From the Presidential election to the World Cup watch parties, it was an electrifying time to be in downtown Mexico City for DH2018. SUP’s digital publishing initiative was well-represented at the week-long conference, sending our Acquisitions Editor, Digital Production Associate, and Sales and Exhibits Manager. Our group demoed several of our digital publications, including the newly released When Melodies Gather by Samuel Liebhaber. We also attended sessions and met with DH practitioners and colleagues in a wide variety of digital platform, publishing, and archiving related fields.
After a Monday and Tuesday packed full of workshop opportunities, the conference proper kicked off with a keynote by Janet Chávez Santiago, an indigenous language activist and co-creator of the Teotitlán del Valle Zapotec, an online talking dictionary. The reception that followed gave us a chance to greet friends we hadn’t seen in a while and energize us for the coming meetings and conversations.
Wednesday through Friday saw a tremendous number of sessions on everything from experimentation to project management to archives to individual projects and their technologies. The first session I attended on Wednesday included a presentation by the Nicholas Bauch, author of Enchanting the Desert, our initiative’s first digital publication. He and his co-panelists discussed Experimental Humanities and how they can embrace Digital Humanities, especially in teaching or liberal arts colleges whose infrastructures might not easily support fully fledged DH programs.
The session coincided with the Mexico-Sweden World Cup match, which was being played on a giant screen just outside the hotel in the Plaza del Ángel. Despite the competition, the first official sessions of the conference seemed eagerly and well attended. And luckily the 30 minutes between that and the next session gave everyone a chance to step outside and enjoy the vibe of the city cheering on its team.
The next session I attended focused on DH in 3D. Presenters on the panel showed projects utilizing 3D methods of delivery, from landscape-like graphs of political communication logs to an immersive Busa factory and indigenous virtual worlds built with Unity and deployed via WebGL. I admit I was a little discouraged to see that these were still the only viable options for providing freely available 3D content to users and readers. And I could tell many of us, including the presenters, felt the same. So much 3D technology is still proprietary and the options we have pose serious challenges for preserving and maintaining the environments needed to run them. Nevertheless, it was good to see so many different applications of the tools and I can only hope that such diverse demand will encourage more progress on the technologies front.
I stayed on the pseudo-3D track after lunch and went to a session on Augmented Reality. We used a 3D headset to view an alternative layout for an active gallery which depicted the experience of viewing the space as it would have appeared from 1875-1877. The demo, built in A-frame, was complemented by presentations about standardizing metadata for 3D objects as well as the challenges of storing and preserving 3d data.
Between meetings on Thursday and Friday, I attended panels covering topics from Research Infrastructures to Project Management for the Digital Humanities to Sustainability and Institutions to Unanticipated Afterlives of Digital Projects. The last two were especially interesting in that one reified the commonplace that web projects typically have a three-to-five-year lifespan (if left alone once deployed) while the last one showed that dead or dying projects make for great pedagogical and research opportunities. So despite the always-present threat of obsolescence when we talk about anything digital, there’s always that hunger to revive and preserve what we so eagerly and sometimes blindly build. That balance was echoed in the conference’s theme of “puentes/bridges,” a theme that underpinned the closing keynote by Schuyler Esprit.
In addition to the panels and meetings, Wednesday was bookended by two Stanford University Press-sponsored events. The annual Fun Run took place early in the morning, and a dozen runners congregated to take to the cobblestone streets on a cool cloudy Mexico City morning. When they returned, they picked up custom-designed run shirts and some refreshments provided at the SUP booth. The evening poster sessions also featured wine and snacks partially provided by funding from SUP. Cocktail napkins featuring the SUP logo greeted minglers at tables. Both events gave us yet another chance to spread the word about our program to scholars looking for alternative ways of publishing their arguments and let them know that we’re advocating for their progressive approaches to scholarly communication and research.
The meetings we had were also very productive and informative. We caught up with our friends at Brown, Scalar, Digits, Columbia and were reinvigorated by the intersections between our programs. And we were able to demo our first web-archived Scalar project, thanks to the incredible efforts of the Webrecorder team (more on that soon). The conference wound down just as Mexico City was revving up for an election weekend. It was truly a great venue for a conference on Digital Humanities.
Jasmine Mulliken is Digital Production Associate at Stanford University Press. She coordinates the production and workflow of born-digital projects, including recommending platforms and coding standards to authors, consulting with authors on projects’ technical attributes, and evaluating best practices for archiving and preservation.