Are we, scholars working on Iberian peripheral digital projects, arriving late to the DH? A reflection on #hdh2015

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Captura de pantalla 2015-10-22 a les 1.29.08

If I learned anything from #hdh2015 –an international conference organised by HDH (the International Association of “Humanidades Hispánicas Digitales”) and LINDH (Laboratorio de Innovación en Humanidades Digitales)– it is that the Hispanic Digital Humanities are in great shape and growing fast. This second edition of this conference, following the inaugural one hosted by A Coruña in 2013, brought together almost 150 speakers for three dynamic and engaging days in which ideas and projects were shared. In addition to the three-day Hispanic oriented conference, the European Association of Digital Humanities organised their 1st #eadhday2015 as a 4th additional day, bringing the scope of the conference to a European level.

My personal experience overall –taking into account the fact that this was my first DH congress and my first time presenting my PhD project in front of a DH audience– was very positive. You could say that I may not be the best person to give feedback about a DH conference when I’ve attended no others of the kind, but as I’ve had some experience at other international conferences I can confidently say that both LINDH and UNED made #hdh2015 a success. The great venues, the fact that most sessions proceeded in a timely manner, excellent organisation and a good variety of panels made other minor hiccoughs –missing chairs to moderate in a couple of sessions and a projector malfunction in one of the parallel sessions– look unimportant.

There is no need for me to go into much detail about the papers given at the conference, because of its Digital nature and excellent coverage in Twitter of both organisers and delegates. You can look up the Twitter hashtag #hdh2015 to find an impressive live report of the panels and discussions, together with UNED’s audiovisual resources and LINHD’s YouTube channel with a video record of the sessions that took place in the main venue. As well as these, I strongly recommend checking both the LINHD’s account @linhduned and that of its director Elena González Blanco @elenagbg to guide you through the timeline of the sessions.

What I will do –partly because it was one of the questions that from my point of view generated more food for thought and partly because it is a vital question in my research– is to follow on the question posed by Elisabeth Burr @ESU_DH_CT to the organisers of #hdh2015: How come that of the 100+ papers presented at the programme, only a couple of them represented research done on linguistic and cultural minorities?

As incontestable as this observation by Burr was, my point here is that perhaps the criticism pointed to the wrong direction in this case, as I would not necessarily blame the organisation for failing to be inclusive in this sense. It is true that maybe a call for papers translated to some of the other languages within Hispanic Studies could have attracted some more projects, but… where do we draw the line here? If you include Portuguese, Catalan or Galician translations of the CFP, why would you not include respective translations into Quechua, Aymara or Guarani? That is definitely not the issue here. During years, “Hispanic Studies” has worked as an umbrella term including many minority languages within Iberian and Latin American territories. Depending on where you would find this term –mostly for political and cultural reasons– there might have been a higher or lower degree of inclusion of these minority languages, but this is a situation academics working on these areas have become accustomed to. When an academic working on a Galician/Catalan/Guarani poet goes to a Hispanic Studies Conference, he/she knows that besides the slightly political connotation present in the terminology used to name the event, their inclusion in the event itself is somehow guaranteed and generally not questioned. If we take the above to be true, the mere fact of adding the world “Digital” to that so called “umbrella term” that Hispanic Studies has become should initially not pose a problem for the automatic inclusion of those projects that, besides focusing on peripheral cultures or literatures, want to add a digital approach to their methodology. I may be excessively naive in my previous reasoning by removing “weight” to the political issues at stake when I state that there are no underlying reasons to this absence of plurality. But even if the current political situation in Spain could suggest otherwise, my opinion is that the causes are not necessarily connected to politics only. I attribute this absence as being symptomatic of a general climate in determinate areas of Iberian academia, in which we find high quality projects that could have been very relevant to this conference, but decide not to label themselves as a Digital Humanities project and therefore do not engage with this event. And for me, this is a missed opportunity for many of the projects that fall into this classification. I am not quite sure about the reasons behind this tendency, but I believe it is important to raise some questions with the intention of shedding some light on the issue. Some of those questions, which I post here –directed to academics doing research on peripheral literatures and cultures within Hispanic Studies– should probably be answered precisely by these academics, rather than by the organisers of events such as #hdh2015: – Are we, scholars working on Iberian peripheral digital projects, arriving late to the DH? And if so… – How do we fix/learn from this? – Are we the only peripheral cultures in this situation, or is our particular position aggravated by the increasingly favourable status of the Spanish language in the world? PS: I still cry at night remembering how good the food was during the conference. Thanks dh2015!  

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