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NULab Spring Conference: Keeping the Public Sphere Open

By Sarah Connell

On March 24, the NULab hosted its first annual conference, showcasing the work of faculty, fellows, alumni, and research collaborators. The conference included a range of panels and talks, all organized around the theme: “Keeping the Public Sphere Open.”

The keynote address was delivered by Peter Levine, Associate Dean and Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs in Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and Director of CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement). Uta Poiger, Dean of Northeastern’s College of Social Sciences and Humanities and Professor of History, delivered a welcome message to open the conference.

“Keeping the Public Sphere Open” featured research from several NULab-supported projects. Ryan Cordell spoke explained the Viral Texts project reveals the long history of fake news, Sarah Connell discussed responses to women writers’ participation in the public sphere as evident in the Women Writers Project’s publications, Sarah Payne and William Bond shared the work of the Margaret Fuller Transnational Archive, and Elizabeth Dillon spoke about the Early Caribbean Digital Archive.

NULab faculty also shared their research: Brooke Foucault Welles presented on networked counterpublics and the #HashtagActivism project; Nick Beauchamp discussed his research into productive Twitter discourse, with Ph.D. candidate Sarah Shugars; David Lazer talked about his work on transforming democracy by strengthening connections between citizens and town halls; David Smith shared research on modeling information cascades and propagating scientific knowledge; John Wihbey presented on the democratic role of news in an age of networks; Élika Ortega discussed the architectures of print-digital literature; and Dietmar Offenhuber, Alessandra Renzi, and Nathan Felde shared their plans for a public event to digitize and tag posters from the Boston Women’s March.

Other talks highlighted the work of graduate students: Matt Simonson on social networks and cross-ethnic ties in Uganda; and Elizabeth Polcha and Nicole Keller Day on building the Digital Feminist Commons and how feminist humanists approach coding. NULab Fellow alum Jim McGrath (Brown University) discussed some of the intersections between digital humanities and public humanities in his work at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage.

Over the course of the day, several key themes emerged: the importance of interdisciplinarity and attention to community engagement; the need for historically-grounded research and thoughtful attention to research processes; and the efficacy of combining theory and practice, wedding case studies, and specific projects with theoretical work.

You can read more about each panel at the links below:

Building Digital Publics
Archives for the Public Sphere
Commons and Communities 
Journalism for the Public Sphere
Closing Keynote: Networks, Deliberation, and an Open Public Sphere

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