Indian ambassador Her Excellency Banashri Bose Harrison in HUMlab-X

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn February 13, HUMlab was happy to welcome Her Excellency Banashri Bose Harrison, Ambassador of India.

The Ambassador was very interested in HUMlab and the Digital Industry of the Umeå-Region. After visiting HUMlab-X, the HUMlab student ambassadors gave her a tour of the Arts Campus. During her visit she also met with representatives from Dohi Sweden and Algoryx Simulation!

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Hybrid harmonium, folk dance and potluck fika at HUMlab-X

Yesterday evening HUMlab-X was filled with people eager to learn how to dance swedish folk dance, join in on the potluck fika and find out more about the Hybrid harmonium project – a former church harmonium that through physical computing has been transformed into a player harmonium – a project developed by the artist Anna Neander with support from HUMlab.

During the evening you could also explore our interactive floor screen…and people did!

A big thank you to Umeå folkmusikförening for a great collaboration! And also to the workshop leaders, musicians and all the dancers. This was awesome!

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SDHO – Friday, Critical Making session

Just realised I’m supposed to be blogging.
Excellent fun, but I’m sceptical to the uniqueness ascribed to digital making with respect to any form of making. All material objects have creation processes and intrinsic hidden or visible attributes, and rely on technology in some form (perhaps with the exception of singing and dancing?). These along with their spatial dissociation contribute to any copy of any object being unique in any number of ways, but in the digital world we may, although not always, have more easy access to the accompanying metadata.

The differences between cave painting and digital image production could be considered as purely a matter of scale and complexity. To assume the digital is unique is to underestimate the complexity of human actions and technologies in the past. Creating charcoal and paints requires knowledge, experience and technology – just as the creation of physical and software digital tools does. Admittedly, the copy paste action in a computer simplifies image reproduction, reduces the probability of visual variation between copy and original. But so does the camera, the forger or that frame thing from the 1980′s that allowed you to copy drawings. “…the image on the screen is not even identical to itself.” (Drucker, Speclab, 139) – what does that really mean? Admittedly I’m quoting out of context, but there appears to be a tendency to mystify DH through the use of obtuse and ambiguous expressions. Does the uncritical reader perhaps may assume that if something is difficult to understand then it is of necessity true?

Post by guest blogger:
Dr Philip I Buckland
Senior lecturer in Environmental Archaeology
Director of the SEAD infrastructure
Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society
Dept. Historical, Philosophical & Religious Studies, Umeå University

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The Digital Humanities as a revivalist movement?

We are coming close to the end of the first day of the “Sorting the Digital Humanities Out Workshop”. One of the aims of the workshop is to focus on the intermediate future of the field, and some of the good and interesting discussions are centered on what constitutes Digital Humanities.

As Church historian, previously focusing on Christian revivalist movements in the 19th century, it is not difficult to see some parallels between revivalist movements and the discussion that took place today (and of course before today as well).

The aim of a revivalist movement is to revive Christianity among people. In a Swedish (and a European) 19th century context revivalist movements were either about revitalizing the Swedish state church, or to break away from it to start a free church. The need for reform came out a critique of the current state of the Church. And while state churches are based upon geography, revivalist movements emphasized the community among (true) believers – ecclesiolae in ecclesia. This could go in two ways – they either tried to revive the mother church (and thereby to be confessional), or separate itself from the established Church and initiate free churches.

The confessional revivalist movement had to struggle with their legitimacy toward the mother church, trying to revive it from the inside out of a critique toward it. The free churches could run their own business. I will not go into further parallels regarding charismatic meeting, activity of their preachers, media to spread the Word, and so on.

Is there a lesson to learn? I do not know. However, historical examples give us tools to reason about what is happening in contemporary society. Personally I like the idea of being part of a movement with the aim to revive the field of Humanities, but as many of us can testify – it is not easy. The other (easier?) way is to establish Digital Humanities as a separate field.

What way should the Digital Humanities take? Maybe we will have an answer tomorrow.

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Sorting the Six Minutes Presentation Out

Is it possible to make a six minutes research presentation? Looking at the program for the workshop this morning I thought that this setup might pose some challenges to the speakers. How to boil down your area of interest to a couple of minutes? However, the first set of six speakers managed to, in a very short time, offer a variety of topics, ranging from Intra-face – Rethinking anatomical simulators to Transparence and Open Access. The blend of disciplinary queries also sprawled different aspects of the field of Digital Humanities.

In the short discussion afterwards questions specifically regarding Open Access and Open Internet emerged. Drawing on the presentation of Lindsay Thomson, the participants discussed how the act of making data public does not actually make it public, but rather privatizes it. Focus was also directed to the relation between the digital and the material. These are not to be seen as oppositions but as mutually affecting each other: intra-acting, as Ericka Johnson, drawing on the work of Karen Barad, had it. The participants were presented to questions as diverse as ‘how can the digital encompass different aspects of the material’ and ‘what are the alternatives to Open Access’? Naturally, the only question that received a clear answer was ‘can you make a six minutes presentation’.


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3 x upcoming HUMlab seminars

The next couple of weeks in HUMlab will be exciting. Let me start with the seminars. We will do three seminars in about a week, starting this coming Friday. We expect all seminars to be streamed at The seminars will take place in HUMlab on the main campus (below the University Library). Everyone welcome!

I have heard all these speakers talk about their work in the last couple of month, and was very impressed with the quality of their work and delivery. Highly recommended, and some of the most interesting presentations I have attended recently. Not be missed!

[November 29, 1:15 pm CET]

Crusaders, Arabs, or Phoenicians?: Transmediated Cultural Memory and the Genographic Project’s Genetic Ancestry Research in Lebanon
Brian Johnsrud, Stanford University

James Wertsch argues that cultural memory is distributed between active agents and the cultural tools they employ, making cultural memory fundamentally mediated. The more we employ multiple culturally mediated platforms (e.g. Wikipedia, online history forums) to recall and engage with the past, I argue, the more our memory becomes cultural and transmediated. While Henry Jenkins’ limits his focus on transmedia storytelling to franchises, the notion is helpful for characterizing the diverse, multi-mediated terrain of representations of the past.

Through my ethnographic fieldwork on the popular reception of National Geographic’s Genographic Project genetic ancestry studies, I question how transnational relations interact with new media as transcultural tools to accept, negotiate, or contest local and global identity politics. The Phoenician and Crusader pasts were employed to justify sectarian violence during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-90), and afterward many of these histories were officially censored in a work of national amnesia. That is, they remained silenced until The Genographic Project created a scientific narrative that resurrected the contemporary significance of these controversial pasts through multiple, transmediated platforms.

After three years of intermittent participant observation in Genographic labs in Lebanon, I conducted 30 in-depth interviews with Lebanese individuals who received genetic ancestry results that marked them as patrilineal descendants of Phoenicians, Arabs, or medieval European Crusaders. The interviews focused on participants’ reception and interpretation of their genetic results and the kinship networks and print, digital, or online media they employed to interpret, negotiate, or creatively remediate their newfound relationship with the past.

This paper emphasizes the effectiveness of comparative, multi-sited ethnography and semi-structured, case study interviewing. These methods are particularly useful for exploring the transnational co-construction of the past in new realms like ancestry genetics and their transmediated representations in scientific reports, online communities, and international news coverage. My findings reorient cultural memory studies and our notion of the public or private “archive” by attending to to audience reception and socially mediated engagements with the past.

[December 4, 1:15 pm CET]
Objectivity and Evidence in Digital Humanities: The Case of the Missing Palaeographer Seminar
Peter Stokes, King’s College London.

Digital Humanities has sometimes been described as a ‘metadiscipline’, insofar as it involves methods, approaches and issues which apply directly to many different research areas in the Humanities. For example, bringing computers to the Humanities has raised questions such as the nature of evidence in Humanities arguments, the desirability or otherwise of quantitative methods in this, and the role (if any) of objectivity. Certainly these questions are not new – they have been discussed actively for decades or even centuries – but they have reemerged with new urgency in recent years partly because of technological developments.

A good example of this is palaeography, where a long-standing debate over whether the field should or can be ‘scientific’ has been reignited in part due to the widespread advent of digital images and the computing power to process them. The resulting burst of work in ‘computational’ palaeography has found very limited acceptance in the field, raising the question where the ‘traditional’ palaeographer is in this new field of ‘digital palaeography’. In this seminar I will therefore focus on these questions, looking at how they have been addressed in the DigiPal project and how they apply them to Digital Humanities more generally. These will include quantitative and qualitative approaches and the desire for objectivity, but also questions regarding what Humanities scholars might want from computers, a possible disjunction between computational ‘answers’ and the humanists’ need for meaning, and even what it means to digitize content at all.

[December 4, 3:00 pm CET]
The authority of the live: The on-stage redeployment of journalistic authority
Christine Larson, Stanford University

Live publishing—the production of editorially driven live events and spin-off content by media companies—has become a significant media platform for many of America’s largest newspapers and business magazines.This article draws on interviews with executives at ten media companies involved in live publishing, and on participant-observation at two conferences produced by The Wall Street Journal, America’s largest newspaper. Contrary to narratives positing the decline of journalistic authority, this research presents live publishing as a site where journalists deploy traditional discourses of authority and expertise to establish their position as conveners of intersecting networks of sources, audience members and sponsors. In this way, they extract value from the immaterial networks of sources and readers that underlie their work. Taken more broadly, live publishing demonstrates how workers and organizations in cultural industries transform and redeploy authority into new systems of networked power.


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the humanistiscope

Erica Robles, now at NYU, and I discussed infrastructure a couple of years ago using the term “humanistiscope” as a way of thinking about and packaging humanities infrastructure. We are doing other infrastructure-related work together now, but I am still thinking about the humanistiscope – and am now wrapping up a chapter on it and situated humanities infrastructure. This is the current version first paragraph (obviously a teaser mainly for infrastructurally inclined people):

The humanities have a complex relation to infrastructure. Humanists engage with infrastructure – the university itself, digital systems and tools, cultural heritage institutions, seminar rooms and networked computing – on a daily basis. They also carry out critical work on infrastructures through looking at matters such as the history of scientific instrumentation and the social, cultural and political situatedness of systems such as national infrastructures. However, when it comes to thinking about the humanities in terms of infrastructure, there seems to be a lack of both every-day systemic awareness and extensive critical work. Humanists do not thus necessarily think of what they do as situated and conditioned in terms of infrastructure, which leads to challenges when it comes to imagining and implementing new infrastructures. This challenge is also one of moving from critical sensibility to creative, if conditioned, making, which often does not come easy to the humanities. There is therefore a real risk that new humanities infrastructures will be based on existing infrastructures, often filtered through the technological side of the humanities, or predominant models from science and engineering rather than the core and central needs of the humanities. This is arguably a very important concern and possibility for the humanities. This chapter explores the conditions necessary to allow the imagination and implementation of humanities-based infrastructures as conceptually, critically and materially situated.

The humanistiscope is a rhetorical and actual device to help us think about and implement infrastructure. More on this topic later!

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