One Sunday afternoon, whilst working on an assignment for my Humanities MRes, an idea popped into my head: “How cool would it be if Keele had a conference on the Digital Humanities? It’s a shame nobody is organising one”. Several attempts at finishing the assignment passed, but I couldn’t stop pondering this idea – I started thinking of all the great Digital Humanities (DH) work that I knew of at Keele, from Ceri Morgan’s digital map of literary Montreal to the Gascon Rolls project. It began to seem increasingly strange that Keele did not have any DH conferences, seminar series or a DH Centre, considering the large number of exciting projects in the field being carried out by scholars based at the university.
The fact that I was able to turn this idea into a successful event is a testament to the fantastic support network available to postgraduate students at Keele. After all, it was a workshop linked to the Research Skills in the Humanities module which taught me that it was possible for masters students to secure funding to put on events; it was the KPA (and particularly Rob Meredith, its President at the time) who liaised with several arms of the university in order to secure a generous grant to cover the event’s costs; and it was the friendly and supportive network of postgraduate students – especially Claudia Hill, Peter Buckles, Lauren Dale, Sam Taylor, and Katie Bannister – who answered my Call for Volunteers and made up the organising team. That is not to mention all of the staff and PhD students who helped with enquiries on everything from “How should we approach potential speakers”, to “Where on earth can we find forty wine glasses on campus”.
The process of organising the event was complex, involving a long list of things to remember: food and drink, programmes, name badges, room bookings, and so much more. However, it was rewarding in equal measure. To my surprise, almost every person who I asked to present a paper at the event enthusiastically agreed to do so; this included our external keynote speakers Bob Nicholson and Richard Clay, who are both prominent figures in the DH field. The event was a highly enjoyable and intellectually stimulating day, and feedback from the speakers and audience alike indicated that its main aims were met – from promoting the field of DH, to creating connections between scholars working in the area. For an idea of how the day went, you can see a Twitter-based record of the symposium at https://twitter.com/i/moments/909034892004077568
The main lesson that I will take away from ‘DH at Keele’ – and something that I hope others will take from the event, too – is that such a simple idea as “why isn’t there an event on this” can snowball into something far greater. It just takes some hard work and, most importantly, the support of other committed researchers and students – the latter two of which are easy to find at Keele. On that note, if anyone wishes to organise a ‘Digital Humanities at Keele II’ (or, even better, to put together a DH seminar series or DH Centre at the university) then don’t hesitate to get in touch! It would be excellent if this event could have a longer legacy, particularly when the day itself demonstrated just how much potential there is at Keele for future DH-based collaborations.
– Susannah Owen
Susannah Owen recently completed her MRes in the Humanities at Keele and is currently a PhD Student at Queen Mary University of London. Her doctoral thesis – provisionally entitled ‘The Jacobin Club of Paris: A Digital History’ – makes use of a combination of digital mapping, distant reading and other digital techniques to investigate the most significant political club of the French Revolution. She can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Twitter @SusannahEOwen