by PhD candidate Rebecca Repper
On Friday 18th May I had the pleasure of presenting at the Digital Humanities Pathways Forum, Perth, held at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre. This was a meeting of a diverse range of industry and academic professionals interested in digital approaches to studying and activating knowledge in the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. A prominent theme of the forum was development and challenges towards building stronger collaboration between the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) and university sectors, both in research and infrastructure. The Collecting the West project exists within this nexus—working with our industry partners to build better knowledge and practice regarding Western Australian collections for the future.
The morning session focused on existing projects and industry in Perth, where we heard from Alec Coles and the current initiatives underway as part of the new WA Museum development; Jill Benn from the University of Western Australia Library and how the Libraries can be instrumental infrastructure for digital and collaborative research; Prof Jane Lydon on the ‘Returning Photos’ project which collaborated with several collecting bodies to create a single ongoing digital resource, as well as mediated contact and repatriation of the photographic record to people on country; and Craig Pett on the GALE primary sources digitisation project and the changing use of that resource and its metadata within research. This session gave way to a panel discussion on the connections between the GLAM sector and Universities. Remarks were made on future opportunities to develop these partnerships, and how to ensure the communication and availability of information on, and experiences with, the products of research collaborations. Some emphasis was given for the need to promote ‘deliverables’ beyond that of the standard publication and reports, recognise future students and researchers as integral to our ‘research infrastructure’ and to make sure they have the training and tools at their disposal, and the need to ‘future proof’ knowledge outcomes against redundancy. Our reliance on government funding in Australia was particularly questioned.
The afternoon session opened with a series of lightning talks by current research projects, during which I presented my early research into representation of photograph collections in the CIDOC-CRM ontology, and the benefits for understanding and convergence of collections. Other presentations were: Dr Luke Hopper (ECU/WAAPA) on how biomechanics visualisations (more known for their use in producing CGI characters like Gollum and examining Cricket bowling action) were being used to analyse Dance technique; Andrew Woods’ (Curtin) overview of two collaborative projects, one with the WA Museum on their investigation of the HMAS Sydney (II) wreck site, and the other with the State Library on identifying duplicates and correlations within their pictorial collections; and Dr Sam Barron (UWA) on how augmented reality environments might aid in teaching abstract concepts. Discussion then opened to a panel that raised questions around barriers to HASS research and future needs. Infrastructure that can accommodate not only the demands of research but protect it against extreme events (such as weather) was raised. The question of how the HASS sector could promote its research in such a way that emphasised its relevance, which would aid in securing funding and necessary infrastructure, was hotly discussed, as well as whether ‘Digital Humanities’ is an appropriate umbrella term to communicate our research, or just a buzz word that is not being taken seriously. Lastly, should Australia be focusing on international partnerships, or fostering our own national ‘scene’? Paul Arthur and Sarah Nisbet in their closing comments emphasised the need for these discussions to occur, and encouraged the Perth community to be proactive in engaging in the broader debate.
The day was engaging and an excellent opportunity to network with individuals working in similar fields. There was definitely an eagerness for collaborative projects, but also for their outcomes to have lasting contributions to both knowledge and the wider cultural sector. Alec Coles mentioned Collecting the West specifically in this context. The recent lacklustre contribution by the Federal Government towards National Research Infrastructure for HASS was seen as a set-back, but also a challenge. The turn out and discussion at the forum showed that the Perth research community are already working towards meeting that challenge.