Tools of the Trade Conference
Cross posted from https://sites.harvard.edu/tools-of-the-trade/about
On March 14-16, 2023, immediately prior to the Association for Asian Studies annual meeting in Boston, Harvard will host an international conference on the transition from print to digital tools, databases, and platforms in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Buddhist studies, sponsored by the several research institutes and libraries concerned with East Asia at Harvard.
The Conference will have plenary sessions, at which leaders of libraries and research centers in China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Europe, North America, and Buddhist studies will address their respective strategies for development and which we hope will spark comparisons and contrasts, mutual learning, and considerations of improving connectivity across national boundaries. There will be workshops which discuss new technologies and methods that are not language specific. There will be center presentations at which leading digital humanities/scholarship centers and libraries introduce the works they have created. Finally, there will be exemplary projects to introduce particular tools, platforms, databases, and platforms. For workshops and exemplary projects we expect to have a combination of invited presenters and a selection of those who respond to the call-for-presentations.
The Rationale for the Conference
The invention of printing extended the dissemination of tools to support research—dictionaries, bibliographies, atlases, text corpora, and more. One might say that the modern research library is the most important of all “tools.” Yet it dates only to the late nineteenth century in the US and later for East Asian Studies. The demand for new research tools began when the turn away from traditional training led to a need for new ways of discovering information beyond the texts. The Harvard-Yenching Institute Sinological Index Series (1931-50) of 64 titles ranging from the Confucian classics to Japanese scholarship of the 20th century was the first of these new research tools. Through the 1990s there were major investments of scholarly time in the creation of a variety of print tools to support modern scholarship and some began to be published digitally.
Today, the bulk of investment in tools for East Asian studies goes into the development of digital technologies and less and less goes into research tools in print. Mirroring these trends, usage at research libraries has become overwhelmingly digital. This conference begins from a recognition of the long history of research tool building and proceeds to ask how the advent of digital technologies is changing the nature of the tools themselves and user expectations. What are the changes in skill sets required for the developers of research tools to meet the shift from print to digital? What do digital technologies allow that print media did not? Does the low marginal cost of wide dissemination change publication strategies? Can political and linguistic barriers be overcome so that different databases and platforms can be productively linked together? What are the funding and institutional models necessary to sustain research tools in a digital environment? These are questions that concern us all.
The idea for the conference began with the Asia Center’s publication of the sixth and final print edition of Endymion Wilkinson’s Chinese History: A New Manual, fifty years after the first edition. The Asia Center Publications Program and the Fairbank Center will unveil the curated web-platform version of the manual at the conference and recognize Wilkinson’s fifty years of work on critically assessing the historical sources and research tools for the study of China. We soon decided to extend the discussion to the past and digital future of research tools in East Asian studies across the world. The conference is supported by the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, the Korea Institute, the Reischauer Institute for Japanese Studies, the Asia Center, the Harvard-Yenching Library, the Harvard Yenching Institute, the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, and generous donors.