'Lightning Talks' Strike Swarthmore

by Liz Casey '14
Lightning Talks
"The Tri-Co community got a sense of the exciting range of digital scholarship happening on campus," says Associate Professor of English Literature Rachel Buurma '99. "We also hope the event sparked some new interests and connected new collaborators which one another." (photo by Jen Rajchel)

In a break from the traditional hour-long scholarly lecture, students, faculty, and staff members from the Tri-College Consortium came together to engage in a series of "lightning talks." The event, which drew nearly 60 people to McCabe Library earlier this month, featured 13 two-minute, three-slide presentations highlighting the digital scholarship of faculty, staff, and students both at Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr Colleges. Sponsored by Swarthmore Libraries, Swarthmore ITS, and Tri-CO Digital Humanities (Tri-CO DH) and supported by the Mellon Foundation, the event heard from community members who have taken up the challenge of theorizing, critiquing, and querying the digital world, its methodologies, and its many manifestations. The micro-presentations ranged in topics from digital animation to intellectual property rights.

"We weren't trying to replicate the depth that one gets from a lecture or symposium," says Associate CITO Eric Behrens '92, one of the event organizers. "Rather, we were aiming to help people get together in a fun, convenient setting to survey what's happening at our local institutions."

At the conclusion of two minutes, Behrens would play a sound effect thunder clap, noting that "lightning struck" and the speaker's time was up. "It was certainly fun to see who was composed and comfortable with two minutes, and who found it nearly impossible to stick to that time frame," says Professor of History Timothy Burke, who also helped organize the talks. Additional organizers included College Librarian Peggy Seiden and Jen Rajchel, assistant director of Tri-Co DH. 

Students working with Assistant Professor of English Literature Lara Cohen presented on making a digital edition of an early American friendship film. Professor of German Studies and Film and Media Studies Sunka Simon discussed her globally networked learning project. Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History Tom Morton talked about the 3-D visualizations of ancient Rome on which he and his team are working. Professor of Philosophy Peter Baumann gave a strong but measured critique of the digital, defending in-person, offline education.

"The Tri-Co community got a sense of the exciting range of digital scholarship happening on campus," says Associate Professor of English Literature Rachel Buurma '99. "We also hope that the event sparked some new interests and connected new collaborators which one another."  Buurma's own award-winning work in the digital humanities includes her contributions to the Early Novels Database project. 

"Scholarship can traditionally be fairly solitary work, but digital scholarship is still in an early enough phase that there's still a lot of exploration and experimentation going on," says Behrens. "It's helpful for more experienced digital scholars to have an audience to serve as sounding boards. It's also helpful for people with a little bit of curiosity or skepticism to get a sense for what all the buzz is about."