The state of DH in Slavic Studies, by Kathleen Thompson

In a final wrap up, of what has become a four-part series of blog posts on using 3D-printing in a humanities course, Kathleen Thompson reports back on the ASEEES conference and the state of DH in Slavic studies.

The previous posts can be read here:

Part 1: Printing in the Classroom: Course Assignments and the Makerspace

Part 2: 3D Printing in the Classroom: Outcomes and Reflections on a Slavic Course Experiment (1/2) 

Part 3: 3D Printing in the Classroom: Outcomes and Reflections on a Slavic Course Experiment (1/2)

Kathleen Thompson also provided three videos of printing the onion dome pictured above:

Onion Dome movie 1

Onion Dome movie 2

Onion Dome movie 3

After receiving a PhD from the University of Virginia’s Slavic department in August 2015, Kathleen Thompson worked as the interim Slavic librarian for the 2015-2016 academic year. Since the conclusion of that position, she has been working as a research assistant in the Slavic department. Her current research interests involve digital pedagogy, 21st-century Russian women writers, culture studies, and digital networks.


In late November, Jill Martiniuk and I attended the 48th annual Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) Convention (link: http://aseees.org/convention) to present our project on 3D printing in the classroom. This convention is one of two major conferences in the field of Slavic studies, and is regarded as the largest and most well-attended because it includes scholars and students from a wide range of specializations, at all levels of their careers, discussing issues germane to locales ranging from the Caucasus to the Baltics, from Crimea to Siberia, and everywhere in between.

 

This year’s convention played host to four debuts: one, the inaugural meeting of the newly-formed Slavic Digital Humanities affiliate group (link: http://slavic-dh.org/); two, the debut of the ASEEES Commons repository (https://aseees.hcommons.org/); three, a THATCamp meeting (link: http://aseees2016.thatcamp.org/) preceding the convention; and four, a panel stream of seven sessions (link: http://www.slavic-dh.org/panels2016/) devoted to digital humanities in our field. Jill and I both attended THATCamp, and participated in the sixth DH session, “Digital Humanities In and Out of the Classroom”, which was a roundtable highlighting projects linking DH and pedagogy. At both THATCamp and the roundtable, we were eager to share our findings from our spring-semester project, get feedback from other instructors or scholars working with similar technology, and learn about projects in different media and pedagogical contexts.

 

Since we were unsure how familiar our audience would be with 3D printing, not to mention DH in general, Jill and I prepared a slideshow (link: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/64498698/3D-printing-in-Slavic-classroom-presentation.pptx) to highlight the creation, implementation, and outcomes of the project. We also included photos of the students’ work, as well as of the Makerspace itself and a couple of videos I shot of an onion dome being printed. I brought the onion dome with me to the roundtable and passed it around to the 25+ audience members and panelists, most of whom seemed to enjoy handling it. Unfortunately, after we briefly discussed our project and made some comments about issues we had to consider when creating and implementing the project – the standard “why are we doing this and what are our learning goals?” questions – the discussion moved towards other projects and their creators’ responses to similar issues. As this was a roundtable on general approaches to pedagogical issues with DH projects, Jill and I were not too bothered by this shift, though we were slightly disappointed not to receive more feedback.  Even so, throughout the weekend, we heard from many convention-goers and THATCamp participants that ours was the first 3D printing project they had heard of in the field, and interest in our project on a one-to-one basis was surprisingly high.

 

We came away from the conference encouraged and excited about the state of digital humanities in the Slavic field, and the direction in which it seems to be trending. Slavic scholars are engaging in thoughtful, critical work in several areas, if the titles of the THATCamp breakout sessions and DH panels are any indication. The THATCamp sessions were:

  • Introduction to DH
  • Digital Public Scholarship
  • Digital Pedagogy
  • Digital Archives
  • Course Development
  • Programming for Humanists
  • GIS
  • Databases & Visualizations
  • Topic Modeling
  • Network Analysis
  • Textual Analysis & TEI
  • Working with Eastern European Languages – Character Recognition, Encoding, and other Issues.

 

The DH panel and roundtable titles were:

  • Platforms for Digital Scholarship
  • The Researcher-Librarian Interface in Digital East European Studies
  • Seeing Through Data: How Does DH Change How We View Culture?
  • Computational Poetics: Digital Approaches to the Analysis of Rhyme, Meter, and Text Length
  • Locating Text and Image in the Digital Humanities
  • DH In and Out of the Classroom
  • Mapping and GIS in the Slavic and Eurasian Humanities

 

Approximately 80 convention attendees signed up for THATCamp, with probably 50-60 actual attendees at the meeting. About 30 convention attendees were present at the Slavic DH affiliate group business meeting, with several expressing interest in future topic streams and initiatives at next year’s convention as well as serving on the group’s board of elected officers. The panels and roundtables that Jill and I attended garnered audiences ranging in size from 10-40 people, with the most interest focused on digital archives, content management systems and blogs, network analysis, and topic modeling. Interestingly, the launch of the ASEEES Commons site seemed to rouse a little less enthusiasm (at present, it has 14 members and 5 public groups), though that could be due to a general lack of knowledge about the “whys” and “whats” of the site – or exhaustion from an already fulfilling and enriching weekend of scholarship.

Some of my main takeaway points from the convention follow:

  • Right now, it seems that the majority of Slavic scholars practicing DH are historians, though there is also a sizable number of librarians, linguists, sociologists, cultural scholars, and literature scholars – many of whom are collaborating with one another across disciplines. Even so, few of us humanists have coding skills beyond the basics, so some of the most valued relationships are between us and the computer-savvy scholars (often graduate or undergraduate students) who make our project dreams a reality.
  • WordPress and Omeka are the two most-used platforms for DH projects across most disciplines, mostly because of low buy-in and learning curves, variety of presentation options, and sustainability over the long term.
  • Questions that were repeatedly raised about practicing DH in the Slavic field were “why?”, “how?”, “who else is doing this?”, and (the ever-present) “how can we get our work to be taken seriously?” In light of that last question, I noted a serious push to move the conversation from “legitimizing the field” to “legitimizing the outcome”, suggesting that we as a field may have finally validated DH as a worthwhile pursuit, and are focusing more on its sustainable, valuable practice.
  • The excitement level about DH work in our field seems high enough to support a wide range of initiatives, collaborations, and scholarship, though the phrases “critical mass” and “bursting bubble” came up more than a few times throughout the convention.
  • Some future issues to consider include: how do we make sure that graduate and undergraduate students receive proper credit, and training, for their past and future work on DH projects? How can we use DH as a platform for public scholarship to reach our wider communities? How can we start local, and expand to the global? How does DH help build and change relationships between faculty, researchers, students, and communities?

If you’re interested in seeing some of the projects we learned about, check out this list:

Digital Public Scholarship
https://1917resources.aseees.hcommons.org/ – A resource on all things 1917 for the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution; will eventually be open-source
https://notevenpast.org/ – A resource on local history research at the University of Texas-Austin, which includes the popular podcast 15-Minute History (https://15minutehistory.org) and projects that have emerged from Not Even Past (https://thinkinginpublic.org/)
http://soviethistory.msu.edu/ – 17 Moments in Soviet History, a digital archive of primary sources across Soviet history
http://blackseanetworks.org/ – A collaborative initiative on the Black Sea as a network

Digital Pedagogy
http://dhrees.yale.edu/ – Digital Humanities and Russian and East European Studies at Yale
http://campuspress.yale.edu/emigres/ – Avant-Gardes and Émigrés: Slavic Studies and Digital Humanities
https://utopiaafterutopia.com/ – a contemporary culture research initiative on politics and aesthetics in the post-Soviet world
http://blackandbluedanube.wordpress.com/The Black and Blue Danube symposium and “Legacies of the Second World” working group, out of Colgate University

Digital Archives
http://www.laits.utexas.edu/txczechproject/home – the Texas Czech Legacy Project
http://chnmdev.gmu.edu/rpi/ – Russian Perspectives on Islam
http://cultural-opposition.eu/ – Courage: Connecting Collections
https://perspectives.ushmm.org/ – Jewish Perspectives on the Holocaust
http://luchsveta.org/ – Luch Sveta, an online repository of video clips for learning Russian language at all levels

Data and Visualizations
http://104.236.44.207/notes/ – sandbox of Andrew Janco (Digital Scholarship Librarian, Haverford College)

Topic Modeling
http://agoldst.github.io/dfr-browser/demo/#/model/listPMLA topic modeling, designed for browser
http://sprout025.sprout.yale.edu/topics/sr/200/#/modelSlavic Review topic modeling, designed for browser

Blogging
http://russianhistoryblog.org/ – An experiment in digital Russian history
https://joanneuberger.wordpress.com/ – Joan Neuberger, co-author of Not Even Past
http://amynelson.net/ – Amy Nelson, co-author of 17 Moments in Soviet History; see more DH-specific posts at https://siriusreflections.org/
http://www.soundingthespacerace.com – Sounding The Space Race, coming December 2016

Ammon is a Digital Humanities Developer and Makerspace Technologist at the Scholars' Lab where he codes projects, builds tools to fix old projects, does some systems administration, 3D prints and plays with Arduinos and Raspberry Pis. Ammon has BA's in History and German from ASU, an MA in History from GMU and is ABD PhD…

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