to RAW data and say what you did, just like you would do with real objects.
- How do we preserve larger, important stuff that links to other data (Example: cartoon requesting flowers be put in road cones in remembrance of Canterbury earthquake. This then links to Flickr page showing photos of flowers in road cones. Is collecting a PDF of the cartoon really enough to capture this event?).
- Data needs to be looked at every 5-10 years to ensure it is still accessible and stored correctly.
Issues around Acquisitions
- Museums can’t control what the artists use as their medium.
- Format: emailing can destroy metadata and compress images without person being aware.
- Problems with password and encryption.
- Not changing filenames as they may be linked to other files.
- Does object rely on fonts to display properly.
- Consider putting a “readme” file with files to give more information without touching files.
- Even moving screen size or resolution could alter an emulation experience.
Digital Humanities and Partnering with Libraries and Museums
- 2-way street between library and DH with internships: library benefits from technical knowledge and having its collections and rare books utilized, and student benefits from access to real-world context and problems.
- Could library offer digital literacy embedded in courses?
- Critique: training sessions in digital at university libraries tend to be generic and don’t address research questions.
- Frame the question in non-digital terms: how do we better tell the story of Canterbury? (through artifacts, objects, stories, etc.).
Tim Sherratt (@wragge; famous for “The Real Face of White Australia” project) gave the final keynote on “Unremembering the Forgotten” at the Global Digital Humanities Conference on July 3, 2015. He discussed memory and how certain information is considered important and worth remembering, and other info is discarded. He also provided several examples of Twitter bots that automatically tweet and can be powerful reminders of history that might otherwise be forgotten.
Some of the highlights were:
- Problematizing the WWI Centenary
- Ernest Rutherford and others were subsidized to travel to Australia during WWI, while German scientists in Australia were interred with many others because believed to be spies.
- Commonwealth Handbook called Aboriginals the most backward race.
- Celebration of the centenary does not deal with the legacy of racism. A half billion Australian dollars have been spent on activities, caught up with issues of nationhood and identity.
- How are other deaths memorialized? What about worker deaths? Or childbirth deaths? Could we use Trove to learn about other deaths not being celebrated?
- Fragmentary, uncertain, and colored/clouded by context.
- Not like a query where you get the same answer every time.
- We think of it like a searchbox, but really it constrains us and constructs things (control not liberation) [Google’s algorithms].
- Open Access vs. Closed Access: how can you have closed access?
- Cannot simply be given; at some level it has to be taken.
- Is political.
- Data is not just a product of government, but an instrument of power.
- Example of Practical Tools
- Takeaway: It’s not about making things; it’s about making a difference.
The July 2, 2015, keynote at the Global Digital Humanities Conference in Sydney entitled “Making Life: the Art and Science of Robots” by Genevieve Bell (@feraldata), an anthropologist by degree who is now a VP at Intel, was phenomenal. It’s the best presentation I’ve heard and now I feel I am ruined for keynote presentations in the future because hers was so good. She moved so fluidly across the stage and really used the space; her voice was clear and compelling; and she used interesting stories and examples rather than just listing facts. I would love to be able to present like that one day and capture an audience.
She talked about science fiction and technology — and knew her stuff — and wove everything into powerful statements about why we need Arts minds alongside Science minds to consider the hard questions. I can’t stop thinking about and sharing with others her example of the driverless car and who is in the room when decisions are being made about which lives the algorithm might prioritize: a pedestrian in the road, a pregnant woman in the back seat, etc.
Some of the highlights I took away were:
- You don’t want to leave engineers to build and run the world, entirely.
- ROW = rest of world (not America) is how Silicon Valley can envision others.
- Technology brought to life is anxiety-provoking. America goes from Furby to Apple’s Siri to Terminator without missing a beat. Yet 10 million+ Roomba vacuums have been sold.
- Literature and film have been fascinated with bringing things to life and the consequences.
- What questions might be ask of robots?
- Problem of bodies: only some are marked female or minority. Do they need to look like humans?
- Locomotion is complicated mechanics which movies make look easy.
- What is their purpose?
- What is degree of autonomy?
- We already grant autonomy in many places (drones, driverless cars, Amazon algorithms, dating websites)
- In Japan, robots are seen as our friend.
- Who regulates the autonomy?
- What if they become independent or sentient?
- Is there an inner life of robots?
- Right now, it is displayed as either poetry or death.
- Masahiro Mori’s The Buddha in the Robot considers robots that would be more patient and Buddhist. We don’t like to acknowledge that people kill, not robots.
- Technology is not ahistorical.
- Conversations between engineers and scientists and Arts people should always be happening. Romantic poets were some of the only ones criticizing the Industrial Revolution.