RECOMMENDED: The Index of Digital Humanities Conferences

The Index of Digital Humanities Conferences, a website that compiles Digital Humanities conference data from the 1960s until the present, has been released by its project team, Scott B. Weingart (Carnegie Mellon University), Nickoal Eichmann-Kalwara (University of Colorado Boulder), and Matthew Lincoln (Carnegie Mellon University). As the website’s “About” page explains,

While the term “Digital Humanities” dates back only to the early 2000s, the communities from which its current practitioners hail are quite a bit older. This website presents a growing record of those communities through their conferences.

The site presents conference metadata, and linked records within that data. You will find details about conference series and stand-alone academic events reaching back to the 1960s. In a subset, you will find works presented at these conferences: titles and authors, and occasionally additional information such as keywords, languages, and unformatted versions of abstracts or the full work text.

This database should not be treated as a direct representation of the communities for which these conferences are named. Many scholars foundational to these fields do not appear at all in this database, for a host of reasons. This resource should be taken as it is: one historical record among many.

This dataset is significant, as it exposes the history and work of the vast communities that make up DH and its antecedents, a key factor in defining the field and building upon past work. As Scott Weingart writes on his blog,

Julianne Nyhan and Andrew Flinn recently wrote, “A crucial obstacle to the writing of histories of the field is that much of DH’s archival evidence has either not been preserved or is held by individuals (and so remains ‘hidden’ unless one can discover its existence and secure approval and the means to access it).” – Nyhan & Flynn, 2016.

This holds as true for DH conferences as for the sources Nyhan & Flinn were working with. There’s no single public archive for physical conference programs, most old conference websites no longer exist (often even absent from the Internet Archive), and even ADHO’s digital records are spread out across many sources or locked in byzantine and private ConfTool data dumps.

Weingart also points out issues within the data set – while gathering and making available this data will provide a wealth of information to DH scholars, issues with data cleaning, merging, and control became obvious:

When merging people, unless we’re absolutely certain two people with different names are the same, we won’t connect them in the database. That means a Jane Smith who changes her name to Jane Doe after getting married will not be merged. The issue disproportionately affects women (who are more likely to change names during their careers), and as Jessica Otis and I point out, will put those women at a disadvantage in any eventual analysis.

The merging issue also affects people who for whatever reason (often gender/identity transition) decide to change their names. To complicate matters further, many who change their names do not want their birth name / deadname shared on the web, but since we don’t know that, their old names remain visible within our database.

Additionally, Weingart writes about ethical issues that arose with making collected author demographic data publicly searchable:

My collaborators and I also began collecting author demographic data, using it to point out biases, absences, and related issues of equity and inclusion in the DH conference community. Though reductive, the data served its purpose. Following the work of Miriam Posner and conversations with Shack Hackney, however, we believe the potential for harm in making demographic data part of this public database would outweigh any potential benefits.

More about the data philosophy behind the project as it currently appears can be found on the website’s colophon page.

The Index is expected to grow as copyright permissions are obtained, and as past and future conference data are identified, scanned, and ingested. The Index will be regularly updated and made available for download on the CMU repository, with more information available on the downloads page. The forthcoming Project CV will highlight previous scholarship the team has published or presented with the Index’s data, and they encourage others to share their work to be included as well.

dh+lib Review

This post was produced through a cooperation between Claire Du Laney, Alasdair Ekpenyong, Tierney Gleason, Lina Marie Harper, Maria Koshute, Jennifer Matthews, Sydni Meyer, Gemmicka Piper, Hillary Richardson, Heather Rogers, Michelle Speed, Rekesha Spellman, Isaac Williams (Editors-at-large for the week), Caitlin Christian-Lamb (Editor for the week), and Nickoal Eichmann-Kalwara, Linsey Ford, Ian Goodale, and Pamella Lach (dh+lib Review Editors).