[submitted by Jake Bruce]
As a research assistant and collaborator on the NewRadial* project, the 2012 INKE Birds of a Feather conference in Havana introduced me to a wide variety of topics that lie at the intersection between my field of Computer Science and the humanities. The organizers could not have chosen a better location, due to the particular relevance of digital infrastructure in Cuba at this time, so recently after the Cuban population began to purchase computers in 2007.
The spectrum of projects and papers presented in Havana demonstrated that there is much research being conducted on the topic of shifting literature and other traditionally book-based media to a digital paradigm. Some projects showed how digital technologies can be leveraged toward creativity beyond the standard structure of the printed book, while others discussed the preservation, curation, edition, and analysis of cultural objects using digital tools. Many important points were submitted for consideration during the short presentations and discussed briefly afterward, but the main purpose of the event was to get ideas flowing in the community, a goal which was definitely achieved as evidenced by discussion around the organization of a Digital Humanities community in Cuba. In particular, unconference discussions helped to catalyze and direct the recent formation and activities of DH::GO (Global Outlook: Digital Humanities), an ADHO special interest group formed “to help break down barriers that hinder communication and collaboration among researchers and students of the Digital Arts, Humanities, and Cultural Heritage sectors in High, Mid, and Low Income Economies.”**
Outside the conference sessions I had the opportunity to experience a developing Internet age, several years behind the developments in many other countries, but proceeding with the benefit of powerful modern technologies such as cheap, ubiquitous mobile computing. A visit to Cuba’s National Library revealed that Cuban archivists are in the process of digitizing printed media using small technical facilities that do not yet have the server equipment and infrastructure to host public-access material, although plans are in place for storage upgrades to improve capacity for digital preservation.
It is obvious that the Cuban public has interest in digital technologies, as the percentage of the population with access to the Internet has increased greatly since 2007, mostly due to Internet cafés and access to workplace or university networks. Blogging has become an important way for citizens to speak on important issues to a wider audience, although the Cuban government is known to engage in monitoring of Internet activity in the country and authors of blogs with political content must be careful.
This rising interest hopefully paired with improving Internet penetration in Cuba will lead to opportunities for better education and more communication between the Cuban people and other residents of the Internet. In particular, Digital Humanities work regarding reading and writing in the digital age is important in order to provide the best tools to study all of the newly digitized media being produced in Cuba and other technologically developing nations of the world. The 2012 Birds of a Feather event gave me the opportunity to take part in this discussion and experience a new perspective on the technology that I work with every day.