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DH2019 China style

By Simon Mahony, on 24 July 2019

The annual international ADHO Digital Humanities conference 2019 was held in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The week before that I had the very great pleasure to be an invited guest at the 2019 International Symposium on Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage (DH2019) at Dunhuang, China. This was held at the Dunhuang Mogao Caves, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site and home of the Dunhuang Research Institute.

With no direct flights to Dunhuang, I took the opportunity to stop over at Shanghai on the way there and the way back. I would not pass up the opportunity to visit the Shanghai Library and other friends there.

Shanghai Library and Technical Institute

Shanghai Library and Technical Institute

One of these was from the contacts made at a trip to Nanjing earlier this year. When there, I met researchers from the DH group at the Shanghai University and was invited to give a talk there next time I visited Shanghai. This is a good example of how networking supported by UCL Global Engagement creates new partnerships and opens up possibilities for cooperation and collaboration; relationships that can be fostered and built upon.

Poster Shanghai University

Poster Shanghai University

I was very pleased to be given a guided tour of the campus and their new library building, which reminded me a little of moves here UCL where there is much emphasis on creating space for the students.

Shanghai University Campus

Shanghai University Campus

Once at Dunhuang, but before the conference itself, I participated in a two-day workshop on various aspects of Digital Humanities teaching, learning and research.

Me and the poster for the workshop

Me and the poster for the workshop

Interestingly, their concept of a ‘workshop’ was considerably different to ours (good job that I checked first) as there was no expectation that I should set tasks for the participants but rather just to give an extended talk followed by Q&A and discussion. My slides have translations, with thanks to Yaming (Cindy) Fu and also to UCL Global Engagement for supporting this.

Pre-conference workshop

Pre-conference workshop

The main event followed after we were given a VIP tour of the caves; the Mogao Caves (says UNESCO) have the largest and riches collection of Buddhist art in the world. Photography is not permitted inside the caves but for really amazing images see the Digital Dunhuang website.

 

Official conference group photo

Official conference group photo

This was an international event with several speakers from the USA; one from UNESCO another from the British Library, as well as myself, to make up the non-Chinese speakers. It brought many Chinese Digital Humanities researchers and practitioners together at the same event; indeed, almost all the groups that I have been networking with as well as many ones that were new to me. This was a great pleasure for me as I usually have to travel extensively to see so many Chinese friends.

While we were there heavy rain in the mountains triggered floods in the river Daquan which washed out the bridge in the only road to and from the cave complex. Rather than causing us alarm, and despite the apologies of our host, we were treated to an exhilarating 4×4 ride over the mountain and across the desert to the city of Dunhuang and safety.  A memorable trip indeed.

Washed out bridge on the Dunhuang road

Washed out bridge on the Dunhuang road

Returning to Shanghai gave the opportunity to consolidate a new connection made at the conference with the Director and researchers at the Shanghai Museum – one of my favourite museums (it only holds and displays artifacts from China) that I have visited many times but this time accessing via the guest entrance and avoiding the long queues.

Shanghai Museum

Shanghai Museum

As well as making new connections that I shall revisit at future occasions, catching up with former students and Shanghai friends, this truly was a memorable and unforgettable experience – the trip of a lifetime. If you ever get the opportunity to go, make sure you do! Mentioning UCL and UCLDH may get you the VIP treatment.

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