Commons Highlights: Global Digital Humanities Symposium

The Global Digital Humanities Symposium first started in Spring 2016 and has been held annually, making the 2021 edition its sixth year. As the event has grown organizers have established two groups on Humanities Commons, one for planning (private) and another for community involvement (public). In addition, a new proceedings website has just gone live, bringing an ever-expanding collection to the CORE repository.

Global Digital Humanities Symposium team
The Global Digital Humanities Symposium team (from top left clockwise): Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Max Evjen, Kate Topham, Kristen Mapes

As the world has grappled with a pandemic over the past 18 months, conferences and other gatherings have had to pivot to online spaces. The Global Digital Humanities Symposium is a great example of how the Commons can be used as both a planning tool and the space to preserve the information shared. The Commons has served the community as a resource when unexpected changes alter the ways in which we come together. We sat down with Kristen Mapes, Assistant Director of Digital Humanities at Michigan State University, and Max Evjen, Digital Humanities Coordinator, to find out how the Symposium used the Commons to navigate a virtual-first global event.

What do you do when the world shuts down and your event is in three weeks? 

The 2020 Symposium was scheduled for March 26-27, just as the world was shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The planning committee had three weeks to convert the event — with attendees slated to come from multiple countries — to an online meeting, choosing Humanities Commons as the venue. Pivoting online, the team created the public group to serve as a gathering place, updated their website to explain the new format, and the Symposium took place primarily over Zoom. The website served to communicate the new technology plan, backup technologies should Zoom become overloaded, and information for presenters on strategies for converting their presentations to an online format. The Global Digital Humanities Symposium group now has 120 members, and may be used in future for calls for proposals and discussions that grow out of the symposium itself. 

Why the Commons?

“Humanities Commons perfectly suits our community as it is open to all, regardless of institutional affiliation, status, or geography,”  Mapes states. The Commons is attractive because, as Mapes continues, “we are bringing [participants] into (or encouraging their use of, if they already have a profile) a space that will not sell their information or surveil their work.” The Commons is academy owned and operated, and has a strong terms of service and privacy policy that is built on openness, but not at the expense of user privacy. 

The Commons Offers Communication and Publishing Tools in one Package

The Global Digital Humanities Symposium was held online once again in 2021, and Humanities Commons again played an integral part. Planning was done via a private group on the Commons. Utilizing the discussion forums, the group served as a space for making visible the conversation that was taking place in the subcommittees. Mapes says that “by ensuring that discussion was included in the group threads, the entire planning committee could see what work was taking place, even within subcommittees, reducing confusion.“

Presenters had the option to email their deposits to the organizers or to deposit their materials to CORE, linking to the public group. Deposits to CORE assisted the creation of a new proceedings website, allowing organizers to quickly publish materials and giving  participants and those who were unable to attend access to all the materials on a timely basis. Mapes reflects, “We are thrilled to use the Commons to host our Proceedings because it mints DOIs for all CORE contributions, making the work more readily cited and understood in academic contexts globally. Humanities Commons also allows us to create a site without a financial outlay that may not be sustainable in the future and keeps the site free from any institutional affiliation, in case the Symposium grows in different directions in the long term.”

What’s Next for the Global Digital Humanities Symposium?

This year’s symposium welcomed proposals in English, French, and Spanish along with real-time interpretation and closed-captioning. By using the Commons, organizers ensure that artifacts can be tagged with the correct language and subjects for easy searching and can be accessed worldwide. In thinking about the future for the public group, Mapes says, “we hope to see it grow in number as the Symposium grows, especially as we work to make the Proceedings site a referenced publication space for Global DH work.” Using the Commons allows organizers to preserve the institutional memory of the Symposium, and to ensure that committee members from across institutions have an equal voice in planning within their private planning space.

By utilizing the free tools within the Commons, the Global Digital Humanities Symposium was able to pivot online within weeks, hold two conferences serving a worldwide audience, and disseminate the work within weeks. In future, the groundwork laid during the pandemic will allow the Symposium to grow and continue to reach a larger and more diverse audience.