“Expanding Access, Activism, and Advocacy” at the Bucknell University Digital Scholarship Conference

By Jeff Liszka and Mary Mahoney

This year’s Bucknell University Digital Scholarship Conference (#BUDSC18) brought together interested parties to discuss current research and practice guided by the theme “Expanding Access, Activism, and Advocacy.” Faculty, researchers, librarians, artists, educational technologists, students, and administrators gathered to share ideas about access inspired by the expansive definition provided by conference organizers: “accessible formats and technologies, access through universal design for learning, access to a mode of expression, access to stories that might not otherwise be heard or that might be lost over time, access to understanding and knowledge once considered beyond reach.“ The resulting presentations, talks, and project demonstrations reflected this theme, highlighting work that incorporated accessibility into its design and desired engagements with the public.

Slide from the presentation on Bryn Mawr’s The History of Women in Science Project.

One fascinating panel highlighted the works of several small liberal arts colleges to provide funding for undergraduates to experiment with digital tools and produce their own research projects. The Digital Humanities Summer Scholars Program at Lafayette College produced three excellent undergraduate projects that demonstrated the great work students can do if provided access to and training in digital tools. Projects on the racial response to anime in the United States, an analysis of witchcraft and book history using topic modeling, and a study of travel writing focusing on Jerusalem during the Middle Ages bore out the diversity of interests and approaches both in research and methods used by undergraduates in the Institute. Under the direction of CLIR fellow Jessica Linker, The History of Women in Science Project at Bryn Mawr similarly funds undergraduates to mine its institutional history and recreate early-twentieth century chemistry and biology labs using virtual reality. Drawing on historical archival research into both the history of the College and of women’s scientific practices, and building on students’ pre-existing digital skills, the project complicates the story of women’s access to science and recovers a longer history of scientific practice than is largely known. By giving students at a prestigious women’s college access to digital tools to produce knowledge affirming women’s longstanding scientific practice, Bryn Mawr is supporting a product whose medium matches its message.

Beyond presentations demonstrating the ways colleges and universities make digital scholarship tools accessible for students, the conference provided a platform for projects playing an important role in social justice and community work. Like Bryn Mawr, students and faculty at the University of the Pacific draw on virtual reality to recover histories of a marginalized population in its community. Entitled “Little Manila Recreated,” this virtual reality project recovers and recreates a Filipino neighborhood in Stockton, California demolished as part of racially motivated urban renewal beginning in the 1950s. This project, drawing on digital modeling, mapping software, historical and archival research, and work with community partners, preserves the histories and experiences of former residents and makes this history accessible to the public. In the same panel, CLIR fellow Alex Galarza of Haverford College presented on the College’s collaboration with the Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (GAM) in Guatemala City, Guatemala to create a digital archive of materials relevant to human rights and historical memory. In so doing, the College uses digital scholarship to play a significant role in the social justice work of providing information on victims of human rights abuses to family members and makes knowledge of these abuses available to the public. This panel on social justice work, and the conference in general, demonstrated what the latest issue of the American Studies Quarterly’s recent special issue on Digital Humanities described as the shared values of digital scholarship: “that theory can be engaged through practice, that scholarship should be open and accessible to all, and that collaboration is pivotal.”