Dear Global DH community,
When the University of Graz applied to host the conference in 2019, we already committed to an English language conference despite being German native speakers ourselves. Our decision was thoroughly discussed with the ADHO committees which agreed with our reasoning, as did the Constituent Organisations Board in accepting the bid at DH2019 in Utrecht.
As the subject of multilingualism and multiculturalism, and especially inclusivity, is indeed of utmost importance to the DH community, and featured prominently in the preparation of the bid for the conference, let us share our reasoning below:
Our decision for an English-language conference is closely tied to the theme “Collaboration as Opportunity”, and the mission statement “Showcase South-Eastern Europe”, which prompted our decision to put the exceptional work of our colleagues from South-Eastern Europe in the spotlight. In most countries where ADHO’s business languages (which themselves represent a sample of originally European imperialist languages) are used in scientific communication, Digital Humanities are already well-established at educational institutions and in national funding schemes. However, most South-Eastern European countries currently still lack that level of financial, political and institutional support, which makes hosting a conference on the scale of the ADHO DH (and often even attending such a conference) almost impossible. Graz set itself the goal to share the stage with our colleagues from South-Eastern Europe and provide them an opportunity to showcase and discuss their work with international colleagues.
Consequently, thinking of the conference as a multilingual event would (in our opinion) have meant to allow for South-Eastern European languages rather than the ADHO business languages. However, this would have created both a sensitive cultural/political issue regarding the choice of languages to include/exclude and a pragmatically insurmountable problem with respect to providing translations to and from a large number of languages.
It is our firm conviction that the ADHO DH conference is a place to exchange thoughts, ideas and knowledge with international colleagues rather than the academic circles we usually move in. Thanks to the efforts of the various regional or language-based DH associations, there are plenty of opportunities to present our work in our local languages (DHd, Humanistica, AIUCD, …), but the international conference – especially when it focuses on a cultural and linguistic area that is not among the business languages of ADHO – is a unique opportunity to go beyond that scope.
Multilingualism is indeed a vital topic to our community, especially in building knowledge and skills through multilingual tools, methods and teaching/training materials. Global communication and exchange about our research, which is a core function of the ADHO DH conference, is on the other hand only possible through the English language as a common scientific lingua franca. In fact, this approach does not entail mono-culturalism in any way, but rather provides an opportunity to colleagues from around the globe to make their diverse and varied cultures accessible to their fellows. We are convinced that ADHO admirably promotes multiculturalism by bringing the global DH community together at its international conferences, enabling broad exchange and communication: this in turn requires a common language.
To address the problem of the imbalance between the English language skills of native English speakers in comparison to colleagues who learned English as a foreign language, at a later time in the conference preparation process, we will ask English native speakers participating in the conference to acknowledge the largely non-native English speaking audience by providing their presentations, but also their verbal contributions (for example during the Q&As) in a form that makes sure they are understood and that all attendees are fully included in any conversation.
We firmly believe that a shared effort to communicate in accessible English at such a global event is much more inclusive and beneficial to all colleagues attending the conference than contributions in less widespread languages, which would consequently exclude the vast majority of the conference audience.
We are looking forward to discussing further approaches to multilingualism and multiculturalism as part of the discussion on how DH can foster diversity and inclusivity at DH2023 in Graz.
The DH2023 LO and PC chairs, in agreement with the ADHO Conference Coordinating Committee