How Digital Humanities got a foothold at ITMO
Antonina Puchkovskaya, head of the International Center for Digital Humanities Research, remembers that it was three years ago that she first attended NYCDHWeek. It was this very event in New York that has become the inspiration for the future DH Days and this year’s DH Week.
“At the 2018’s conference, I presented a workshop on transforming a humanities subject into a course in digital humanities. After the presentation, I acquainted myself with international colleagues in the field of DH, including professor Kimon Keramidas, who opened last year’s DH Days as the keynote speaker. It was he who gave us advice on the organization of Digital Humanities Lab and became its co-head. On the whole, this was the beginning of DH’s history in ITMO,” comments Antonina Puchkovskaya.
In 2019, ITMO’s DH Center launched the international Master’s program “Data, Culture and Visualization” that is dedicated to analysis and visualization of humanities’ data.
The first DH Days took place the same year. This was a series of open events for all citizens who are interested in the subject of DH or work in this field. And in 2020, this turned into a whole week of workshops at St. Petersburg’s various sites.
“Last year, we had fewer venues, and for the most part, it was our friends, people close to our laboratory who acted as lecturers. In the case of DH Week, we held an open call and got speakers from Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. In these five days, we gathered over 300 people at our workshops who actively participated in the process, asked questions and discussed various matters. For the most part, those were students of various universities, especially Master’s students who already do serious research and came for specific tools,” says Alena Koroleva, organizer and lecturer of the “Antidisciplinarity and interdisciplinary migration: how sciences came to work together”
What’s more, if we’re talking about Digital Humanities at ITMO, there’s also the Center for Digital Humanities Research, a place where anyone can get a consultation on their DH project.
“We conduct these events and stay open to citizen initiatives in order to create a DH community in St. Petersburg. The conference in New York this year was organized by New York University and their colleagues from Abu Dhabi, with whom we have many common issues. The biggest one is that as opposed to the USA, the DH communities in our countries are still in the development stage, so it can seem that DH is an instrument of humanities research and not an individual academic field with its own tasks and culture. And the mission of such events as DH Week is to explain it to the public,” explains Antonina Puchkovskaya.
DH Week is a free event. Apart from popularizing DH, it also serves as a great networking platform where representatives of cultural institutions can meet with various specialists.
“Sure enough, the main goal was to speak about DH in St. Petersburg, and I think that we attained this goal. You can tell that by the number of people who came to our workshops. It was especially great to see how specialists who didn’t associate themselves with DH changed their opinions during lectures and understood that, in some sense, there’s this huge umbrella of Digital Humanities under which they can all apply their experience and get new, even better results in return,” shares Esenia Novohatskaya, organizer and speaker for the workshop “Make history great again: digital history”.
DH Week results at the conference in New York
After the end of DH Week in St. Petersburg, the head of International Center for Digital Humanities Research Antonina Puchkovskaya went to NYCDH Week for the third time, but this year, she participated as a speaker in the panel discussion «International and Interdisciplinary: Collaborations in DH Research». At this event, experts discussed the prospects and problems of international and interdisciplinary collaboration in the field of Digital Humanities research and education. The recent DH Week in St. Petersburg and the Winter School in Abu Dhabi were brought up as examples.
“One great thing about such regular meetups with international colleagues is feedback. Last year, I spoke about the launching of a Master’s program at ITMO University, and got recommendations that I listened to, and used for adjusting the curriculum. This time, I also got several interesting ideas for our center, including those that have to do with open events, so we’ll carry on with improving our projects,” says Antonina Puchkovskaya.
Both organizers and specialists from the industry comment on how the center’s events have changed.
“I gave a workshop on creating a resume in InDesign. It’s noteworthy that the workshop’s description attracted the target audience, so everything went fine: we focused on the instruments for working with text in the program and discussed the things that one has to pay attention to. Last year, I was among the organizers of DH Days, this was a small event, and now we review the results of a busy week of workshops that many professionals took part in,” comments designer Marta Mikhailova.
DH Week involved panel discussions, lectures and workshops on data science, corpus analysis and visualization. Dmitry Volkov, a first year Master’s student at the Data, Culture and Visualization Master’s program gave a workshop on deriving keywords from a text by using Python libraries. He underlined that it is digital technologies that give humanities researchers an opportunity to work with large amounts of data, and therefore do higher quality projects in less time.
Denis Kvasuk also spoke about the role of IT in humanities in his lecture on text analysis. He noted, however, that though machines can be really good at computations and splitting words in categories, it is the scientists who have to analyze them, as working with meanings is the base value of research.
On the whole, DG Week at ITMO offered a demonstration of how the analytical capabilities of machines and humans can coexist in science and the professional industry.