As technologies change our environments for reading, writing and research, it is incumbent on our scholarly organizations to take note. And what group is better prepared to explore our digital future than the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing SHARP, dedicated as it is to the interdisciplinary study of the history of literacy and its changing materials forms, sites and technologies. This year’s SHARP conference in Washington DC last weekend, organized by EMOB’s own Eleanor Shevlin along with Casey Smith, and sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, the Library of Congress, the Folger Shakespeare Library and Institute, and the Corcoran College of Art + Design, illustrated that the field of Digital Humanities, though still in its incunabula stage, is growing at a dynamic rate. It also made clear that book historians are prepared to enthusiastically explore the new tools and new theories emerging from a variety of DH practitioners, institutions and new partnerships.
My own experience of the conference was infused with new media theories and practices from beginning to end. I was “tweeting” the conference on my new iPad, and at the same time taking notes on Evernote, an app that synchs my jottings across platforms. The constant access to the Internet provided by the venues meant that I could look up books, websites, or even places for lunch as needed. This is not the first time I have used Twitter to report on a conference, but a lively backchannel, encouraged by @sharporg the alter ego of SHARP vice-president Ian Gadd, allowed conversation about the presentations to unfold and real time. It also facilitated meetings in “real life” of those of us who only had met online before: there’s a reason they call it “social media.” Perhaps more importantly, though, the tweets allowed those who could not make it to the conference to “eavesdrop” on the proceedings, thus opening it to a larger group than those able to physically attend–which is precisely why SHARP has been encouraging the use of such tools.