“Beyond Defaults: Multilingual DH meets Cultural Analytics” by Quinn Dombrowski

-Event Report by Subhanjali Saraswati

Poster of the event

A strong voice advocating for the change in the framework with Digital Humanities projects, Quinn Dombrowski begins that DH is not simply a pedagogical or an activist scholarship but a knowledge resource available to the milieu. She argues that if DH is not a permanent and long standing job, it is the self interest involved that enables each project to gain a life, and a living quality. Further she points towards the possible hiccups that may arise in any DH project, the upkeep and maintenance. The cleanup and the constant attention. She rightly compares it to falling in love, as the head start is always filled with thrill.

The relatability of the talk will hit right to the core of all Digital Humanists, how the reality checks fall forward, not once or twice but each time over and over again. It is a struggle that lies through as we birth and develop projects based on software, sometimes the software develops further, at other times the corpora is replaced with newer and fresh data sets. The archives meant for the present become a historic fiction. Narratives of time, no matter the quantity that is accumulated for further reference, more often than not portrays a perspective or a few. The view points are never enough to collaborate a reality presented as it is. Besides, the collections of websites true for a time period fail to stand through a different wave. Say, for instance the truth of the second feminist wave wherein cosmetics were waved off, did not remain to be true through the wave that came after in the later decades.

Dombrowski, an academic technology specialist at Stanford University, further points out how despite having enough funding and investment in shared infrastructure and clear delineation of scope and what kinds of projects should be prioritized, some projects are left entirely to the care of web services. However at the same time the majority of the grad students do not have access to these services. The website based approach is summarized to be a ‘psychological burden’. She hopes that a DH project producing ‘peer reviewed’ articles is sort of a harm reduction. I believe one may compare it to saplings, nurtured with care in handkerchiefs and transplanted into pots, which once bloom are eaten off by pigeons. One may feel it to be futile. Perhaps a better suited analogy would be giving birth in the 1200s, wherein most children never saw adulthood. Perhaps we may place a need for vaccinating DH projects, so that they live to see a full life.

After enlightening the audience albeit virtual, Dombrowski, throws light on the challenges of natural language processing especially in Non English languages, with an emphasis upon those that do not follow the Latin alphabet. The talk details the variations in data archiving, and exemplifies a few sources as to where one can learn any digitizing method with ease, and if motivated enough pick up a pet DH Project. She gives an example of a DH project on a 90’s based series of novels “The Baby Sitters Club”. She ends by emphasizing the need to have funding as the basis for any DH project as such, and hopes that DH LABs, across the world, provide for the same.

Overall a deeply insightful talk, Dombrowski touched upon all that one may consider to be important to DH based Multilingual and Cultural Analytics, where the boundaries are more often blurred way before they are even built. The nitty gritties are often entangled with terminologies: a simple touch upon YouTube manuals can be an exceptional blessing.


Subhanjali Saraswati is a gender activist, who actively advocates for equity based gender rights especially on social media (She curates feminismforeverybody). A bibliophile, she sometimes pens down poetry and finds respite through swimming, cycling , football and basketball, whatever the circumstances place forth. Fussy over clothes, she eats everything one places in her platter.

She is currently a second year student of Integrated Masters in Political Science at University of Hyderabad. Her research interest includes: political philosophy, gender theory, digital humanities and public policy.

Blog of Digital Humanities Alliance for Research and Teaching Innovations(DHARTI), an initiative towards organising and facilitating digital practices in India