Back in August or September, I remember bleating anxiously on this blog about having rashly accepted to give a talk on les Humanités Numériques as part of a seminaire “Avenue Centrale” organised by the MSH in Grenoble. I can now report that eventually (in the English sense) I did manage to get some old slides updated and licked into shape, aided by the four hour T-not-so-GV journey to Grenoble last December, and a week or so of being unbearable to myself and everyone else around me. The slides duly appeared on Slideshare, and the folks at Avenue Centrale have even published a nice video and a podcast of me delivering them, but that’s not nearly as interesting as what actually happened on the day.
On 20th December, after a meeting of the conseil scientifique du MSH Alpes, I found myself esconced in an implausibly pink fauteuil, clutching a microphone, and ready to go, having delayed the obligatory 30 minutes for bigwigs to turn up, when there was a minor kerfuffle as the organisers realised that a bunch of scruffy students were busy at the front door handing out an A2 sized pamphlet promisingly titled Humanités Numériques: Gare à la propagande!!!
The source of the pamphlet, which characterizes me as un petit soldat de la conversion au numérique des Humanités, was subsequently tracked down online by one of the French DH twitterati (à savoir, Martin Grandjean) within a few minutes of my tweeting this image of it after the show. Aside from the distribution of the pamphlet, the promised Action-critique took the form of three or four extra persons attending my lecture, one of whom also gave a brief speech deploring the industrial and social cost of mass digitization (I think) during the Q&A session. An agreeable though brief debate ensued, none of which sadly seems to have made it to the published version of the video, and we then all adjourned for coffee and horrible sandwiches downstairs, during which I was able to continue to chat amicably with the protesters, though the term seems barely appropriate. I learned that these were actually eco-warriors with concerns about the way big business was driving technology into inappropriate places (There have been somewhat critically received plans to hand out tablets to all school children, in an interesting reprise of the UK Government’s BBC Micro initiative in the 1980s) On my way out I also tried to take some photos of the activists using my new tablet, which involved much banter and cursing, as I have barely mastered this new device. Out of deference to their desire for anonymity, the photos will have to stay in my personal archive for a few more decades though.
Tidings of this unusual event caused a (very brief) flurry of excitement on twitter. Frederic Clavert was a bit peeved to find that his logo had been appropriated for the pamphlet; others were disappointed to find no coherent plan for action in it. And there were also (tee hee) expressions of extreme jealousy from a few of my DH colleagues — Moi aussi une affiche! A brief sample of my first significant “moment” in the political history of DH in France (Marjorie told me that’s what it was) follows.