September 30, 2012

Kolkata Highlights

One of the hazards of attending a conference on “Digital Humanities in India” is that, inevitably, people like me, ignorant of the arts in India, will sometimes get lost. Nonetheless, I had a ball.

Kolkata Highlights

A big challenge for me was not so much the complexities of Bengali or of the Indian Geographic Survey as the familiar puzzle of critical theory. The students at Presidency are very sharp, and they can problematize your premises and explore their feminist and post-colonial implications at the drop of a hat.

One paper I especially enjoyed, despite knowing nothing about its subject, was Abhijit Gupta’s survey of the typographic issues in doing OCR on early Bengali books, which have (it seems) many obsolete letterforms and numerous uncataloged ligatures. Nobody has the fonts or the sample books any more, though it seems there are rumors of some punches in a private collection.

Oyndrila Sarkar told some nice stories about ‘e-Stories of Mapping’ and the difficulties of working with archival maps. Simi Malhotra’s talk about digital humanities and the impending singularity was brave, and it had me scribbling objections (Stross? Ian M. Banks?) is the margins of my notes, which after all is what talks are supposed to do. And Debaditya Bhattacharya contributed that very rare bird, the successful contrarian denouncement of the discipline itself. I see some holes, I think, and I’m pretty sure I disagree with the conclusion, but this could be a formidable line of argument.