Friday, 5 February 2016

TECHNE Student Congress (January 2016, Royal Holloway)

Having spent the previous post whining about my battles with poster design and becoming a more visually aware and creative 'exhibitor', I thought I'd also write up some thoughts on the TECHNE student congress I attended during the first week of January. It's a mandatory thing organised by my funder the Arts & Humanities Research Council and the programme can be found here. Although I wasn't entirely convinced whether the programme really bore out the title of 'Digital Humanities' (I think of the sort of things Elton Barker at the Open University works on when I think of DH), it seemed to have a wide appeal. My neighbour at dinner, for example, Dane Watkins, turned out to be studying for his PhD in smart design (!) at Falmouth, which isn't part of the TECHNE consortium of institutions, but he had seen the announcement circulated and came up for it especially. (He's also got a degree in Animation, and teaches drawing, so I suddenly felt a lot more embarrassed about my poster... Nothing but kind comments, though!)

Not much there was relevant to my thesis, but it was more focused towards skills development, and had some relevant guidance on how to be the sort of academic that I might want to be: engaged in the world and with the world, through blogging, Twitter, etc. There was also some excellent stuff on the academy and politics, how to preserve our independence from government, whether to play the Big Publisher game (what alternatives there are, if any, which rely less on free extra work done by academics whilst someone else pockets the profits - I'm not sure there are any that are significantly better...)

In any case, my philosophy on conferences is rapidly changing: 40% of their significance lies in the talks (maybe 50% if you're lucky) but otherwise it's all about the people you meet during the breaks. I'm getting better at it, and it's fun! Some of the people I talked to do the most amazing-sounding projects of a creativity and (to me) 'out-there-ness' that astounds me. For example, Neil Cahoon from Roehampton: how does 'Sound Design for the Contemporary Novel: Applying the Poetics of John Cage to Digital Prose Fiction' sound to you? I'm so glad there are so many people thinking outside the box, because we need 'em. (I still struggle to make the argument for the Humanities in a convincing way in the face of policymakers who want everything quantifiable, but do find the reductio ad absurdum quite helpful: nobody wants to live in a world where no more plays get written and we all stagnate into the future supported by a cultural and intellectual canon which is no longer reinterpreted or added to.)

A word on the accommodation: the host institution for this Congress, Royal Holloway, is my home institution but of course I don't live there. To have the chance to stay over in its most iconic building, Founder's, therefore, was pretty special. I forgot to take a photo of the sunrise over the balustrades and turrets when I walked to breakfast, but here is a shot which nicely illustrates how special it was to stay in one of the bedrooms on the top floor:

It was all marvellously 'Downton servants' quarters'. Including bathroom 20 yards down the hallway, forcing an odd sort of intimacy with fellow congress-goers, passing each other by in their pyjamas on their way to the bathroom. The next ones will be at conference centres in hotels, apparently, so I'm glad I had this chance!

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