Speaking in Code

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Bethany Nowviskie

    Libraries - University of Virginia

  2. 2. Eric Rochester

    Libraries - University of Virginia

  3. 3. Wayne Graham

    University of Virginia

  4. 4. Jeremy Boggs

    Libraries - University of Virginia

  5. 5. David William McClure

    Libraries - University of Virginia

  6. 6. Scott Bailey

    Libraries - University of Virginia

Work text
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Many digital humanities projects are collaborations involving not only traditionally-employed scholars, but also technologists and administrative staff. These groups all have their own traditions of discourse, evolving methodologies, metrics of success, sources of recognition, and avenues for promotion. Any point of difference can become a source of useful and creative energy, or a nexus of misunderstanding and conflict.

The gaps in communication that these differences open can be deep and broad, even among humanities-trained software developers and the scholars with whom they collaborate. Much (not all) knowledge advances in software development through hands-on, journeyman learning experiences and the iterative, often-collaborative development of built objects and systems. Much (not all) knowledge advances in humanities scholarship through fixed and fluid kinds of academic discourse: referential, prosy, often agonistic. Divisions can exist in style and practice, even when the subjects and objects of humanities inquiry are the same. What approaches might bridge the gaps between tacit knowledge exchange and the writing of humanities theory and interpretation? Can we move past an historical moment in the academy, in which the onus seems to be almost entirely placed on archivally and theoretically trained humanities scholars to become tech-savvy digital humanist, in order to build a concomitant sense of momentum, responsibility, and opportunity in our community of DH software engineers? Can we build greater community itself, just by making a space in which such problems are addressed?

In early November 2013, the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia Library hosted an event called “Speaking in Code”—a two-day, high-level summit for approximately 30 advanced humanities software developers. Participants were selected on the basis of their demonstrated experience in digital humanities software development, their interest in advancing solutions to the problems raised by the summit, and the disciplinary and cultural diversity they promised bring to the conversation. The Scholars’ Lab team also made a clear and explicit call for participation by developers who are women, people of color, queer/LGBT, or otherwise under-represented among the ranks of digital humanities programmers, and we were well pleased at the response. (For instance, 12 of our 30 participants identified as women and 4 volunteered that they are LGBT.) Besides the unusual level of gender diversity at the event, we believe it was unique in other ways. Our summit—supported by generous grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the UVa Library—was the first focused meeting to address scholarly and social implications of tacit knowledge exchange in the digital humanities.

First-day discussions at “Speaking in Code” (led by Bethany Nowviskie, William J. Turkel, Stéfan Sinclair, Mia Ridge, and Hugh Cayless) addressed core problems and activities in humanities computing. These included: physical and digital embodiment, and our unspoken understandings of them, as made evident in code; how best to take advantage of moments of fruitful rupture between design and development phases in DH work; challenges in crafting humanistic models for the representation and procedural analysis of human language; and methods by which developers and metadata specialists grapple with other kinds of ambiguity, or “messy understandings,” in cultural heritage information. The second day started with concrete project pitches, responding to day-one conversation and offered by participants in lightning rounds. This was followed by work on some of the projects that were pitched, conducted in small groups, with an eye both toward making immediate interventions in the field and seeding longer-term, collaborative undertakings. Our DH 2014 poster will present outcomes from “Speaking in Code.”

The underlying question of our summit was this: how might we—at a moment when scholarly interest in humanities computing is growing by leaps and bounds—bring longstanding technical conversations into more open, inclusive humanities discourse? “Speaking in Code” foregrounded the intellectual dimensions of DH craftsmanship but—importantly, unusually, and we think as a necessary first step to fostering discussion in venues legible and friendly to scholars and developers alike—we started with a meeting organized and conducted on software developers’ own terms.

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Liu, Alan (2012). “ The state of the digital humanities: A report and a critique. ” Arts and Humanities in Higher Education. Feb/Apr 2012 11: 8-41.

Mattern, Shannon (2011). “Revisiting Craft I: Teaching the Connections Between Thinking and Making.” 18 August 2011. <http://www.wordsinspace.net/wordpress/2011/08/18/revisiting-craft-i- teaching-the-connections-between-thinking-and-making/

Mattern, Shannon (2011). “Revisiting Craft II: Tools of Craftsmanship.” 18 August 2011. <http://www.wordsinspace.net/wordpress/2011/08/18/revisiting-craft-2-tools-and-methods- of-craftsmanship/>

Oram, Andy, and Greg Wilson (2007). Beautiful Code: Leading Programmers Explain How They Think (Theory in Practice). O’Reilly Media, Inc..

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Polanyi, Michael (1966). The Tacit Dimension. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966. Scholars’ Lab. Speaking in Code. Scholars’ Lab. 2013. Web. 1 Nov 2013. <http://codespeak.scholarslab.org/>

Wardrip-Fruin (2009), Noah. Expressive processing: digital fictions, computer games, and software studies. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press

Wood, Nicola, et al (2009). “A Tacit Understanding: The Designer's Role in Capturing and Passing on the Skilled Knowledge of Craftsmen.” Working Paper, Art and Design Research Centre, Sheffield Hallam University. <http://www.archive.org/details/A TacitUnderstanding>

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2014
"Digital Cultural Empowerment"

Hosted at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Université de Lausanne

Lausanne, Switzerland

July 7, 2014 - July 12, 2014

377 works by 898 authors indexed

XML available from https://github.com/elliewix/DHAnalysis (needs to replace plaintext)

Conference website: https://web.archive.org/web/20161227182033/https://dh2014.org/program/

Attendance: 750 delegates according to Nyhan 2016

Series: ADHO (9)

Organizers: ADHO