Digital Scholarship Conferences in the COVID-19 Era

Over the course of the semester so far, I’ve been able to attend two digital scholarship conferences. While under normal circumstances, these conferences would have convened in-person. However, like much of life during a global pandemic, these conferences were moved to a virtual format to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As someone who has not yet had the opportunity to attend a conference in person, I still enjoyed these virtual conferences even though I’m sure avid conference-goers are anxiously awaiting the next time in-person events can safely resume. All of the excitement and usefulness that comes from socializing and networking was not exactly possible to replicate in these online settings, and I’m looking forward to the time when face-to-face interactions are possible. Regardless, I have to look on the positive side as having these conferences is more accessible in time, money, and geography. Being able to log out and switch over to my online classes in less than a minute made attending these events much more convenient since having to account for commute time could have prevented me from attending them in person. Of course, being free was also a big benefit of the online format, especially for undergraduates like myself. Overall, I enjoyed listening to scholars talk about their work in both of these settings, even if it was different from usual.

The first conference I attended was the Oklahoma Archivists Association Annual Meeting. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend the first session. However, I found this session, “Silences in the Archives: How to Amplify Marginalized Voices in Your Collections,” to be especially enlightening and relevant to the work I’m doing in my research with Dr. Minks. The panel’s whole focus was on how archives have historically omitted or selectively included, usually at the sole discretion of the archivist, the stories and documentation of marginalized communities. A big question that multiple speakers addressed is, “who is at the table?” and why that tends to be so. They discussed not only ensuring that these communities are heavily consulted regarding archival research and projects, but they also stressed involvement in the archives themselves, such as by having more community members volunteer or have access to internships that work with the collections. Having more community members giving active input at every step of the way is essential for archival work going forward. I greatly enjoyed this discussion! The panelists were excellent, and all of their commentaries were powerful and incredibly insightful.

The second conference I attended this semester was the Digital Humanities Symposium, “New Voices in DH.” While the Oklahoma Archivists Association’s conference was panel-based, the Digital Humanities Symposium was structured around individual scholars’ pre-recorded presentations. While this format meant that a large portion of the presentations were scripted and lecture-like, they still managed to be engaging and incorporated audience questions through the Zoom chat feature. Although I also was not able to attend the conference in its entirety, I was able to hear a handful of the presentations given. The variety of presentations themselves was something I noted. I enjoyed how each presentation I saw was completely unique from all the others and how each scholar was able to fit their personal research interests into the theme of digital scholarship.

I remembered Dr. Kalenda Eaton’s presentation as she gave her perspective as being both a student and a teacher of digital humanities. It was interesting to hear her explain how the field has so quickly evolved in the past few decades, and how a now almost comedically basic web-based project was an intensive technological endeavor back then. Dr. Aparna Nair’s presentation on “Digital Humanities in Disability Studies/History” was also very enlightening. As a Native American, I do often think about academic accessibility, but in a different sense. As an able-bodied person, I do not have to think about how physical accessibility excludes people from research, so I feel like I gained a lot from listening to this perspective. I also enjoyed Dr. Kevin Winstead’s talk on “Hope in Hopeless Times: Social Movements from a Black Perspective.” As a political science student and aspiring activist, this presentation stood out to me as someone who tries to stay informed on social justice movements. One part of his presentation that especially caught my attention was his discussion of a fake Twitter account that successfully posed as a Black activist account for quite a while. The discovery that this account was a bot felt like an episode straight from MTV’s Catfish, and I thought it was one of the conference’s most memorable presentations.

The two conferences I’ve attended so far were very interesting and informative, and I look forward to attending others. Although it is not a digital scholarship conference, I am also planning to attend the Students Learn Students Vote Coalition’s online conference during the first week of December. This conference will cover information and resources related to increasing civic engagement and voter registration on college campuses across the country. I’ll be attending with other members from Oklahoma Votes as we debrief from our work this semester and plan for the future. I’m excited to not only learn from all of the informational and inspiring presentations, but I’m also curious to see how this conference will differ from the others I attended since they are from different fields.

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