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Ryerson English at DHSI 2017

Student and Faculty Learn and Network at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute
By: Rebecca Martin, MA in Literatures of Modernity
September 28, 2017

Held annually at the University of Victoria, the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) is a two-week long series of intensive DH courses that attracts scholars from across North America and the world. DHSI is a fantastic opportunity to connect with the wider DH community, attend a wide variety of lectures, conferences, and workshops and—if time allows—spend some time admiring the wildlife that can be found on the University’s remarkably green campus. With the generous support of the Provost, Ryerson’s CDH is an official sponsor of the Summer Institute. Due to our ongoing support, DHSI waives the tuition of five incoming students or faculty members from Ryerson each year. This past June, I was fortunate enough to attend DHSI along with Kailey Havelock, Mark Sardella, and Polina Vinogradova from my Literatures of Modernity MA cohort, fourth year BA student Ewan Mathews, CDH research fellow Michelle Schwartz and faculty members and CDH Research Fellows Aaron Tucker and Dr. Jason Boyd.

Polina and I both took "Fundamentals of Programing/Coding for Human(s|ists)" with John Simpson and Alicia Cappello. Both of us had some experience coding in XML and HTML, but not Python—the dynamic and highly teachable programming language taught in the course. Fortunately this fundamentals course starts from ground zero. The aim of "Programing/Coding for Human(s|ists)" is not to train students to become professional programmers—which would be impossible in a short week—but to train humanities scholars to be able to think like programmers. We were given an overview of command line code, including key details on the history of programing, and were given the opportunity to create our own projects in Python. In the final two days of the course, Polina worked on a text adventure game while I attempted to create an automatic text generator. The course set a great foundation for future studies and I certainly intend to continue expanding upon my newly acquired programming knowledge.

At the University of Victoria’s Library and Special Collections, Kailey Havelock undertook "Understanding the Predigital Book: Technology and Texts." In this course, Kailey learned about pre-digital print technologies and contexts—essential knowledge for DH practitioners who are interested in digitizing and encoding printed materials. Kailey worked with an early edition of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women and even had the opportunity to print her own lino-cut illustration. The course also engaged a full range of senses; as Kailey puts it, “the dusty books I handled in my Pre-Digital Books course smelled almost as delicious as the flora of the University of Victoria campus.”

Mark Sardella was enrolled in "XML Applications for Historical and Literary Research," taught by Jonathan Martin and Scott Paul McGinnis. Short for Extensible Markup Language, XML is the mark-up language of choice for many DH projects and can be used in conjunction with a wide variety of related technologies including HTML5, KML, SVG, and TEI. One type of XML language is KML, or Keyhole Markup Language—a markup language ideal for geographic annotation. Mark says, “I am excited to use my KML skills in future mapping projects, and I made some great friends along the way who offered me excellent advice. I also enjoyed so many of the presentations!” For his final project, Mark used KML to produce a digital map of locations mentioned in The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. This map will lay the groundwork for a larger project on Wilkie Collins’ work.

Ewan Mathews attended DHSI through his work on the Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada project (LGLC). He was enrolled in Ian Gregory's course, "Geographic Information Systems in the Digital Humanities." Ewan says that this course “gave class members an introduction to GIS capabilities. Through experimentation with practice modules we learned how to manipulate, translate, and analyze spatial and geographic data.” Ewan combined data from the LGLC and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives to build an interactive map of arrests and violent crimes that took place around cruising areas in post-war Canada. According to Ewan, “This course was the tip of the iceberg in terms of what GIS is capable of, and already I see so much potential in examining the geography of literary works and print journalism, especially (in my own work) when viewed through a social, economic, or temporal lens.”

Dr. Jason Boyd was enrolled in Jon Saklofske's course "Digital Games as Interactive Tools for Scholarly Research, Communication and Pedagogy." Dr. Boyd writes that, “The course had an extensive reading list, and the participants had a very diverse range of expertise on digital games in academia. It really helped me to think about how I could move from teaching digital games to using digital games for research creation and dissemination.” Dr. Boyd also co-led a “Queer DH” unconference session—its third year running! Held over the lunch-break, unconference sessions can be what participants want them to be; they provide an informal context for exploring new ideas and can even be a testing ground for future courses. Those who attend DHSI in 2018 can look forward to a full "Queer DH" course, which will be co-led by Dr. Boyd. Finally, Aaron Tucker attended "Practical Software Development for Nontraditional Digital Humanities Developers" where the class used Python to create a program that parsed Shakespeare's corpus looking for repeated phrases. In addition, he read some of his poetry during a lunch time reading with fellow poets and scholars Julia Polyck O'Neill, Ted Nolan and Catriona Wright.

The DHSI experience is not confined to the classroom—among a wide range of other activities, there is a colloquium series that runs Monday to Thursday after classes. On Monday, Research Fellow Michelle Schwartz presented a talk entitled “#myDHis radically inclusive” at the Institute’s introductory panel, “Perspectives on DH (or, #myDHis ...).” In this presentation, Michelle shared how DH has shaped her work on the LGLC project. On Thursday evening, Lit Mod student Polina Vinagradova presented a talk entitled “Gaming Literacy and Education: Re-Thinking Digital Games and Gamification” in which she focused on the increasingly popular usage of virtual reality in academia, and discussed the importance of acquiring a form of gaming literacy in order to use this technology efficiently.

The DHSI experience is a vibrant one. The days are packed full of information and opportunities to engage with innovative thinkers. Perhaps most importantly, it is an ideal space for testing out ideas, making productive mistakes, learning new skills and connecting with those who are interested in doing the same. The Summer Institute welcomes newcomers with a warm spirit, and it quickly becomes apparent why many in the DH community continue to return year after year.