The World in Digital: #DHJewish virtual conference recap

Last week was the inaugural (virtual) #DHJewish conference, based out of the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH). The conference spanned millenia, large portions of the world, and a variety of texts and languages. As a kind of pre-conference treat, a special issue in Reviews in Digital Humanities focusing on Jewish Studies projects was published a week before the conference.

The conference focused on digital projects dealing with a tremendous range of Jewish Studies scholarship. It was an excellent opportunity for participants to come together, learn, listen, and collaborate. Over sixty presentations covered many different areas – just a few are described below:

The Footprints project (described on this blog here) was represented in a poster session, but many other projects dealt with the history of the Jewish book. Anna de Wilde spoke about her work collecting data on Jewish books and owners for the MEDIATE project, which focuses on book sales and ownership in the long 18th century. Yael Netzer and Eliezer Baumgarten presented their work to document networks of authors, printers, and books based on Shem ha-gedolim, Hayyim Yosef David Azulai’s monumental bibliography of Jewish books and authors first published in Livorno in 1774. The same year saw the beginning of publication in Oxford of Benjamin Kennicott’s monumental critical edition of the Bible, which Luigi Bambaci is working on encoding using a Domain Specific Language (DSL) approach. Using the printed volumes in addition to the manuscripts on which they were based, Bambaci described a way to bring 18th century critical editions into the modern era. (An article describing his project can also be found here). The Prenumeranten project, with Elli Fischer, Moshe Schorr, and Marcin Wodzinski, uses print subscription lists from the late 18th-20th centuries to map the reach of a book’s audience. Gila Prebor described how she has been connecting information about individuals through Wikidata in order to better identify book ownership in the manuscript era, and Alessandro Grazi described his project to document the unique Italian rite based on 19th century prayerbooks. Other book-related presentations included a project using machine learning to identify paleographical variants, and DICTA‘s new frontiers in searching Biblical and Rabbinic texts using similar language models. The individuals working on various projects around the Jewish book also had a virtual “meet-up” where they discussed possible joint initiatives and ways to link their projects to enhance accessibility.

There were many spatially oriented projects. Aside from the Prenumeranten project mentioned above, Louis Kaplan described how he digitally mapped I.N. Steinberg’s theoretical Kimberley Plan – using Yiddish newspapers describing the project for the walls of the houses – in a virtual environment. Kaplan is the creator of another virtual mapping project called Mapping Ararat. You can find information about both of these projects online. Daniel Stein Kokin described “Kol ha-Nekudot”/”All the Points”/”Kull al-Nuqaṭ,” which maps ethnic and religious settlements in Palestine/Israel from the 19th century through the modern era. There were good discussions around materiality, such as Evelien Chajes’s work on documenting material transactions from 1492 to 1789. Melissa Terras and Inna Kizhner pointed out engaging examples of who is represented upon digitization of cultural heritage materials. There is, of course, a tremendous amount of primary sources relating to the Holocaust, and still much to be done in that realm. Projects dealing with the Holocaust included documentation of deportations, highlighting female aid workers, mapping Jewish slave labor, and various methods of analyzing testimonies

There were many digitization projects, featuring Jews and collections around the world. Amalia Levi spoke about a digital archive of Jewish materials from the Carribean; Ortal Paz-Saar described PEACE (Portal of Epigraphy, Archaeology, Conservation and Education on Jewish Funerary Culture), which aggregates data from digitized tombstones around the world; Joanna Spyra discussed some of the ethical questions around collecting data from Argentinian Jewish women and their experiences. Benjamin Lee and Devin Naar are working with machine learning software to analyze visual content in the corpus of digitized Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) newspapers, many of which were produced in Turkey.

All in all, it was a very enlightening conference, and attendees all look forward to further collaborations in the coming months and years.

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