Adam Kosto at the 22nd CISH Conference in Jinan

Report of Adam J. Kosto on his participation as a delegate of the CID at the 22nd CISH Conference in Jinan, 6 September 2015

The 22nd International Congress of Historical Sciences was held in Jinan, China, 23-29 August; there were over 2,000 registered attendees from 90 countries.  I attended as a representative of the Commission Internationale de Diplomatique, giving two papers. The first, on Tuesday 25 August, was as part of a day-long session devoted to “The Digital Turn in History / Le tournant numérique en histoire,” one of the four “major themes” of the congress.  The original program was upended somewhat by the late withdrawal of several presenters, but thanks to the intervention of Robert Frank, Secretary General of the CISH, a full complement of twelve papers was assembled.  Half of the papers were theoretical considerations of the impact of new technologies on the historical profession. These focused mostly (as I pointed out in the discussion period) on the digitization of resources and on the dissemination of scholarship, rather than on the key question—that seemed to be raised by the title of the sessions, with its echo of “The Linguistic Turn”–of if and how the new technologies are changing the way we interpret the past…how, in other words, computers are changing the way we get from the sources to the scholarship (although Yvan Combeau, from the Université de La Réunion, mentioned Mabillon!).  The other half of the papers described particular research projects (on the modern history of women’s rights movements, Greek and Latin epigraphy, global trade networks in the Late Middle Ages, the digital reconstruction of a Russian monastery…).  My own paper, “Digital Developments: Medieval European Diplomatic Sources,” proposed a four-step genealogy of “digital diplomatics”: 1) the creation of databases by extracting data from documents; 2) full-text resources; 3) full-text resources with complex metadata; and 4) projects integrating natural language processing, data mining, GIS, and other advanced digital approaches.  I discussed ChartEx as an example of a fourth-generation digital diplomatics project.  The papers were limited to 10 minutes to allow time for ample discussion, which there certainly was. The audience was about 150, with Chinese students heavily represented.  Of particular interest to members of the CID were the papers of Silvia Orlandi (Rome) on a project to digitize Greek and Latin inscriptions, and of Andrea Nanetti (Singapore), on the use of complex network theory to analyze the “Maritime Silk Road, 1205-1533.”

The second paper, on Friday 28 August, was in one of the sessions on “Histories of Reading and Writing” sponsored by The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Printing (SHARP), one of the 19 International Affiliated Organizations and Internal Commissions (CID is an internal commission) that organized meetings on the last two days of the conference.  (SHARP also sponsored a “Special Theme” on “The History of Writing Practices and Scribal Culture” on Wednesday; I had originally proposed my paper for this session, but the organizers asked me instead to present in the later series of sessions.)  My paper “The Documentary Practices of Laypeople in Early Medieval Europe” was essentially a summary (20 mins) of the findings of Brown, Costambeys, Innes, and Kosto, eds., Documentary Practices and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge, 2012).  The other papers, all of very high quality, addressed the use of a particular script by women in premodern Korea; peasant reading habits in early modern China; common readers in early-twentieth-century China; Renaissance epistolary collections; and patterns of reading in late nineteenth-century Sweden. There were about 25 people in attendance, mostly members of SHARP (which has more than 1,000 members in over forty countries!).

See also a mention of Adam’s first paper in the daily “Journal” of the CISH conference.

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