Are We There Yet? Diversity and Mobility in the Digital Humanities
Reading the Data
The map utilizes kepler.gl to create a visualization of conference travel to highlight the disproportionate travel labor scholars in the Global South must engage with. There is a particular focus on the conferences that surround the Alliance for Digital Humanities Organizations. The travel of each author is visualized by a line. The dark red portion represents the location of the conference and the whiteish color represents the location of the author's host institution. The width of the line corresponds to the distance the scholar must travel. Dots are also placed for the location of the author's home institution.
You can click on the play button at the bottom right to look at how travel in DH has changed since the 1960s. Most of the data comes from the 2000s onwards, and much of it is coded to Null Island. The reasoning for this and biases encoded in the data are explored further in the Limitation and Choices of Data section.
"Are We There Yet" geocodes conference destinations along with home institutions of scholars at digital humanities conferences to explore how scholars in high-income countries perpetuate a hegemonic digital humanity that disproportionately impacts scholars in the Global South. It expands on a dataset compiled by Scott Weingart, Matthew Lincoln, and Nickoal Eichmann-Kalwara's that covers approximately 60 years of conferences with 7300 presentations, 8650 different authors, 1850 institutions, and 86 countries (Lincoln et al., 2021).
Researchers have noted that academic conferences are critical sites for exploring issues of diversity, equality, and psychology (Elton, 1983; Henderson, 2015; Pereira, 2012; Querol-Julian & Fortanet-Gomez, 2012; Skelton, 1997). Universities expect scholars to attend conferences to publicize research and contribute to their profession. Yet, the capital and intellectual labor to attend conferences often disproportionately affects women and people of color.
In 2012, Melissa Terras generated a map to assess the digital humanities’ scope. Consisting of 114 centers in 24 countries, the visualization was meant to provide evidence for the notion of the field as a "big tent" with a unique willingness to embrace international collaboration.(Clavert 2013; Fiormonte 2014; Svensson 2012; Terras 2012) Detractors observed, however, that the map concealed DH scholarship and research that took place apart from major research centers and institutional support. (O'Donnell et al. 2015) Scholars of the Global South also asserted that similar visualizations, and the digital humanities more broadly, perpetuated a neocolonial outlook where high-income countries brought enlightenment, funding, and knowledge to the "uncivilized."(Risam 2016)
Criticism of the digital humanities as a neocolonial project has been particularly targeted towards the field's chief organization: the Alliance of Digital Humanities (ADHO). Formed in 2005, ADHO serves as an umbrella conglomerate for other DH organizations and hosts the annual Digital Humanities Conference. Despite attempts to expand membership to new entities, quantitative analysis of conference paper submissions and special conference issues in the journal of Digital Scholarship in the Humanities (DSH) have shown that ADHO lacks regional, linguistic, and gender diversity.(Blaney and Siefring 2017; Crymble and Flanders 2013; de la Cruz et al. 2015; Earhart, Risam, and Bruno 2020; Gao et al. 2018; Weingart and Eichmann-Kalwara 2017) To counter similar trends, postcolonial scholars have called for embracing a postcolonial computing tactic. (Philip, Irani, and Dourish 2012) As Roopika Risam states, the computational techniques that colonizers have used against the colonized are critical in the reassertion of the colonizeds’ agency. It is the very "affordances of digital technologies that help make decolonization legible and reveal its limits.”(Risam 2018)
Limitations and Choices of Data
There are numerous limitations with this map. Perhaps most importantly, they rely on a limited dataset that privileges "official" conferences from the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organization and those in English. An attempt was made to collect additional data. Yet, as postcolonial scholars have noted, utilizing such a dataset fails to acknowledge digital practices that happen in other languages and occur outside of major institutional support. More limitations on the dataset and its collection can be found here.
In addition, the geocoding of the latitude and longitudes was done using the tidygeocoder package in R. The package uses a "cascade" method that finds the best API for the data at the time it is requested. If there is no information for a particular part of the address, it defaults to what is available or returns NA. When I originally ran the code, I had included institution name, city, state, and country for both the author and hosting institution. The result was a ton of data that was returned as NA. I reran it with just the institution name, which seemed to provide better results—I have yet to understand why this is.
However, this left the question with what to do with the NAs. I decided to code them to Null Island. My logic for this is that many of the values that returned NA were due to the traveler being an independent scholar or not being affiliated with a major institution—or at least one that the major geocoding APIs deem important. By coding them this way, I hope it allows us to gain a small glimpse at the DH work being done without major institutional support as postcolonial scholars have noted.(Risam 2016)
Update: The coding of Null Island proved to cause more confusion than it solved. I have recoded these back as missing data.
Explore the Data
You may download the CSV of the dataset by clicking here.
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