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Reporting from HASTAC 2011

Field of haystacks, arranged for a maze

A week and a half ago, I had the pleasure of attending the fifth HASTAC conference, which was held at the University of Michigan. HASTAC, or the—Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory—is a group of faculty, graduate students, librarians, technologists, and more whose work intersects in some way with different technologies.

The theme of the conference was Digital Scholarly Communication, and over three days, I heard a lot about the shifts that are happening at university presses (where Michigan’s MPublishing is leading the way); in the classroom (if you think that there’s not anything new to say or learn about blogging and teaching, you would have ended up very surprised); and about the effect that the digital is having on the humanities and—to a much lesser extent, unfortunately—the arts, social sciences, and hard sciences. There were several (five!) keynote addresses on the subject, including talks by Cathy Davidson, Dan Atkins, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Joshua Greenberg, and Jim Leach, Chairman of the NEH. A keynote-ish panel featured Dan Cohen, Tara McPherson, and Richard Nash discussing “The Future of Digital Publishing.” I’ll say this for the conference organizers: they know how to pull in the heavy hitters.

For me, Vaidhyanathan’s talk was a highlight of the conference. He departed from the regular “book tour” talks he’s been giving about his recent The Googlization of Everything and instead talked about the development of the book from a series of blog posts and everything that he did wrong while writing. He was candid enough to share that his wife refused to finish reading the first draft of the book and that his editor at the University of California Press felt exactly the same way. It’s rare that someone pulls back the curtain on the many things we do wrong as academics, especially someone who has had as public a success with his work as Siva has. Exposing yourself in that way can feel scary, but it’s part of the motivating principle behind ProfHacker, as I’ve argued elsewhere.

Another highlight was a pre-conference workshop on alternative academic careers (see also this ProfHacker post), organized by Fiona Barnett and Korey Jackson. Fiona and Korey were kind enough to ask me to participate, and as my contribution, I asked for members of the alt-ac community for their advice, collecting it with Storify (don’t miss Ryan’s ProfHacker-patented take on Storify). Along with talking about our alt-ac careers and fielding questions from the crowd, we looked at some sample job letters that friends of mine had kindly donated to the cause. While I know not everyone is certain about an alt-ac career—and others are certain they don’t want one—I hope that the evening helped give people some alternate options to consider.

As happens with many digital conferences today, the digital artifacts produced during and after the conference is stunning. There’s an ever-updating round-up of the different blog posts about the conference. There are videos of the different keynotes. And if you missed the Twitter stream, you can find it all in a Google Docs archive, as well as some stats.

HASTAC VI will take place next year at York University in Toronto, and I suspect it will be an equally exciting event. In the meantime, don’t miss out on the energetic forums that HASTAC Scholars organize throughout the year on various topics near and dear to ProfHacker hearts. Recent forums, for example, explore teaching technologies and the intersection of biology, technology, and the arts in Gunther von Hagens’ exhibits of plastinated bodies.

Did you participate in HASTAC V in person or from afar? What were the highlights for you?

Lead photo: Haystack maze / .dh / CC BY 2.0

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