Digital Spaces, Physical Places: A [Revised] Digital Humanities Symposium

This symposium was originally scheduled for April 16–17, 2020, to be held on the University of Rochester River Campus in Rush Rhees Library, Humanities Center, Conference Room D. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreak caused the cancellation of all in-person events at the University. The Mellon Fellows have changed the symposium to a virtual event, which will occur via Zoom on Friday, May 1, 2020, from 11 AM to 4 PM / 11:00 to 16:00 EDT.

To RSVP for the event and receive the Zoom meeting ID, please complete the form that is linked below, under “Symposium Update.”

In the meantime, we hope you all remain safe and healthy.

Original Call for Papers (CFP)

Digital technologies have forever altered our understanding of place and space by dividing physical presence from telepresence, birthing the hybrid and sometimes messy field of digital humanities. At the most basic level, email, forums, and social media have enabled lightspeed asynchronous communication, changing the way we live, work, and perform scholarship. Physical places—real, historical, and fictional—can be reconstituted in electronic form and made interactive through the use of augmented or virtual reality, posing new opportunities for experiencing the past and the present alike. Emergent online platforms present new and accessible sites of learning.

And yet, while these real, historical, or fictional spaces may indeed be re-envisioned in other forms, how do we keep in mind the specificities and origins that come with a connectedness to particular physical spaces or locales? Scholars in the fields of feminist, post-colonial, and critical race studies have kept these questions at the forefront of their digital humanities practice. As digital humanities scholars, how do we ensure that, for example, the political and social dimensions of gender, race, sexuality, and class—dimensions that exist in physical space—do not get lost in newly emerging digital forms? While thinking through digital space reveals new modes of experience, such as opportunities for community, accessibility, and activism, we might also consider how digital technologies expand, compress, and transform different spaces in specific ways for specific bodies. 

This symposium invites contributions that explore the nature and functions of digital spaces, as well as their connection to the physical world. How does spatial thinking figure into digital projects? How do events and debates in digital spaces transfer to the “real” world, and vice-versa? Is a distinction between analog and digital spaces still valid? Possible topics may include and are by no means limited to:

  • Avatars and representations of bodies in digital spaces.
  • The relationship between digital and physical archives.
  • The implications of “big data” for spatial analysis.
  • The transformation of geography as a discipline in the computer age.
  • Social, cultural, political, and/or religious activity in the digital realm.
  • Digital preservation of archaeological, historical, and cultural sites.
  • Scholarly applications of GIS and network analysis technology.
  • Theoretical approaches for conceptualizing online spaces, bodies, and communities.
  • Hybrid communities spanning the digital and analog worlds.
  • Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) projects.
  • Uses of spatial thinking and technology in the classrooms.
  • The geo-political implications of digital spaces.

We invite individual submissions on past and ongoing digital humanities projects, as well as theoretical examinations of the above topics. We also welcome pre-constituted panels of 3–4 presenters. All submissions should include 300-word abstracts for each 20-minute paper presentation and 100-word bios for each presenter. Please submit all materials via email to UR Mellon Fellows,, by January 31, 2020. Successful applicants will be notified of acceptance by February 15, 2020.

This conference is organized by the current Andrew W. Mellon Digital Humanities Fellows at the University of Rochester. Please contact at the email address above with any questions.


Henry B. Lovejoy, Assistant Professor of History, Center for Research Data and Digital Scholarship, University of Colorado Boulder.

Henry B. Lovejoy, Assistant Professor of History, Center for Research Data and Digital Scholarship, University of Colorado Boulder.

Follow the Drums: Mapping Yorùbá Migrations to Cuba, Brazil and Sierra Leone during the Abolition of the Slave Trade

While scholars have amassed large amounts of data related to the transatlantic slave trade, a more pressing question lingers: Where did those 12.7 million people come from within pre-colonial West Africa before boarding slave ships destined for the Americas? The answer is complex for two reasons: 1) many sub-Saharan peoples did not have written orthographies until the mid-to-late nineteenth century (suggesting their histories were largely undocumented); and 2) Africa lacks reliable historical maps compared to other heavily populated regions of the world (meaning internal geo-political transformations are frequently misunderstood, especially before the colonization and decolonization of the continent). This digital mapping project seeks to visualize and calculate the probabilities of African origins of enslaved people in diaspora by using two open-source applications: Quantum Geographic Information System and R Project for Statistical Computing. By presenting geo-referenced data of intra-African conflict alongside slave ship departures, it is possible to generate statistical models capable of predicting large-scale, inland migrations on an annual basis. This experiment traces Yorùbá migrations during the collapse of the Oyo empire between 1817 and 1836, while emphasizing bàtá drums as a form of literacy that have contributed to the making of the Atlantic world. This interdisciplinary project appeals to scholars interested in exploring the relationship between conflict, slavery and abolition in the Atlantic world.

Symposium Update, April 23, 2020

Dear Colleagues, 

Like many university events, our digital humanities symposium “Digital Spaces, Physical Places,” scheduled to take place on April 16-17, was cancelled due to COVID-19 precautions. However, in the spirit of our symposium theme—an investigation of how the digital complements and alters our sense of physical space—we have decided to move our event online for a virtual symposium. We invite you to join us for our virtual symposium “Digital Spaces, Physical Places,” taking place over Zoom on Friday, May 1st from 11am–4pm EST. Our keynote speaker, Henry Lovejoy, has kindly agreed to give the keynote talk at 3pm that day. More information about his research can be found on his faculty page.

We will post a full schedule here in the following days; until then, we invite you to RSVP to the symposium using this form: A link to the Zoom meeting event will be provided through this event sign-up page. 

We are looking forward to this event in its new format, and hope you will join us for this virtual opportunity to engage in digital humanities scholarship, from scholars in the Rochester area and beyond! 

The UR Mellon Fellows

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