Slavic DH Group Co-Hosts Mapping Workshop in Germany

Learning Digital Mapping at the Herder Institute. Photo by Claudia Junghänel.
Learning Digital Mapping at the Herder Institute. Photo by Claudia Junghänel

Princeton’s Slavic Digital Humanities Working Group had a busy summer.

In late August, eight Princeton scholars - undergraduates, grad students, faculty and staff - spent a week in the lovely town of Marburg, Germany attending an intensive workshop on digital mapping. “Digitally Mapping Eastern Europe,” co-hosted by Princeton’s Center for Digital Humanities and the Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe, brought together nearly 30 researchers working in Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies for hands-on training in mapping tools, theoretical discussions about geospatial analysis, and investigation into the role of digital humanities in our field.

A major goal of the workshop was to foster ties among international scholars: participants were based in Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Belarus, Ukraine, Israel, Germany, and the United States. Another goal was interdisciplinarity. Members of the workshop brought academic perspectives from literary studies, history, library and archival science, linguistics, geography, urban studies, and cultural heritage preservation.

Specialists from the Herder’s extensive map collection gave us excellent training in reading and interpreting historical maps, which provided the conceptual framework for engaging with maps in the digital environment. We had hands-on sessions with QGIS, the open-source geographic information system application, and learned to edit, analyze and display geospatial datasets ourselves. A recurring theme of our conversations, brought up first by the Herder Director Peter Haslinger and also by keynote speaker Katharina Lorenz, Professor of Classical Archeology at Giessen University, was the importance of maintaining a critical eye towards our tools and methods of humanistic inquiry - whether digital or “traditional.”

Princeton participants presented their works-in-progress digital humanities projects to the larger group. Katherine Hill Reischl, Assistant Professor in the Slavic Department and Natalia Ermolaev, Assistant Director of the Center for Digital Humanities, gave an overview of “Slavic Digital Humanities in the American Academy.” Aaron Shkuda, Project Manager for the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities, discussed themes from his popular Princeton class: “Mapping gentrification: Teaching Urban Change through GIS.” Natalia Ermolaev presented her project, “ The Serge Prokofiev Archive as Data,” which uses DH tools to investigate archival collections. Professor Reischl and Thomas Keenan (Slavic East European and Eurasian Studies Librarian) discussed “Mapping Soviet Children's Books: Directions and Challenges,” based on their ongoing digital project, Playing Soviet: The Visual Language of Early Soviet Children’s Books. PhD student in Music, Julia Khait, presented work from her dissertation about the history of Soviet musicology periodicals, “Mapping Sovetskaia Muzyka.” Elizaveta Mankovskaya, PhD student in Slavic, shared her dissertation ideas about space and subjectivity in “Digitally Mapping the Lives and Literature of Late Soviet Construction.” Our two talented Princeton undergrads, Leora Eisenberg and Jianing Zhao, both Slavic Department majors and the only undergraduate workshop participants, had the chance to experience an international academic conference and do serious independent research. They learned new digital methodologies, worked in the archive, and discovered new ideas for junior papers and senior theses.

The Marburg trip was a unique opportunity for the Princeton group to get to know the work and interests of colleagues from different generations and across professional practice. Being off-campus and spending time together generated new projects and collaborations that are continuing back at Princeton. The workshop highlighted the particular strength of Princeton’s Slavic Department: though small, the department offers special experiences and valuable individual attention from faculty and other campus experts. With especially strong ties to the Library and Center for Digital Humanities, Princeton Slavic offers training in traditional methodologies as well as inside-access to collections and exposure to innovative humanities approaches.

Due to the success of our August 2018 workshop, we would like to make the Herder-Princeton summer workshop an annual event, and plan to hold the next workshop in Princeton in August 2019.

For more about our experience at the Herder, please see the Slavic Digital Humanities Working Group website, where you can see photos and read blog posts by Thomas, Aaron, Julia, Leora and Jianing !

Special thanks to the generous Princeton sponsors and supporters who helped make this event happen: the International Fund, the Program in Russian East European and Eurasian Studies, the European Program, the Center for Digital Humanities, and the Slavic Department.

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