Conference Planning as DH Praxis: Lessons Learned from Putting Values into Action in the Global Digital Humanities Symposium
Kristen Mapes, Kate Topham, Devin Higgins, Taylor Hughes-Barrow, Viola Lasmana, Merve Tekgürler
Pratt Institute, New York City
June 8-10, 2023
Conferences are activities through which communities come together to exchange knowledge, provide feedback, and inspire change. Yet, the process of organizing and cultivating community through these events is rarely discussed as a form of digital humanities praxis. In this presentation, we will share the values, processes, and challenges behind the Global Digital Humanities Symposium. We see this presentation as an act of transparency and humility through which we hope to begin a conversation with the audience so we can also learn and improve while also sharing our expertise and commitments.
The Global DH Symposium seeks to showcase social justice-oriented and globally engaged DH through its program while also making ethically grounded decisions in cultivating community and planning the event. Over the years, we have developed our strategies for keeping the event as truly global as possible – from providing travel funds for all presenters when run as an in person event, to funding live interpretation to run a multilingual virtual event, to opening planning committee participation to the international community, for example.
In the endeavor to develop a “truly global” event rooted in the institutional support provided by Michigan State University, we have iterated our approach. We work to foster community by keeping the size of the symposium small, offering only plenary sessions, experimenting with social activities while virtual, and providing a well catered event while in person. When in person, we keep the event free to attend for all, and we have provided financial assistance to presenters and secure inexpensive housing options. When virtual, we direct funds to support closed captioning and live interpretation in order to offer a multilingual event. Regardless of format, we rely on a dedicated team of planning committee members and a community of 40 reviewers who enable a double anonymous reviewing process, ensuring a high quality program and supports the proceedings (new in 2021) and an upcoming special issue in Reviews in DH.
Sharing effective strategies for improving accessibility and living out the global values of our event is part of an effort for transparency in DH work. Even more a part of that effort, however, is a discussion of the areas that we struggle with. How do we foster multilingualism and social justice work when there are limits to what we can have translated and how many languages we can support? What are the impacts of only providing live interpretation into/from colonial languages? As we shift to a part-virtual, part-in-person modality in 2023, how do we continue to support a globally engaged virtual event and an in person event taking place at Michigan State University, while still managing a limited budget?
At the core of our work is the imperative to be reflective regarding our institutional positionality, in order for the Symposium to support the work of DH scholars around the world without taking over or colonizing those conversations. Is there such a thing as “post-custodial conference planning”?