By DH 2014, Global Outlook::Digital Humanities (GO::DH) will be 18 months old. Old enough to have experienced its first growing pains but also old enough to have a sense of the opportunities that exist for promoting the globalization of Digital Humanities research. This paper discusses the past and future of the Special Interest Group (SIG), concentrating particularly on what is generalizable: the lessons we have learned about collaborating in a multilingual, multiregional context (although this makes it in some sense a project report, the lessons are themselves highly relevant to and have implications for the community as a whole).
The basic premise behind GO::DH is both exciting and frightening. It is a community for Digital Humanities scholars around the world that encourages them to discover new work and new colleagues in regions and disciplines they might never have considered before. But in asking scholars to do this, also asks them to work along some of our most controversial lines of division: language, culture, nationality, history, and income level. In a field that is famously and self-consciously “nice” (Scheinfeldt 2010), these are the places where our self-conception has been tested (and called into question) most vigorously (see especially Fiormonte 2012 on language and nationality; Babalola 2012 discusses some of the challenges that divide the use of the digital in High Income vs. Low-Income Economies).
The English language and (arguably at least) Anglo-American disciplinary and rhetorical norms dominate the practice of our profession. This places non-native speakers of English and scholars working outside the Anglo-American academic context at an immediate disadvantage. In addition, as Fiormonte suggests, it probably also has led to the relative scarcity of such scholars in the disciplines gatekeeping positions.
The interest in technology that defines our field, moreover, creates divisions the moment our collaborations attempt to cross the boundaries that distinguish high, mid, and low-income economies (O’Donnell 2012a). As Babalola has shown, the kind of basic infrastructure that Digital Humanities scholars in High-Income Economies take for granted either does not exist or can be disproportionately difficult and expensive to access in mid-and especially low-income economies. As she demonstrates, moreover, this problem is about more than download speeds or CPUs: many of our core approaches, assumptions, and methods of dissemination (from the outsized importance of conference presentations in our discipline to the use of crowdsourcing) imply access to resources common only in High-Income economies.
And finally, there is the specter of colonialism and development politics. Any project that brings scholars from high-income economies into close contact with scholars from mid and low-income economies is going to run into questions of intention, history, and politics.
Can such collaborations be collaborations of equals, in which all participants both teach and learn? Or must they inevitably resolve themselves into the more unequal relationship of donor and recipient? The initial impetus for GO::DH arose among scholars working in High-Income economies who wondered about their lack of contact with scholars working in other regions (O’Donnell 2012b).
Initially, this caused suspicion among scholars who live in or work with those in mid and low-income regions. What was the motivation for interest from the high-income scholars? To what extent would this new organization be able to avoid replicating the status quo in the field at large, where those with resources determine the course of the collective effort.
Despite our initial fears about what could go wrong in such an endeavor, the first year of GO::DH’s existence has been remarkably productive and relatively smooth. While there have been some misunderstandings (some of which are discussed in the other papers in the panel), there have been remarkably few problems. The SIG has successfully managed to integrate multilingualism into its discussion list, which several threads being carried out in languages other than English.
It has provided a framework for a remarkable number of projects and working groups—from Around the World of DH to the second Caribbean ThaTCamp, to the first Global DH conference (planned for this coming Spring in Mexico in association with ADHD. And it has even led to the formation of new groups, such as the proposed Portuguese-language DH organization.
The techniques we have used in building this community, capturing the goodwill of its constituents while avoiding some of the more obvious potential problems offer wider lessons for the DH community. In this talk, I will discuss some of the specific techniques—from ad hoc translation to the collaborative development of by-laws and executive positions that we have used to successfully build GO::DH over the last year into the relatively stable community it has now become.