Standing next to the gorgeous Cadboro bay, the University of Victoria campus boasts of hosting a digital humanities “summer school” annually. I attended the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) for the first time this year and it has been one of the more productive experiences of my academic career as a graduate student. Of the 28 courses being offered in 2014, I got admitted to the “Out-of-the-Box Text Analysis” course taught by Dr. David Hoover. In this class, we were taught to use statistical analysis programs for determining word and phrase frequencies as well as patterns, leading to discussions about style, authorship, and voice.
The experience of attending Dr. Hoover’s class was especially helpful because prior to that I had never used digital tools for literary analysis. Even as I knew that these tools existed, I was not sure how they might pertain to my work and interests in literature. My acquaintance with and use of digital tools had been limited to pedagogy and I had used my knowledge of computing as well as programming languages while analyzing electronic literature. So, I was delighted to find a mentor in Dr. Hoover, who not only taught how to use digital tools but also emphasized why and when we should think of using those. Through the seminar, I started working on a project where I set out to determine if “found and edited” texts align with the style of an author’s written texts: for instance, does Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes, cut out from Bruno Schulz’s “Street of Crocodiles,” have stylistic similarities with texts he has written like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Eating Animals and so on? I am interested in what projects like Foer’s, undertaken routinely in contemporary literary circuits, mean for the notion of “authorship.” However, in order to execute such a project, one needs to digitize the texts and clean the files– a process that is time consuming. So, I have got some tentative answers to my research question based on the “unclean” files, and I am now in the process of refining those files and fine tuning my answers.
Through the 5 days of DHSI, the “unconference” sessions held on a variety of topics during lunch hour everyday and the plenary lectures were useful and well-organized like everything else at the event. I particularly enjoyed the Electronic Literature reading session, which was hosted for the first time in DHSI 2014.
Moving on from the specifics of my work at DHSI, to what DHSI has to offer as an event, I ought to stress the support that the organizers provide to graduate students. To begin with, I could attend DHSI because of the tuition scholarships awarded by the institute [and because my home department at OSU awarded me a travel grant]. In addition, the UVic campus provides affordable accommodation to DHSI participants. No wonder then that participants who attend any of the courses at DHSI keep coming back to attend other courses the next time around. From 2015, DHSI will be offering a Digital Humanities Certificate for completing 5 courses and starting next year, participants can complete upto 3 courses in a single year (Check dhsi.org for more details).
Finally, Victoria is a picturesque town to be in during summer. Basking in the colonial afterglow, the quaint town has a lot to offer in terms of its cultural and historical quirks.
The inner harbor is beautiful and presents possibilities for lots of outdoor activities. The taste of the halibut I had at the Fisherman’s Wharf is still lingering on my tongue and in my memories. Needless to say, I hope to return to DHSI and Victoria next summer.