Notes introduction, goskp 2014
Patrik Svensson

Patrik Svensson
Dec 21, 2014 · 6 min read

It is a pleasure and privilege to be here among friends

Among amazing scholars and professionals

In a fantastic environment

In the North of Sweden

Where it is dark and cozy

With three exciting, stimulating and intense days coming up

This conference is generously supported by Umeå University — HUMlab and the Wallenberg Foundation

Through lab resources and through funding from the Wallenberg Network Initative and my Wallenberg-funded chair

This funding makes things possible that could not otherwise have been


This is the fifth large December conference in a row

Part of shaping the lab, our thinking and our practices

Developing infrastructure and exploring intellectual-material directions

Thinking collectively with participants

Making things happen here and elsewhere

The way I think of conferences — at least the way we do them

a few days of coming together around an issue or a set of issues

a curated experience that we make together around something that have a strong interest in

and while we do not necessarily have to change the world — at least not immediately

it is opportunity to engage intellectually in something that is not bland, not reiterating, not entirely institutionalized, not fully predictable

I think from very early on, that for us, these events have been a way of exploring, experimenting and mobilize

To bring together the best people with a real interest in engaging — kindly and sharply at the same time

Perferably not people who have all met before

I think this is the case today — and we have participants from:

Philosophy
Architecture
History
Linguistics
Information studies
Sociology
English
Comparative literature
Art history
Media studies
Communication studies
Film studies
Archaeology
Physics
Museum studies
Science and Technology Studies
Computer science
Anthropology
Gender studies
Cinematic art
Photography
Conceptual art
Dance
Libraries and archives

This is not to say that such practices and sentiments guarantee success

But that the sentiment itself is critical

Another briefer way of putting it is that we have come together to tackle something together, because we are interested in each other’s work and because we hopefully do not know what will come out of this

As you know, the topic of the conference is Genres of Scholarly Knowledge Production — I will come back to the title in a bit

The epistemic machinery of knowledge production

It is something I have personally been interested in since we started to do virtual world B.A. theses and hypertext papers for teacher trainees about 15 years ago

Students produced virtual world installations and online text for their degrees

It was a great learning experience — for us and for them

A few things we learnt:

We got some of the best students and some students who thought it would be an easy way out.

The actual building took quite a lot of time

Through freeing ourselves (to some degree) from the traditional format of the paper, we opened up a space for the students to explore

And allowing that space was critical

The expressive potential was an important driving force — in a way more akin maybe to an art or design school

Strong engagement from the students

Both critically and materially

And we– the teachers — also learnt that creating this kind of infrastructure or platform made it possible to do things we would otherwise not have been able to do — not least crossing the epistemic traditions of literary, linguistic and cultural studies within our discipline


This was at the time as HUMlab was started and I think in many ways HUMlab has been a continuing experiment

I see one of the greatest challenges in the digital humanities actually connecting ideas/concepts/research questions, materials/data and the material level in a meaningful way

Moving from presentation and access to interpretation

Moving from being enamored by big data to taking on the intellectual issues we are most excited to address

Making sure that we are continuously both critically and materially invested

There is deep entanglement here which cannot be articulated through listing binaries and pathways

And one I hope we will able to explore during the next couple of days


“the how” plays a particularly interesting role for an event like this one

Conferences are epistemic and institutional platforms

Often with relatively little critical and practical attention paid to “how” in relation to knowledge production

Think about the abstract as a genre for instance

It is rare to see comments about “how” we make the arguments we want to articulate

Not surprising given that many conferences take place in large-scale venues and there are many things we can expect:

Generic conference spaces

The single screen

Slideware affordances

People being seated in rows

A clear speaker position

This is also why it can be quite powerful when we challenge these conditions, even so slightly:

Jonathan Sterne in his great talk last week — asked the audience to read the quotes — changes the dynamics

Micha Cardenas at a conference last year asked us to breathe deeply to synchronize breathing in the room

When Sven Strömqvist, pro vice chancellor and linguist at Lund, pulls up a powerpoint deck in front of the audience with hundreds of slides and picks chunks of slides as he goes along (instead of the slick presentation view of such software)


The reason why fairly few abstracts for this conference dealt with the “how” is not that instructions were neglected

Even if they were

But rather that the genre of abstracts is very set and that imagining what it means to articulate once argument given other than default conditions is hard

This is for instance why content from a single-screen product such as powerpoint cannot easily be moved into a multiple-screen context

Or why a site-specific art installation cannot just be moved to another place and retain its meaning, provocation and expressive power

We naturally get set in the traditions we have been schooled and institutionalized in

In the genres we learnt

In the formats we engage with

Such as the almost-ubiquitous use of the web for digital humanities projects with little critical attention paid to the conditioning such default platforms impose

For me this is closely connected to issue of infrastructure and thinking about humanities platforms

David Theo Goldberg brought up many of these issues in his talk yesterday

I think I am making an argument for situated humanistic infrastructure and that this in some ways mean particular (materially, institutionally, epistemically)

It is also about what I want to do as an individual scholar or as a member of a research group

There is a tension here in relation to standardized platforms (often the goal of the digital humanities)

I think we need to be situated in a structured way — that is why platforms is such an important concept

The topic of today’s first panel

Over the course of the conference I will be thanking everyone who has made this possible — a critical part of our platform in so many ways

For now, I would just like to make clear how incredibly competent and kind-sharp Emma Ewadotter is — conference coordinator

Emma works closely with the similarly very capable Karin Jangert

And the team who has put the display system together based on an idea developed through research and practice like what I just talked about

They have made an amazing job — Roger Mähler, Johan Lindskog, Mattis Lindmark and Fredrik Palm

Pure genius

Additionally, as it says in the program information, a few people will be skyped in rather than be her physically

It is part of our practice

especially when people simply cannot come, but you want them to be present

and something we are developing

Thinking about both ends of the arrangement (here and there) — what we get out of it and what they get out of it

I think it something we probably will be doing more of this later

I would also like to mention that in conceiving this conference I had great help from a small group of people. Here at Umeå, but also from the outside — including David Theo Goldberg, Erica Robles-Anderson, Shannon Mattern, Johanna Drucker and Fred Turner.

Thank you for intellectual and personal comradery.

And again, we are all responsible for making this something memorable and important, although anything that goes wrong or does not work is my fault.



Genres of Scholarly Knowledge Production

Post-conference dialogue after the Dec 10–12, 2014 event at HUMlab

    Patrik Svensson

    Written by

    Visiting Professor UCLA, Professor Umeå University. Digital humanities, events, infrastructure, building, screens, space, sts

    Genres of Scholarly Knowledge Production

    Post-conference dialogue after the Dec 10–12, 2014 event at HUMlab