By Whitney Anne Trettien on February 14, 2011
Walking through MIT to reach HyperStudio’s home base, you pass man-sized aluminum tanks of cryogenic nitrogen and share elevators with lab-coated technicians escorting racks of test tubes. It can be a bizarre world for a humanities scholar; yet the scientific labs with which HyperStudio shares a building are increasingly put forward as a model for Digital Humanities work — in fact, for the Humanities, writ large.
It’s easy to see why. Labs are collaborative environments where work, writing and credit is distributed. Labs are also “hands on” and experimental: things are poked, prodded and pulled apart; objects are made; hypotheses are tested. And, unlike in the humanities, teaching and research aren’t strongly distinguished in labs, since students — even undergraduates — are often solicited to assist with experiments.
But scientific labs aren’t the only model for future work in the humanities. During MLA, Kari Kraus pointed to the studio arts, emphasizing the role of process, building and design in evaluating Digital Humanities projects. I’m drawn to this idea not only for the kind of physical workspace it imagines humanists collaborating in, but for what it suggests about how humanities scholars should position themselves in relation to the world — namely, as individuals whose curiosity drives them to produce things that sparks the curiosity of others.
Last year, I began keeping a sketchbook in my office. Mentally, it’s the best addition I’ve ever made to my workspace. Whereas ruled lines demand writing, blank paper is an open field; and in the span of the month, I had already filled two books with everything from bored doodles to project designs mindmapping current research.
The search for models isn’t just about the kinds of physical spaces we want to work in, but the identities — artists, creators, designers, playsmiths — we choose for ourselves. Like a personal identity, the search doesn’t end: it evolves.
What other spaces inspire you to cross interdisciplinary boundaries? What changes in your methods of work have sparked more collaborative work?
By Anna van Someren on February 2, 2011
The Humanities Center at Harvard is hosting Digital Humanities 2.0: Emerging Paradigms in the Arts and Humanities, a conversation moderated by John Palfrey with the following media theorists and scholars:
- Anne Burdick, chair of the Media Design Program at Art Center College of Design and Design Editor of Electronic Book Review
- Johanna Drucker, Martin and Bernard Breslauer Professor in the Department of Information Studies at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA, and author of SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing, (University of Chicago Press, 2009)
- Peter Lunenfeld, professor in the Design | Media Arts department at UCLA, whose books include The Secret War Between Downloading and Uploading: Tales of the Computer as Culture Machine (MIT, 2011) and Snap to Grid: A User’s Guide to Digital Arts, Media, and Cultures (MIT, 2000)
- Todd Presner, professor of Germanic Languages, Comparative Literature, and Jewish Studies at the University of California Los Angeles, and founder and director of HyperCities, a collaborative, digital mapping platform that explores the layered histories of city spaces
- Jeffrey Schnapp, founder of the Stanford Humanities Lab, prolific author, Berkman Center Fellow, and currently launching a new open source virtual world entitled Sirikata.
Thompson Room, Barker Center 110, 12 Quincy Street Cambridge. The event is free and open to the public, with limited seating.
By Kurt Fendt on January 26, 2011
Please join us for an all day Digital Humanities Workshop with Brett Bobley, Director of the Office of Digital Humanities (ODH), National Endowment for the Humanities, jointly held on January 27, 2011 at MIT and Harvard University.
Here’s the program for both MIT and Harvard:
10:00 to 11:45 (Spofford Room: Room 1-236, Building 1, Second Floor)
Talk by Brett Bobley, Chief Information Officer and Director, NEH Office of Digital Humanities
“Emerging Trends in the Digital Humanities & the NEH Funding Landscape”
Abstract: Brett Bobley will talk about emerging trends in the digital humanities in the context of NEH-funded projects. He will cover a wide variety of projects that cover numerous disciplines and technological methods. He will also talk a bit about projects that study the impact of technology on scholarship and the academy.
2:30 – 5:00 Three Part Digital Humanities Grant Workshop, Barker Center Room 133
1. MIT Faculty Presentations:
Prof. Jeff Ravel, History: The Comédie-Française Registers Project
Prof. Fox Harrell, Writing/Comparative Media Studies/Computer Science: Gesture, Rhetoric, and Digital Storytelling
Prof. Jim Buzzard, Head of Literature: The Serial Experience Project
Wyn Kelley, Senior Lecturer in Literature: Melville Remix and the Melville Electronic Library
2. Harvard Faculty Presentations:
Prof. Peter K. Bol, East Asian Languages and Civilizations
Ben Lewis: World Map
Prof. Afsaneh Najmabadi, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
3. Brett Bobley (NEH):
Abstract: Brett Bobley, Director of the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities, will highlight funding opportunities at the NEH for digital projects. He will also discuss and highlight some recently funded projects in a variety of humanities disciplines. He will provide examples of successful grant proposals and discuss grant writing strategies for digital humanities projects.
By Anna van Someren on November 1, 2010
HyperStudio participated in the MIT-Haiti “Best Practices for Reconstruction: Technology-enhanced and Open Education in Haitian Universities” Symposium (October 21-22), which brought Haitian University professors together with MIT faculty, staff and technologists to discuss rebuilding Haiti’s educational infrastructure. Based on HyperStudio’s experience in developing educational projects for language and culture, Executive Director Kurt Fendt shared a presentation describing an approach which would engage Haitian students in building identity awareness, linguistic, cultural, and global skills. Given the linguistic situation in Haiti – 90% of Haitians are native speakers of Kreyòl for whom French, as the official language in education, is inaccessible – these skills would be developed through two core educational components: documenting heritage by working closely with planned oral history projects in Haiti and strengthening cultural awareness by developing cross-cultural curricula and integrating them in a variety of university courses.
Links of interest:
Read MIT News article “Build Back Better” on the Haiti Symposium.
Photo credit: Jeff Merriman.
By mcelish on August 23, 2010
We wanted to let you know that all the talks and presentations from our spring Visual Interpretations conference are now available to watch online!
Check out the keynotes on MITWorld:
Johanna Drucker (UCLA): Humanistic Approaches to the Graphical Expression of Interpretation
Lev Manovich (UC San Diego): How to Read 1,000,000 Manga Pages: Visualizing Patterns in Games, Comics, Art, Cinema, Animation, TV, and Print Media
Ben Shneiderman (University of Maryland): Visual Overviews for Cultural Heritage: Interactive Exploration for Scholars in the Humanities, Arts, and Beyond
Martin Wattenberg (Many Eyes/IBM): Numbers, Words and Colors
In addition, all the other conference sessions were documented and you can browse videos of these sessions on TechTV.
By Whitney Anne Trettien on August 17, 2010
- The above comments are based in part on a presentation I gave along with Elisabeth Nevins and Chris Baron at the American Association of Museums’ recent conference, “Technology, Interpretation and Education.” The session archive is available with a log-in.
- The prototype version of “Tories, Timid or True Blue?” is available here.
By yorkc on August 4, 2010
What is a date? A seemingly trivial question, and perhaps Foucault would not appreciate the tongue-in-cheek tribute to his influential essay on authors. However, as digital humanists move to embrace online timeline tools and explore new ways to visualize temporal relationships, it’s worth examining whether the fundamental unit of a timeline, the “date,” fits our expectations. How do humanists use dates? Are these dates the same as computer dates, whose implementation reflects generations of software engineers filling specific needs in operating system and programming language design? By contrast, what is a humanities date “for”? As part of Hyperstudio’s exploration of digital humanities timelines, this series of four blog posts will probe the boundary between humanists’ dates and computer dates, with an eye to the practical consequences for timelining.
The author’s name, if nothing else, provides a convenient way to order a shelf of books. (Consider this Foucault for digital librarians.) Readers examining an unfamiliar novel by Jane Austen, nevertheless approach it with certain expectations in terms of genre, milieu, quality and so on conditioned by its shelf-mates by Austen. However, one could just as easily order the books by publication date, a scheme that might instead sensitize readers to the grand sweep of prior thought and inculcate a notion of the changing concerns of particular eras: an intellectual timeline, if you will.
Much like reading through a box of ordered letters between a group of close correspondents, classification by date rather than author presents an invitation: to periodize, to speculate about influence and intention, about cause and effect, to draw connections between seemingly disparate events and to situate specifics in context. Beyond all of these, it brings into contrast missing evidence, whose absence is otherwise hidden. In an ordered file of Beethoven’s correspondence, a wide silence opens in reply to his impassioned letter to his “Immortal Beloved”—immediately sparking curiosity and date-based inquiries. Did Beethoven destroy her reply, if any? Which female accomplice could he potentially have met in Karlsbad in July 1812?
Or, return to the analogy of a date-ordered library: here the shelves corresponding to materials from the Library of Alexander would doubtless stretch empty miles to mark Caesar’s careless torch. Wallace and Darwin’s books would jostle each other a mere call year apart. Horrified accounts of Aztec human sacrifice would take up dialog with neighbouring Counter-Reformation tracts and religious self-examination. As these and other cases suggest, viewing the world through the ordering lens of dates incites us to explore not just presences but also significant absences, explore unseen connections, periodize and debate influence and affiliation.
Carlo Ginzburg aptly terms the humanistic process “sleuthing,” and points out that its modus operandi bears more resemblance to Sherlock Holmes’ technique of close observation, with inferences drawn from many scattered clues, than it does to a scientist’s exploration of phenomena through repeated experiments. In the world I suggest above, ordered and examined through the lens of dates, the sleuth comes furnished with tools for several different kinds of temporal inference. Forensic accumulation accounts for some—for example, consider John Snow’s famous conclusion that the London cholera outbreak on 1854 was somehow tied to the water pump at Broad Street in Soho. Here the sheer number of cholera cases with dates within a single week suggested an affiliation or causal influence.
However, the accumulation of dates just as easily suggests inadequacies in the evidence. To take another cholera case: wandering through Neapolitan graveyards and noting the curious prevalence of dates around 1910-11 prompted historian Frank Snowden to uncover another cholera epidemic, which Naples’ council authorities had systematically covered up, for fear of damaging the city’s international trade. Here the accumulation of dates and silences conspired to suggest new avenues of research beyond the official timeline.
The addition of new dates in a series can completely reposition the accepted interpretation of an historical situation, and the motivations and affiliations of the actors involved. When Fidel Castro revealed (decades afterward) that he had in October 1962 requested that the Soviets launch an all-out nuclear strike on the United States—the missiles were already in place—it prompted scholars to re-envision the international dynamic of the era. Kennedy’s “finest moment” as a firm, strategic negotiator with the Soviet Union was revealed, as well, as the moment when the US pushed Cuba to trigger armageddon.
Perhaps more important than virtuoso interpretations of individual events, however, viewing knowledge by date develops a sensitivity for periodization: an intuitively-understood affiliation between specific circumstances and their larger context. So the mention of an American conscientious objector in 1970 immediately suggests a set of concerns and a timeline relevant to the Vietnam war, and a wider shift in American attitudes towards nationalism and citizenship. Or, the story of a Sephardic merchant in 1550s Amsterdam immediately identifies a specific milieu, probably involving Jewish persecution in the Spanish or Portuguese Inquisitions. Likewise, someone with a keen knowledge of Detroit would summon up very different pictures of the city in the 1950s golden era of unions, and in today’s economic hardship. So the process of seeing through dates may involve engagement with specific incidents; but the end proficiency is often aggregate, a form of cultural literacy involving rough knowledge of periods and milieux more than mastery of detail.
Hence, to the over-general question posed earlier, “what is a humanities date for?” we can scribble at least the beginnings of a list. Dates constitute an invitation to consider problems of influence and affiliation, to ponder the difficult boundary between co-occurrence and cause and effect, to situate specific incidents in context, to develop rough maps of periodization. This does not, of course, advocate for the primacy of timelining over other ways of seeing. Returning to the library metaphor: there is nothing necessary or natural about organizing knowledge, whether books or otherwise, according to either date or author. Pragmatic factors, such as the physical organization of a library as a “user-interface” could just as easily dominate. Hence it should come as no surprise that Harvard Library’s first catalog in 1723 classified books according to their size and Latin title. No doubt a similar rationale impels package stores to sort scotches onto the top shelf and trial sizes together elsewhere: this conserves shelf space, is esthetically harmonious, and correlates clientele with stocking patterns.
By contrast, how did the dates used by computers develop, and do they lend themselves to humanities timelining? The remaining posts in this series will consider, in turn, time and mechanical calculation; the genealogy of the computer date; and adapting computing dates to humanities purposes.
Next week: Time and mechanical calculation
Further materials on this post.
Michel Foucault, “What is an Author?” Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. Ithaca: Cornell University Press (1977).
Carlo Ginzburg, “Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes: Clues and Scientific Method.” History Workshop 9 (Spring 1980): 5-36.
Maynard Solomon, Beethoven. New York: Schirmer (1977).
Frank Snowden, Naples in the Time of Cholera, 1884-1911. Cambridge University Press (1995).
James Blight and janet Lang, Fog of war: lessons from the life of Robert S. McNamara. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield (2005).
John Caserta, “Lost in Time: The Decline and Fall of the Universal Library.” Harpers Magazine (Jan 2000).
Hayden White, Metahistory: the historical imagination in Nineteenth-century Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press (1973).
By Whitney Anne Trettien on July 24, 2010
At Digital Humanities 2010 this month, Christopher York and I had the privilege of presenting a poster on HyperStudio’s “Emergent Time,” a prototype collaboration tool for humanities working with timeline narratives. As often happens at conferences, the poster itself was less important than the many fascinating conversations it sparked. Here’s a few threads of discussion running through the conference:
- Digital Humanities is an unusually strong, friendly and supportive scholarly community; but we need to be better at publicly displaying these strengths. Melissa Terras’ keynote, “Present, Not Voting: Digital Humanities in the Panopticon,” was a rousing call for DH scholars to more actively argue for their relevance in the academy, both as a way of securing our discipline’s future and as a way of strengthening the bonds between us. While there’s the danger of “over-disciplining” (I worry about this, perhaps futilely, even as I recognize the value of disciplinary status), developing better presentation methods and stronger arguments for our work can only help us.
- That being said, digital humanities is still a “big tent.” I had the pleasure of meeting archivists, computer scientists, librarians, embroiderers, literary historians, lab directors, philosophers, linguists — the list goes on and on. And, while the field diversity itself was perhaps not novel to most participants, used to crossing borders, the widespread acceptance of this diversity perhaps was. In fact, most participants I talked with came to and stuck with DH for different reasons. Perhaps more interestingly, I met others in London, outside the conference, who were clearly doing DH work but did not identify with the broader community. It’s difficult to reconcile the pressures of consolidation, articulated by Melissa, and the need to remain open to multiple, even conflicting approaches.
- There are many young and/or emergine scholars and students involved in Digital Humanities. Precisely because the sense of community is so strong in DH, it can be difficult for them to break into the pack. As we think about alternative conferencing formats, it’s also worth thinking of ways to welcome newbies to the community – not so much teaching them the ropes (which arguably don’t exist) so much as inviting them to contribute their own ideas, forming new partnerships and spaces for collaboration. Although I was unable to attend, I imagine the pre-conference THATCamp could (and perhaps did) serve this purpose.
By Anna van Someren on July 2, 2010
with Dave Della Costa and Kurt Fendt
How to visualize a conference on visual interpretations?
After all the exciting talks, presentations, conversations, and Tweets at the humanities + digital conference on Visual Interpretations in May and the great feedback we received afterward, we at HyperStudio were wondering how to process and present this information. Our idea was to figure out a way to represent the whole conference, including the program schedule, presentation abstracts, and Twitter feeds, in a visually appealing way. One way to begin quickly surfaced: why not use our own Chronos Timeline to visualize the whole conference in a time-based manner?
Chronos, developed by HyperStudio’s software engineers Brett Barros and Dave Della Costa, has been conceived as a flexible web application that can be integrated into several of our projects. For example, below is a short video displaying Chronos within our US-Iran Relations Project. This project brings scholars and policymakers from both countries together to explore the period following the Islamic revolution in Iran and consider why improvements in bilateral relations did not occur. To facilitate this exploration, we’re creating a collaborative, multilingual research environment that allows scholars and policymakers to explore thousands of original documents from Mohammed Khatemi’s presidency in Iran and to compare and contrast views of events. Below you can see how Chronos displays a subset of events during the Iran-Iraq war, along with related tags, providing a multidimensional way to explore a data set.
By Kurt Fendt on June 3, 2010
Visualize this: over 250 participants, conversing, asking questions, discussing ideas both old and new, generating cross-disciplinary dialogue on the methods, aesthetics, and implications of data visualization in the humanities and social sciences. From the auditorium and atrium on the ground floor of MIT’s old Media Lab to the roof deck of MIT’s new Media Lab building, humanists, visual artists, computer scientists, librarians and many more engaged in an intense weekend: 3 days, 4 keynotes, 63 presentations, 250 participants – HyperStudio’s inaugural humanities+digital conference. (more…)