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Élika Ortega: Organizing a Digital Humanities Conference in the Global South

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Dr. Élika Ortega, CSDI Advisory Council Member and Assistant Professor of Cultures, Societies and Global Studies, served as co-chair of the Programming Committee for the 2018 Digital Humanities Conference (DH2018), held in Mexico City, Mexico from June 26-29. The CSDI team previously profiled Professor Ortega during DH2018’s early planning stages, so we were delighted to follow up for her impressions of the event, with regard to the conference’s histories and potential futures.

DH2018 was the first annual DH conference to be held in Latin America and the global south. Its location in Mexico City was both a product of and a fitting setting for Ortega’s investments in linguistic diversity and decoloniality. To DH2018’s theme of “Puentes/Bridges,” Ortega brought her history of service experience with one of the conference’s sponsoring bodies, the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO). Since 2015, she has represented ADHO’s US-based organization, The Association for Computers in the Humanities (ACH), as a member of the ADHO Standing Committee on Multi-Lingualism and Multi-Culturalism. Further, between 2014 and 2018, she served as an Executive Committee Member of Global Outlook::Digital Humanities (GO::DH), an ADHO Special Interest Group dedicated to fostering communication and collaboration among Digital Arts, Humanities, and Cultural Heritage scholars across geographies and economies.

Ortega and the other DH2018 organizers hoped, with their choices in programming, to facilitate the “crossing of cultural, technological, political and ideological borders.” Over the past few years, the international DH conference’s CFP has been distributed to its multi- and transdisciplinary audience in an increasing number of languages (in past years up to twenty two). Ortega, however, noted that a multilingual invitation was not enough to challenge the status quo of a primarily English-language conference. Instead, she and her colleagues spent significant time ensuring that the presentations accepted to the officially bilingual conference represented the dominant languages of its locale and were inclusive to audiences across linguistic, cultural, and disciplinary boundaries. They held keynote addresses by two women of color — one a junior scholar, and one an indigenous language activist practicing beyond the academy — which were translated in real time via headset. With the CFP, they distributed a GO::DH-authored Translation Toolkit with guidelines for abstract reviewers, as well conference session chairs, presenters, and attendees. This toolkit drew on previous grassroots efforts in previous years by GO::DH to organize “whispered” translation at DH. The increased and formal attention to translation allowed conference-goers to benefit from presentations given in both languages. The organizers further intended it to discourage movement between concurrent panels, which they grouped thematically and methodologically rather than by academic territory. Their focus in curation was, instead, on the similar issues, methodologies, and topics being researched and taught across geopolitical communities.

For Ortega, these efforts to systematically implement formerly ad-hoc efforts toward diversity and inclusion, like the “whispering,” represented a balance between “atomization” and “integration.” While she wanted to provide space for smaller groups within the larger conference to meet who had not formerly had the opportunity to gather, she did not want to inadvertently create a separate track that ran parallel to the “main” conference. So aside from a few pre-arranged panels for specifically Latin American organizations, for example, the objective was to enable spaces, like bilingual and even trilingual panels, where DH2018 presenters from various regions came into contact. Ortega reports that this balance is necessary for planning a diverse and inclusive conference, as well as for diversity and inclusion work more broadly. She hopes that future DH conferences will continue to have a large portion of their programs speaking from the local perspectives of their venues. In Ortega’s view, the goal of holding and attending an international conference should be to make connections — not only networking connections, but the intellectual connections that will continue to enrich DH scholarship and sustain an inclusive intellectual community.

Published On: November 19, 2018