Visiting Bentham

Dodging picket lines and security alerts (aka a typical London day) Param Bedi (Bucknell’s VP for L and IT) and I made it through a labyrinth of alleys and courtyards yesterday afternoon to University College, London’s Centre for Digital Humanities to meet with Professor Melissa Terras, its director and co-founder.   I was really interested to meet her to talk about how to go about creating a vibrant network of DH both at Bucknell and beyond, and also to see how my own work on Moravians fits well into this marriage of the old and new.

First off, it is interesting to see how building a digital community means devoting so much time to bringing people together face to face.  So much for the virtual. At the UCL DHC, this is done by moving people in an almost systolic/dyastolic dynamic of invitation and excursion. Faculty are invited in to talk and meet and share projects that are both already underway and envisioned, and then groups are also taken out into the larger community (both scholarly and heritage) to see what’s out there in terms of “stuff” and also for possible collaborative projects.  And it was clear to me that a lot of what is being done at UCL in this regard is already being accomplished at Bucknell. For example, we talked a lot about collaboration between engineering and humanities, and how fruitful that has been at UCL  A start has been made here with work that my colleague in Comparative Humanities, John Hunter, has been engaged in (both BiG and DH) and it’s clear that Bucknell needs to look for more people to bridge the divide between Engineering and Arts and Sciences.

What also resonates is the notion of the inward/outward motion.  Working with Alf Siewers and the Stories of the Susquehanna we have been developing a set of river related projects over the years that both brings faculty and students into a multifaceted project and also takes us out into the community of local populations, heritage groups, and environmental projects.  It is also clear that we need to be flexible and opportunistic about funding opportunities and collaboration, in other words, when the opportunity presents itself, we are ready to go!

On the practical side of things, Melissa showed us the brand new digitization suite she has developed with its cameras and scanners and layout tables that is not only for conservation experts to use to scan objects, paper and materials (even dessicated lizards), but that is also there to train students to develop best practices for digitizing a collection and to learn how to write up crucial metadata. Nestled in the bowels of the science library, the digitization room gave us an idea for how we could create some spaces in Bertrand where we can start digitizing collections.  That might be a great way to bring together faculty and students in perhaps a hallmark project (along the lines of Transcribe Bentham).  I suggested the river might just be our thing.

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