Abstracts and Speaker Bios

Keynote Address

The meteor has struck.  The dust is in the air. 
Let’s leave the dinosaurs to their fate and concentrate on the mammals.
Notes on the New Humanities.

Daniel Paul O’Donnell
University of Lethbridge

The digital humanities are not some flashy new theory that might go out of fashion.  At this point, the digital humanities are The Thing.  There’s no Next about it.  And it won’t be long until the digital humanities are, quite simply, ‘the humanities’ (Pannapacker 2011).

It is a truism to note that the definition and scope of the Digital Humanities has been the object of considerable discussion in recent years.  Who’s in?  Who’s out?  Do you have to code?  Must you read from a distance?  Is DH under theorised?  Overly popular with funders?  A threat or an opportunity to renew the “old” humanities?

In my view, this focus on DH as a (sub-)discipline of the larger Humanities is unfortunate.  Because while I have gradually come to believe that there is such a thing as the Digital Humanities (in the same way that there are other (sub-)disciplinary specialisations like Post-Colonial Theory or Medieval Studies), I have also come to believe that our focus on defining what makes it different is preventing us from paying attention to what is really important about the widespread introduction of computation into humanistic study over the last few years: the extent to which technology is changing the way we do everything else.

In this paper, I would like to look at how digital technologies are fundamentally changing the way Humanists – of all persuasions and sub-disciplines – are conducting their day-to-day business.  How they are changing the way we teach, the way we communicate, interact with colleagues and the public, and judge our relative success.  In many cases, these changes are so new that our discipline as a whole has, by-and-large, yet to grasp fully the extent to which they have already occurred.  In other cases, our ability to benefit from changes that have been recognised is hindered by generational resistance, institutional intertia, and a tendency to see anything digital as belonging to the DH “fad.”

This is a problem we must address.  An Open Access, Open Source, social web is an internet that presents Humanists of all stripes with remarkable opportunities: to engage with far larger audiences, to work with a far wider variety of cultural and historical material, and to develop forms of communication and publication that are far better suited to the type of research and teaching we have always done.  Our unwillingness to embrace more fully the opportunities before us and develop the skills and knowledge necessary to lead in their development is a terrible missed opportunity.

As my title suggests, I also believe it is a generational problem: the technology that offers us the greatest opportunities has developed far faster than we have been able to integrate it into our disciplinary training.  Few Associate Professors have PhDs that are newer than the popular recognition of the most significant Web 2.0 applications; many of our senior faculty began graduate school before the development of the World Wide Web.  The only way forward, I argue, is for the dinosaurs to recognise that their days are numbered and to develop a new training model that prepares our students for the mammalian world they are going to inherit.

Dr. Daniel Paul O’Donnell, University of Lethbridge

“Digging the Digital 2013” is pleased to announce Dr. Daniel Paul O’Donnell as this year’s keynote speaker, from the Department of English at the University of Lethbridge.

Dr. O’Donnell’s involvement with the department of English includes teaching courses on medieval literature, the History of the Book, and the English language.  His research interests include Old English language and literature, the history of the book, editorial and textual scholarship, humanities computing, and reception-oriented criticism.

In addition, Dr. O’Donnell has been involved in various research projects, including the Visionary Cross Project (http://www.visionarycross.org/), the Lethbridge Journal Incubator (http://www.uleth.ca/lib/incubator/ and http://www.journalincubator.org/), Global Outlook::Digital Humanities, and abdah.org.

Currently, Dr. O’Donnell serves as co-president (English) for the Society of Digital Humanities / Société pour l’étude des média intéractifs; co-editior of Digital Studies / Le champ numérique; and associate editor of Digital Medievalist (http://www.digitalmedievalist.org/journal), a journal which he helped found.  Previously, Dr. O’Donnell served as Chair and CEO of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) (http://www.tei-c.org/) and founding director of the Digital Medievalist Community of Practice.





Session A:  Space and Place


“We haven’t located us yet”: the intersection of spatial digital humanities and libraries
Lydia Zvyagintseva,

HuCo/SLIS Candidate, University of Alberta

If the 19th century was witness to a shift in awareness of time as a concept, and the 20th century revealed awareness in the power of language, then the 21st century will be characterized by keen spatial awareness. Despite the assumption that space would become insignificant in the digital age, space is arguably even more important in our daily lives now. As a result, humanists are increasingly studying spatial relationships in print, visual and digital culture and media. Yet can all of this enthusiasm for space be credited to GoogleMaps alone? This presentation traces the history of spatial awareness from the Enlightenment onward, and suggests that a new critical language for the study of space has resulted.

Furthermore, it examines the current manifestation of this geospatial awareness in the digital humanities by analyzing the emerging “library-DH Lab” model as seen in major research institutions such as the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Stanford, and University of Virginia. The implications of the spatial turn in the humanities include the methodological challenges of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of space, the shaping of subjectivity, and the central role that metaphor plays in the DH discourse. These implications extend to the intersection of libraries and digital humanities research as well: in tangible environments such as the DH Labs, in the growing interest in libraries as a spaces, and other geo-locative initiatives like web and mobile applications within libraries.

Lydia Zvyagintseva is a second-year student in the University of Alberta’s Master of Library and Information Studies and Humanities Computing combined programme, with a background in French Language and Literature. Her research interests include data curation, linked data and spatial humanities. She is a long-time Edmonton Public Library employee and an enthusiast of Myers-Briggs personality typology.


Heterotopic Representations and GIS in Gay’s Trivia, or the Art of Walking in London (1716)
Catherine Nygren

MA (English) Candidate, University of Saskatchewan

John Gay’s 1716 poem Trivia, or the Art of Walking in London is a highly topographical piece that refers to over forty locations within London.  Past studies have focused on the context of the viability of walking Gay’s path, the direction of movement, and the number of places.  Gay, however, usually refers to these places in the specific context of their characteristics during the day or night; he even structures his work around how to “walk clean by Day, and safe by Night” (1.2).  Therefore, mapping these locations offers the opportunity to experiment with a mix of temporal and topographical mapping.  By locating these sites using a contemporary map on Dr. Allison Muri’s Grub Street Project, I explore overall temporal and topographical patterns and establish how Gay uses heterotopic representations of these locations to subvert and reinforce the day and night binary and other accompanying dichotomies.

Catherine Nygren is currently completing her MA in English at the University of Saskatchewan.  Her research focuses on 18th-century print culture and how to represent texts in a digital format, with a particular emphasis on scholarly editions.  She is currently working on a digital edition of Pope’s Dunciad Variorum for Dr. Allison Muri’s Grub Street Project.  Past projects include developing a game based on Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, examining the use of HistoryPin in the University of Saskatchewan Library Collections, and digitizing and researching Soviet propaganda journals.


Using Archival Documents and GIS to Recreate Lost Narratives and Urban Landscapes
Jaron Williams

MLIS Candidate, University of Alberta

Precise spatial indexing can be a great tool for librarians and archivists in their efforts to contextualize historical documents for users.  Geotagging documents in an HGIS (Historical Geographic Information System) environment can provide far more context than simply stating “Edmonton, AB” in an item’s description.  Further, when we allow documents that share the same spatial origin to share the same tag we are enabling these documents to contextualize each other; thus enabling a narrative to emerge.  An image of a house, a directory entry showing the occupants of that house, and a newspaper article relating to those occupants may lack relevance when they are presented separately.  If, however, they are brought together they enrich one another.  They become, if only implicitly, descriptors of each other.  In my presentation, I explore a few examples of GIS being used to present historical documents and, using my own work as a case study, I show the benefits of using HGIS and the challenges that one may encounter.

Jaron Williams is an MLIS Candidate in the final semester of his studies at the University of Alberta.  Jaron also holds a Bachelor or Arts, with majors in History and Human Geography, from the U of A.  His interests include history, archival studies, spatial humanities, and urban development.  Jaron was born and raised in San Francisco.  He moved to small town Alberta (Evansburg) when he was a teenager and to Edmonton a few years later and has lived here for nearly a decade.


Session B:  Society Moves Towards the Digital


A Critical Examination of the Glasgow Digital Library
Janice Kung

MLIS Candidate, University of Alberta

In the digital landscape of our time, digital libraries are gaining momentum for a number of reasons.  Digital libraries (DL) increase access to multiple users, assist in long-term preservation initiatives, and support cross-community interactivity and collaboration.  Assessing the performance or value of a system justifies the digital library’s importance in the community and also provides opportunities to improve and modify the system.  According to Tefko Saracevic (2004), literature on DL evaluation has not been as “explosive” as other factors concerning digital libraries.  Through an extensive literature review, he identifies several approaches for accommodating different evaluation goals: systems- centered, human-centered, usability-centered, ethnographic, anthropological, sociological, and economic approaches.  As no one particular evaluation can possibly cover all evaluative aspects, students have been selective in exploring certain approaches including literature written about the Glasgow Digital Library (GDL).  By adapting Saracevic’s framework for DL evaluation, an exhaustive examination of the Glasgow Digital Library will be conducted using three approaches: usability-centered approach, systems-centered approach, and human-centered approach.  GDL’s documentation will also be discussed, followed by an assessment of its strengths, weaknesses, and suggestions for improvement.

            Janice Kung is currently a part-time MLIS student who will be graduating this year.  She has an undergraduate degree in the Bachelor of Commerce and has a good working knowledge of utilizing different systems in the corporate and library context.  Through her course work in Digital Libraries, she has a newfound interest in the digital environment and how digital libraries play an important role within that environment to cater to users and their needs.


Through the Digital Sands of the Hourglass: These are the Data of Our Lives
Sandra Sawchuk

MA (HuCo) Candidate, University of Alberta

Life tracking is the traditional phenomena of journal-­‐keeping, made current by new technology. Thanks to devices like smartphones enabled with cameras, global positioning systems, and accelerometers; social media ‘check-­‐ins’; and the rise of ubiquitous computing, humans can keep tabs on themselves like never before. However, the true ownership and future use for all of this personal information is unknown, and many people don’t consider what will happen to their information after they die. In Canada, there is currently no legislation in place that deals with these so-­‐called ‘digital assets’. Humanity is entering an era of unprecedented information storage, but without a clear ethics of data, it’s uncertain how the information we collect about ourselves can, and should, be used. Through a brief examination of the current trends identified as ‘life tracking’, this paper will attempt to establish a set of preliminary best practices in the form of an ad-­‐hoc ‘ethics of data’. I argue that it is essential we begin to seriously consider the management, access, and archiving of our respective digital assets. This paper is meant to be a call to action for individuals to move from a system of personal data collection to one of personal data curation.

Sandra Sawchuk is a Masters student in the Department of Humanities Computing at the University of Alberta. Her current research interests include big data and the philosophy of information; new media and coding languages; and experimenting with emerging technologies.

She completed her B.Ed at the University of Alberta, as well as earning a diploma in Journalism Arts from Sait Polytechnic (Calgary, AB).


“I Have Written a Subroutine Specifically for You”: Human Desire for the Machine in Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation
Jade McDougall

MA (English) Candidate, University of Saskatchewan

This presentation will focus upon the recurring theme of the android lover in Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation (hereinafter referred to as TOS and TNG respectively). Both series feature episodes that deal with this issue at length: “Requiem for Methuselah” from TOS and “In Theory” from TNG both examine the figure of the android as love partner. Issues surrounding the android as sexual object are also presented elsewhere in both series. The (in)ability to anticipate and respond to human desires is the central concern for these androids and their would-be partners, and the shortcomings of programming are made all too apparent, indicating the fundamental infeasibility of a successful relationship with a fabricated lover. The malleability of the android personality – the possibility of programming an ideal man or woman – is treated in TOS as the ultimate in desirability, whereas in TNG the issue is far more problematic, raising numerous questions about gender dynamics in both series. It is within the context of these gender-based concerns that my examination will take place.

Jade McDougall is from Saskatoon, currently pursuing her M.A. in English from the University of Saskatchewan. The project she intends to pursue for the completion of her M.A. will be a based upon DEVO’s seminal Q&A album. Outside of this project, her interests are centred upon all things camp, including Star Trek, early horror, and the infancy of punk music.


Session C:  Gaming and the Digital Humanities


“Anathema”: A Critical Reflection on a Collaborative Interdisciplinary Project
Jordan Bolay

MA (English) Candidate, University of Saskatchewan

Over the course of the past several months I have been working on an interdisciplinary project in which I am the story and dialogue writer for a video game serving as a final project for a computer science design course. In addition, as part of an interdisciplinary graduate seminar on the book as object, I am creating a “complete companion” booklet for the game, including lore on the game’s characters and settings as well as a production journal. The purpose of this paper is to reflect on the creative process of interdisciplinary collaboration and, by extension, comment upon the relationship between form and content in video game narratives. The nature of this relationship within our own projects will be demonstrated through the compromises made to both the narrative and game mechanics for the sake of production and marketability, but also artistic intention. My presentation will include audio/visual elements to demonstrate the game, the accompanying booklet, and the various tools used in the collaborative production. It will also draw on personal reflection, as well as various scholarship including Drucker’s The Century of Artists’ Books, McCloud’s Understanding Comics, and articles on video games as narratives.

Jordan Bolay is a first year M.A. student in the department of English at the University of Saskatchewan. His research interests include contemporary and Canadian literature as well as popular and digital cultural, with particular emphasis on digital and collaborative narrative construction. He is an avid musician and a writer of poetry, short stories, and musical compositions. In his spare time he enjoys home-brewing ales and hosting suit nights, during which common activities such as bowling, miniature golf, scavenger hunts, etc. are done by a group of friends in suits.


Game Over? The Challenges of Procurement, Preservation, and Accessibility in Video Games Collections
Andrea Pflug

MLIS Candidate, University of Alberta

Cultural institutions such as libraries and museums are increasingly interested in developing video game collections. Public libraries are developing lending collections for public use, and leveraging the draw of video games to connect with particular segments of their community. Last year, video games were the focus of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s exhibition “The Art of Video Games.” Since 1997, Berlin’s Computerspielemuseum (Museum of Video Games) has developed an astounding collection covering the history of gaming worldwide, spanning 30,000 titles across 300 consoles.

Despite this emergent place of cultural value, video games represent a particularly perplexing challenge for institutions. Software is an ephemeral medium, and the decay of the preserved data on game cartridges and discs is a real threat. The predictable decay of magnetic drives stamps these artefacts with an inevitable ‘best-before’ window. While emulators exist for many (now obsolete) hardware systems (providing a way of preserving the game’s code and playability), this option can be rendered inert as it is often at odds with both copyright legislation and the desires of game publishers.

Current trends towards streaming content, massive multiplayer online games, the erosion of backwards compatibility, and the tethering of games to individual accounts create even more challenges for those developing video game collections. This session will discuss some of the challenges of building such a collection, and examine the way a selection of organizations have navigated these complications in the development of their own collections.

            Andrea Pflug is in her final year of the Masters of Library & Information Studies program at the University of Alberta.  She is intellectually omnivorous and is compulsively curious. She came to librarianship serendipitously, and has found it to be the perfect conflux of her interests and abilities. She has worked for Edmonton Public Libraries, and volunteered with the LearningLinks Resource Centre in Calgary. She is passionate about libraries, and the critical connections they provide for both individuals and communities.  She is currently Co-Chair of Partners’ Week: a student-run job shadow program that facilitates student exploration of the diversity of roles in the field for library & information professionals.