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An open discussion on the impacts of the digital

Should students learn to program before they can write? Will we still have newspapers in 50 years? What will museums look like in the future? The inaugural DHdays at EPFL aim to celebrate the diversity of digital humanities innovations, while exploring emerging research questions at the intersection of science and society.

Organized by the College of Humanities and UNIL-EPFL dhCenter in partnership with the Initiative for Media Innovation (IMI), the DHdays will be a unique opportunity for participants to learn about the latest work on how digital innovations the arts, humanities, and social sciences are impacting the world we live in – for better or for worse. This year’s event will address the three key themes of digital humanities (DH) & Media, DH & Education, and DH & Heritage.

“There is so much digital growth happening so fast, we often don’t know what our colleagues are doing, and we don’t yet have an overarching vision of the digital humanities community of practice,” says co-organizer Isaac Pante, dhCenter academic director for UNIL. “The DHdays is an open invitation to create synergies, not only in Lausanne but beyond.”

A place of experimentation

A senior lecturer in digital culture and digital publishing at the University of Lausanne (UNIL), Pante is also the UNIL academic director of the dhCenter. As a strong proponent of the empowerment of students in the social sciences and humanities (SSH) through the development of computational thinking skills, he hopes that the DHdays will bring the digital humanities into an open dialogue with the public via roundtables and a project forum, where visitors will be able to experiment with technologies used in DH research, like video games.

“When SSH students step into computational learning, by developing a video game for example, they have to learn a whole new language. But after studying computational models, there is a feedback effect that allows you to start thinking computationally,” he explains. “The beauty of the digital humanities is that you can then bring an SSH perspective to computational problems: for example, understanding the historical context of a video game’s source code.”

“The future is already here”

An international list of speakers from academia, media, education, and culture will also lead participants on an exploration of how digital tools and methods have transformed research questions and practices in the arts and humanities as well as the social, engineering, and computer sciences.

“For the DHdays, we have tried to bring together the best international experts and local actors,” says co-organizer Béla Kapossy, director of EPFL’s College of Humanities. “For example, the session on the future of the press will feature a dialogue with the former head of R&D of The New York Times, the former director of strategic initiatives of The Washington Post, the editor-in-chief of Le Temps, the head of interactive content of Tamedia, and several researchers working on the history of the press at UNIL and EPFL. IMI’s research projects and the best start-ups in the field will also be presented.”

On the subject of video games, the conference will also notably feature Lancaster University professor Sally Bushell, co-creator of the Minecraft-inspired literature game LitCraft, as well as French video game design pioneer and Adibou co-creator Muriel Tramis.

“These kinds of events are often confined to an expert audience, but we want to open up the discussion on the impacts of the digital, whether it’s video games, media recommendation algorithms, cultural heritage preservation, or digital citizenship,” Pante says.

He emphasizes that the DHdays is intended not as a showcase, but as a celebration of the diversity of DH research. Although it’s clear the two-day event will not cover all DH subjects, it will represent an important opportunity for researchers to make new connections.

“In the words of William Gibson, “the future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed”. We DH researchers all have strengths and weaknesses that can inform one another. The goal is thus not for everyone to become an expert in everything, but to facilitate a dialogue and fruitful complementarities.”
DHdays – practical details

DHdays – practical details

This two-day bilingual event, to be held at the SwissTech Convention Center, is free and open to the public. Please register to attend in Lausanne, or through our online attendance option. Please visit the event website, dhdays.ch, for the full program and speaker list, and be sure to follow us on Instagram and/or Twitter to receive all the latest updates.