By Ayse Gursoy on July 19, 2012
I sat in on several sessions today, the first day of conferences. In the morning I checked out the short paper session, and later I went to two long paper sessions. All of the talks were interesting, quick paced (only ten minutes each for the short paper sessions, something to watch out for tomorrow!), and made me think of digital humanities in, if not a new, a richer light. The twitter stream (hashtag #dh2012) was lively throughout the day and offered many a chance to respond to the talks (only a few minutes for questions, unfortunately—though questions were many). Some of the key issues according to the twitter stream: the constant issue of digitized versus born-digital projects, the openness of data and access, and the insufferable hardness of the chairs in the lecture halls (no, really).
There were a few talks that resonated with my background and interests, and I’ll probably get to each of them in some way. But I’d like to focus one one of the long papers, and the questions of design, purpose, and audience that it made clear. The talk in question is Claire Ross, presenting “Engaging the Museum Space: Mobilising Visitor Engagement with Digital Content Creation”. While at first glance this might seem like an interesting topic that isn’t directly related to academic research in Digital Humanities, the central question was actually an extremely important one for any DH researcher: how do you get audiences engaged with digital content? Ross’s case study, the use of QRator at UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology, offered one approach to this question. If you have a discussion forum tied to the object on display, accessible with a smartphone or tablet, then give your visitors a tablet and let them talk! We could go on for days about the actual mechanics of this approach or the validity of competing approaches such as short URLs and established social media sites. What I’d like to suggest, however, is that Ross’ talk asks us to reframe the question.
It isn’t about engaging with digital content.
It’s about engaging through digital content.
We need to design systems that unobtrusively let people do what they are already good at doing, that step back and make conversations happen. I know this is hard. I know it might mean changing the definition of “conversation”, or expanding it a teensy bit. But I do believe this will impact digital engagement in a positive way.
I’d like to offer the example of the games Demon’s Souls (From Software, 2009) and Dark Souls (2011). These games feature a unique and much-discussed multiplayer engagement in an essentially single-player game: the two games are always-online (unusual for a single-player game), allowing other players to intrude upon your game. The game has been written about in many places and in better ways than I could right now. But there is one particular engagement that I think is highly relevant here: players can leave messages tied to in-game locations, that appear to any player who accesses that location. Yes, it takes an active will to leave a message, but once that message is placed, any player, not just a player with the equivalent of a smartphone, can read it. The systems that we design for digital engagement with physical spaces need to, dare I say it, intrude upon the corporeal experience of the visitor. And doing this is hard. I don’t pretend to have a solution, but it’s something that’s been on my mind.
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 Whitney Anne Trettien on April 26, 2010
What does it mean to be a Digital Humanist?
In a Dave Parry’s widely-circulated, post-MLA2009 blog post, tauntingly titled “Be Online or be Irrelevant,” Parry argued that social media should be front-and-center in Digital Humanities:
The more digital humanities associates itself with social media the better off it will be. Not because social media is the only way to do digital scholarship, but because I think social media is the only way to do scholarship period.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this claim sparked fierfce debate over the role, nature and future of digital scholarship. Who can claim to be a digital humanist? Do you have to have a PhD? How much coding do you have to know? Are humanities bloggers and twitterers participating in e-scholarship? At the root of it all: how do we (or do we not) want to delimit our community? (more…)
By lisanti on April 20, 2010
Comparative Media Studies (CMS) celebrated its 10th Anniversary! HyperStudio is a research group within CMS and joined several generations of CMS alumni and faculty who gathered to discuss where this program has been and where it’s going. Most of the events were open to the public, and we’ve listed them here. (more…)
By Whitney Anne Trettien on February 8, 2009
The coalescence of Digital Humanities as a field, a discipline, even (at some institutions) a degree-granting department has been a hot topic lately. Inevitably, a few questions float to the top: What will be our standards, and who will decide them? How can we implement peer-review structures into our project work? What is our canon?
And, perhaps the question I hear most often, even from colleagues in the field: What is Digital Humanities, anyway? (more…)
By mcelish on January 27, 2009
Technology changes not only what we do, but also how we do things. This seems an obvious observation. However, the consequences of these changes are far-reaching and demand attention. For example, the internet has profoundly affected the ability and necessity to collaborate among humanities scholars. The very idea of collaboration is something we at the Hypestudio have been thinking a lot about lately. From our US-Iran project (bringing together Iranian and American scholars and policy makers) to our Comédie Française Registers Project (bringing together scholars and archivists from England, France, Australia and US) to Cultura (bringing together students in France and the US in cross-cultural exchange) collaboration is, indeed, the essence of our work. With this blog post, I’d like to begin and open up a discussion about collaboration that I hope to revisit in the coming months.
First published in 2006, the ACLS [American Council of Learned Societies] put together a Commission on Cyberinfrastructure in the Humanities and Social Sciences, chaired by John Unsworth and supported by the Mellon Foundation. The commission report, Our Cultural Commonwealth, underscores the urgent need to develop strategies and tools for scholars to collaborate in the humanities, writing: (more…)
By Whitney Anne Trettien on October 17, 2008
As I’ve discussed at length elsewhere, I’m currently researching moving parts in books for my thesis on seventeenth-century volvelles, or spinning paper discs used to generate language. Unfortunately, digital archives have not been helpful in either identifying or studying these objects. Looking at images like this one –
– only reminds me how different these pages were in person, when I could use my thumbnail to gently turn the wheels against each other, or wiggle the surprisingly sturdy thread contraption holding it all together. (more…)