Polish Studies Bulletin


Date of the event: 22.06.2020 - 30.06.2020
Added on: 10.02.2020

Cultures of Dissent in Eastern Europe (1945-1989): Research Approaches in the Digital Humanities

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This 7-day seminar in digital humanities research methods is designed to expose a new generation of scholars in Cold War history and culture to methods of analysis and discovery involving computational techniques. Designed and run by NEP4DISSENT (New Exploratory Phase in Research on East European Cultures of Dissent), COST Action 16213, the inspiration for the course is built around the transfer of knowledge from technologists and data scientists to humanists.

In the course of the 7-day session the participants will have hands-on experience with the entire life cycle of a digital humanities project design, leading to a single, tangible outcome in the form of a fully searchable and interactive dataset usable for art-curatorial purposes. Faculty are drawn from several disciplines and areas of specialization, in close cooperation with: the Blinken Open Society Archives (OSA); the History Department at CEU; the Department of Network and Data Science at CEU; the Department of Hungarian Literature and Cultural Studies at ELTE; the COURAGE H2020 project; the Center for Digital Humanities at the Institute of Literary Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences (CHC); CLARIN-Poland; the Center for Digital History at the University of Luxembourg (C2DH); and the LAB1100 in The Hague.

The focus of this year’s Cultures of Dissent SUN course will be conceptual mapping. In addition to our usual practice of using digital history methodologies to track events and movements of historical actors, we will conduct several thought experiments on how these methods might work with intellectual history and political thought. Some of our work towards this goal will be entirely analog, and resemble a typical seminar-style discussion, while other methods will include mining secondary literature, graphing institutional intersections, and cross-referencing different kinds of oppositional activities (academic, artistic, musical, performative, design) over time. As with all of our research in NEP4DISSENT, this training school will work across national contexts and languages, to truly reflect the diversity of cultural contexts in the region, and to push against the limits of comparative history.

Pre-SUN online sessions: In order to guarantee that the final outcome of the course is directly relevant to the research and curatorial practice of the participants, we would hold at least three online sessions (not necessarily synchronous) prior to July. They would be devoted to identifying and assembling relevant materials from existing archival collections, online databases and other resources for research resources. Core faculty (Labov, Bunout, Perczel, Maryl, Scheibner, and Wciślik) will lead this process, but will also engage the archival staff at relevant institutions (Blinken OSA, ArtPool), as well as the proto-participants in the course. We will aim to make our datasets correspond to each of the 4 research-oriented working groups of the COST Action: Surveillance and Counter-Surveillance; Grey Zone; Alternative Culture; Politics of Memory.

Days 1-2: The first two days of the SUN course would be devoted to the curating of materials (pre-selected with the course faculty from larger archival collections during the pre-course online sessions), and feature lectures on the historical and cultural specificity of the materials, the archiving process and provenance, and conceptual issues that arise when trying to standardize idiosyncratic and incomplete records of human activity. In addition to lectures, we will have hands-on practical sessions, broken down into groups by area of expertise, in order to complete the data curation process. Our two specialists in data modeling, Pim van Bree and Geert Kessels from nodegoat.net, will begin to work with the participants on setting up the datasets in the nodegoat environment.

Days 3-5: Once we have a reliable data model and textual corpus, we will use three digital humanities methodologies (text mining, mapping, and network analysis) to explore and visualize different relationships that can be traced between actors, objects, and other variables identified in the materials. The format of these days will follow a pattern: 1) lecture and demo, 2) break-out sessions with practical experiment, 3) group discussion of results, successes, limitations of the methodology. This will effectively be a pilot version of a larger goal of our COST Action, to create digital resources to help scholars make new connections in the area of dissent and oppositional activity: across languages, media, and even periods of Cold War history. We will be joined by specialists in each of the respective methodologies, some drawing on local expertise.

Days 6-7: The last two days of “Digitized Dissent” would focus on the larger, disciplinary implications of using these digital humanities methodologies to bring new knowledge to our research area. There are several norms of scholarship, archival practice, and even exhibition practice that are challenged by digital research and approaches, and we would like the group to consider the academic benefits, ethical issues, and institutional resistances that they are likely to encounter. The final outcome of our last two days will be a concrete plan for a public-facing project, a working plan for scaling up from our pilot study, or proposals for a series of articles (or even special issue of a single journal) using digital humanities methods to explore East European cultures of dissent.

Post-course Follow-up: For the SUN course to achieve its larger objectives, it will be crucial for us to follow up with participants afterwards and evaluate who would be willing to carry out plans developed during the course, who would benefit from more training, and how we might supplement our 7-day intensive workshop with periodic updates on COST Action progress.

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