Kunjika Pathak, Undergraduate Student at FLAME, was already on her way back to Pune from the Digital Humanities Australasia conference in Adelaide, when the news broke. Not inappropriately, given the subject of the conference, it was through Twitter that many people learned about it. Kunjika had been declared the winner of the John Burrows Award, for the best paper presented by a student or early career researcher, at DHA 2018. This award is named after a pioneer in the field, and is presented at the biennial conference, organized by the Australasian Association of Digital Humanities. 'At first I thought it was a joke', says Kunjika. Then she got confirmation from Dr. Maya Dodd, Professor of Humanities at FLAME, under whose guidance she had made the presentation. It was time to reflect on the victory.
Two FLAME students, Kunjika and classmate Anjali Chandawarkar, have created a digital archive, The Garba Archives, which formed the basis of a paper by Dr. Dodd, titled 'Collaboration in the Digital Humanities Classroom', and the subject-matter of Kunjika's winning presentation. Realizing that modern practices of Garba often depart drastically from its traditional meanings, The Garba Archives describes itself as “an attempt to aid generations in continuing the tradition of teaching and learning garba.” Being a live and growing space, the Archives include the scholarly work of Professor Neelima Shukla Bhatt, of Wellesley College, which examines traditional Garba as a feminine-centric form, interviews with members of Gujarati communities, and recordings and lyrics from baitha garba, a unique form of garba which excludes dance. It can be visited here: https://thegarbaarchives.wixsite.com/thegarbaarchives/ .
The idea behind such digital humanities projects, explains Kunjika, is to conduct and present research in the humanities using digital tools, thus exploring technological possibilities beyond the written paper format. Through digital tools, connections can be made that would otherwise not be possible, both in terms of knowledge and accessibility. 'Making Connections' was in fact the theme of DHA 2018. Many presentations focussed on the GLAM sector (galleries, libraries, archives and museums), showcasing extraordinary and cutting-edge tools. By contrast, admits Kunjika, “we were working with very simple tools- but they were probably impressed by what we did with them.” The fact that Kunjika was among the youngest presenters at the conference, and the many meaningful ways in which The Garba Archives reconciles tradition with modernity, made her and Anjali's work stand out.
On the back of this victory, Kunjika looks forward to building on the connections she made at the conference, and diving deeper into the Digital Humanities space. 'I also want to make a bingo chart with all the key words and phrases we kept hearing at the conference', she laughs. As for The Archives, Anjali explains: "In the future we want to make technological advancements with our archive, and widen our horizons to look further into aspects like dance, more scholarly work, and costumes, among other things."
FLAME University now features a dedicated course, 'Introduction to the Digital Humanities' and Dr. Maya Dodd is one of the luminaries of this area. Being busy with chairing a conference session, and further appointments, Dr. Dodd had simply this to say, about the conference and the victory: “We did good.”