Digital Humanities Japan: Building Community and Sharing Resources

This week’s post has been contributed by Paula R. Curtis, Hoyt Long, Molly Des Jardin and Mark Ravina. Information about the authors is included at the end of post.

In 2016, “The Impact of the Digital in Japanese Studies” workshop met at the University of Chicago for the first time. This gathering brought together Japan Studies researchers with different projects and needs who engaged (or were looking to engage) with digital methods. We discussed a wide variety of undertakings: creating pattern recognition software for teaching classical poetry, tackling analysis of political speeches, the barriers faced when making data requests of copyrighted Japanese materials, the ethics of data extraction, and more. The knowledge and conversations shared at this event led organizers and participants to realize that there was a burgeoning digital humanities community within Japan Studies that was scattered across institutions and specializations. Even now, the number of scholars embracing digital methods in the field is increasing, but communication and awareness of others with similar interests remains a major obstacle. There is a pressing need for an inclusive space for collaboration across disciplinary, geographic, and linguistic boundaries.

As an outgrowth of subsequent events and discussions, several participants from the original workshop are now collaborating on the Digital Humanities Japan initiative, an international and interdisciplinary community for anyone interested in working with digital methods, tools, and resources in connection with Japan Studies. Although DH Japan is just starting out as a platform to foster cooperation, dialogues, and events, we have begun creating a variety of resources to promote digitally-inflected work in the Japan community.

Resources and Community

In addition to a mailing list, where members can post announcements, hold discussions, or ask questions related to digital work on Japan, DH Japan also maintains an events page where we post workshops, symposia, and conference announcements (send us your event!) and we also curate a growing Wiki.

The Digital Humanities Japan Wiki is only in its beginning stages, but it already features a number of resources that we hope will continue to grow and encourage more interconnectivity among our colleagues around the globe. In addition to listing organizations and conferences that work with Japan-related data acquisition, processing, and analysis, DH Japan hosts a Scholar Directory where researchers can list themselves, their skills, and their current projects and affiliations, bringing more visibility to potential future collaborators and their ongoing work. 

With interest in teaching digital methods that are inclusive of languages beyond English on the rise, we also provide an ongoing list of publications directly related to digital methods and Japan, translations of commonly used terminology in the digital humanities, and syllabi on Japan/East Asia and DH, all of which will help instructors to more readily integrate these materials into their current curricula and address the needs of interested students. To that end, we also have an expanding section for tutorials on Japan-specific digital tools and methods that features text mining, IIIF, text segmentation, and more. These kinds of tutorials are often located in the library guides of institutions or on personal portfolios, which can make them difficult to find for the casual searcher.

It can also be notoriously difficult to figure out where certain databases and datasets produced by Japanese organizations are provided, so one of our goals in the long-term is to serve as a centralized location for this information. In the same vein, many Japan-specific digital analysis tools are produced by independent developers and therefore fly under the radar of Japan Studies people just breaking into DH, so our growing list will undoubtedly be a helpful place to start. The same page also features a general digital tools list (divided into categories for mapping, timelines, data cleaning, text analysis, and more) that will hopefully become more comprehensive as time goes on. 

Going Forward

As with any academic project, the biggest challenges to developing digital resources are creation and long-term management and preservation—How do we encourage community participation? How do we keep up with rapidly appearing digital resources? In the spirit of collaboration, we have made the Digital Humanities Japan wiki open to contributions, and we encourage people to submit the websites, tools, and publications that they produce or use. 

We are presently in the process of developing more platforms for exchange, such as a multilingual blog where people can introduce their individual or institutional projects, provide tutorials for tools, submit conference reviews, and more. We also hope to continue offering funded workshops on Japan-related digital skills and to help support the expansion of these projects and presentations to a variety of institutions and conferences in the future. The Digital Humanities Japan initiative is still working to bring more diverse and international voices to our conversations, and we hope that if we build it, our talented colleagues will come.

Questions? Contact us.

Events Hosted by DH Japan Participants as of 2020:

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During its early stages of development, Digital Humanities Japan is being developed by Paula R. Curtis, Hoyt Long (University of Chicago), Molly Des Jardin, and Mark Ravina (University of Texas at Austin). More information on DH Japan can be found at https://dhjapan.org/. To follow more current Japan-related DH events, refer to the #DHJPN hashtag on Twitter.

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Paula R. Curtis is currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate and Lecturer in History at Yale University. Her research focuses on socioeconomic networks, metal casters, patronage, and documentary forgery in medieval Japan. She also runs the blog What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?, maintains a database on English-language resources for East Asian Studies, and maintains Carving Community: the Landis-Hiroi Collection, an oral history project and digital archive. 

Hoyt Long is Associate Professor of Japanese Literature in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. His research and teaching span the fields of media studies, book history, sociology of culture, and computational approaches to literary history. His forthcoming book argues for the value of quantitative methods in telling the history of modern Japanese literature. 

Molly Des Jardin has an interdisciplinary background and circuitous career path, earning degrees in both Asian studies (PhD) and computer/information science (BS, MSI) along the way. This experience drew her to work on strategies specific to using digital methods with East Asian sources, and she developed and taught the first English-language survey course on East Asian DH in 2018 at the University of Pennsylvania. Formerly a librarian, she now works in data science and software development, and continues research on modern Japanese book and media history as an independent scholar.

Mark Ravina is Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Chair in Japanese Studies at the University of Texas, Austin. His specialty is Japanese history, especially eighteenth and nineteenth-century politics, but his broader methodological interest is in the transnational and international dimension of state-building. His third book, To Stand with the Nations of the World: Japan’s Meiji Restoration as World History was published in 2017 by Oxford University Press and won the best book prize of the Southeast Conference of the Association for Asian Studies. He is currently text-mining petitions from the Freedom and Popular Rights Movement 自由民権運動.

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