Over the weekend, I attended the Midwest Junto for the History of Science at Truman State University. In general, the format and presentation content was what I expected. I met and talked with several students and faculty from different institutions. The topics of discussion ranged from criticisms of Whiggish history to a re-evaluation of technological transfer in the Japanese fermentation industry in the 1950s and 1960s. (There were even a few presentations on integrating the "digital humanities" in research.) The most productive and useful part of the entire weekend for me was talking through my projects and receiving new feedback from new people. After making this reflection, I have begun to question why I need a conference to receive feedback from new people. (I don't really think I do, but there is something different about going to a conference, for me at least. But what exactly, I cannot yet answer.)
In many of our larger conversations about DH, we have discussed how to utilize digital tools to supplement and improve our current methods of conducting academic activities. I have been trying to reread and think about ways to do that during conferences. I presented a paper at this conference and I can most certainly see the benefits of preparing the material, practicing presentation of information, and receiving criticism from a variety of listeners. While I did receive some useful feedback and review from people through discussion, I did not receive much immediate feedback. (I realize that this may be from the strict time schedule on this conference that allowed for little conversation or perhaps the content of my paper was not interesting or provocative enough for questions.) In truth, that doesn't really bother or surprise me. What did surprise was one response I received from a professor from another university after the presentation. He told me the type of research he did, which had little to do with mine, and then proceeded to tell me how I might improve my topic. There may have been something I missed in this exchange or I may not yet understand what he was trying to say. However, the conversation also came across as though the professor simply felt that he needed to say something regardless of whether or not it was useful. Why does that feeling exist?
I am guilty of the same thing, needing to say something about a comment or paper whether or not I have truly prepared a response. Perhaps I am most guilty in class when asking a question simply to say something. In my limited experience, this can lead to more conversation but often it halts conversation or diverts a productive conversation. In a conference where time is limited, I can see how this could be destructive to a presenter’s future research. How many ideas or questions could be ignored or overlooked from such comments? I think this may be something that using digital tools may be able to help solve. While at the conference, I read Michael Nielsen's Reinventing Discovery, which is mostly concerned with how to productively operate in a world of open science. He discusses several "open" programs that allow vast amounts of input.
What if there was a program that could be fitted for conferences in which a presenter could upload bibliographies and slides that could be manipulated and annotated on a device during the presentation? There could also be a place to post questions during the presentation. At the end of the presentation the presenter could select the questions they wanted to engage with and respond. All of these technologies are already available and can certainly be done in full retrospectively through email, social media, or conversation, but I still feel that there is something to immediate engagement and response. What do you think? (Weller's Digital Scholar has more to say about this topic but I wanted to try my hand at the conversation after this conference.)