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’.

Yes!

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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 http://live.humlab.umu.se/. 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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Busy days in the labs!

It’s been busy days in the labs…

On tuesday and wednesday HUMlab-X hosted the seminar <Innan_punkt> in collaboration with Länsbiblioteket i Västerbotten. A seminar that explores the possibilities of using digital tools to visualize the process of writing fiction. The project is a pilot study and we were happy to see authors and researchers from various fields coming together, sharing knowledge and participate in the discussions.

More info about the seminar and the participants can be seen here.

 

On thursday evening it was time for Game Bonanza at HUMlab, main campus. The theme was grounded in LGBT cultures and sexism in the world of games and gaming – on representations, stereotypes and taboo – as well as the problem of not being able to discuss that there are problems.

Maria Myhr, freelance journalist for Level on E-sports and MMO and Michael Gill, freelance journalist and one of Sweden’s most notable game critics first held lectures and then we went over to gaming…

 

 

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No Game No Gain: Digital space, and the Emergence of the Homo Academicus Ludens

As I recently visited the University of Adelaide, for a conference on ‘Censorship from Plato to Wikileaks’, I came to reflect upon the materiality of space and how it affects our thought processes. Fittingly organized by departments across a vibrant university campus, the conference invitation read: “we invite all scholars and researchers in all areas of the Humanities and all periods of history to explore important themes on the limitations of freedom of expression in act, thought, or speech. How do analogue and digital meeting spaces facilitate, inspire, and enhance our research? In the course of three full days, this question ran through my mind as I attended excellent presentations, engaged in discussion, exchanged ideas, visited art spaces: the social arena a conference signals. The materiality of any social space, let that be physical or digital is central to the composition of new, brilliant ideas.

From an organizational, spatial viewpoint, the University of Adelaide is a lot like Cambridge or Oxford; Every college is composed by a vibrant group of academics who live there: a multicultural community of individuals who pursue their research, dine and socialize in the same (analogue) space. Researchers and students originate from different disciplines and faculties; some people know each other, some others worked together in projects before, some are just about to start on a new promising position, and so on. No wonder so many interesting discussions came up at the dinner table. Indeed. The primal acts of dining together, exchanging information and making plans go well beyond the hunter-gatherer model –and onto the sphere of what I jokingly coin as the Homo Academicus Sedens;[i] the sitting, academic human (let’s face it, we spend most of our time sitting in front of our post-human extensions: screens, keyboards, and the like) and his peers are accounting the day that is over, sharing plans for an academic visit, even congratulating one another on a newly acquired grant. Great ideas come after verbal interaction in a designated meeting space. How do spaces ‘make’ our research and creative thought processes? Has the Homo Academicus Sedens in 2013 evolved since Darwin, Linnaeus, Erasmus?

Just consider the endlessness of global academia: travelling is extremely important for rounding up one’s academic experience. New spaces, new people, new thought processes. The European union indeed seems to support academic exchange from an early stage. Take, for instance, the Erasmus programme that supports academic exchange between European Institutions. In a recent article in La Europa, Umberto Eco spoke about the importance of culture. ‘It’s culture, not war, that cements European identity’. I would like to paraphrase Eco’s excellent point and extend this notion beyond Europe, or any other continent and nationality. It is culture, indeed, that cements any identity, but also the (social) materiality of space, and interactive play that enables communication in both analogue and digital spaces.  Allow me to add, please, that very notion of space as a place for social and physical interaction requires that we take into consideration both human culture and nature alike.

If I am allowed the banality of citing my long-term crush, Aristotle’s well-known passage in the Politics is an important insight into the classical understanding of the normative human condition as one sandwiched in-between these two extremes.

‘It is clear therefore that the state (community) is also prior by nature to the individual; for if each individual when separate is not self-sufficient, he must be related to the whole state as other parts are to their whole, while a man who is incapable of entering into partnership, or who is so self-sufficing that he has no need to do so, is no part of a state, so that he must be either a beast or a god’.

(1253a 27-29)

For Aristotle, any community is the consequence of nature and culture and it is formed through a delicate equilibrium between individual and the whole. Interaction and communication are the fruit of this crystalline, dainty balance. There are digital meeting spaces where communal identity is discussed, questioned, formed. Academics often share experiences and thoughts in the digital realm, through databases, social media, and so on. Database discussions, blogs, and mailing lists keep us together, from Warsaw to Honolulu, and Darwen to Afghanistan. Beyond the realm of academia.edu our current engagement with technology as individuals, educators, researchers, is stronger than ever. Even our hobbies take place in digital spaces- for example, gaming environments. And there emerges the Homo Academicus Ludens[ii] the young and cheerful evolution of the Homo Academicus Sedens that enjoys dwelling in digital, interactive environments; She (or he) is fully aware that there is an extra technological, artificial space where the lonely or not-that-lonely-really scholar is required to cope with monsters, move libraries, excavate, eliminate zombies, and these may or may not affect her (or his) research. The very engagement with gaming, or even better, game-making itself also ensures that the Homo Academicus Ludens is aware of the basic components of a computer game: space, sprites, events. These elements are key to forming a decent conceptual image of the desired research objective.

The use of technology to convey information, through an interactive, participatory, engaging, even gaming space can facilitate traditional and avant-garde questions alike (See Drucker 2009 and Lindhé 2013). Take for instance my current project on reframing ancient entertainment spaces: the digital ludi- (term coined by Beacham: 2012). The very process of ‘making’ an interactive environment gently pushes the researcher to take into consideration space, sprites, events: arrangements of environment, embodied agents, incidents. In order for one to orchestrate materiality and social realism in a geographically and chronologically remote context, every little chunk of information matters. Tangible evidence (literary, material) is easier than intangible (movement, navigation, sounds) that one has to reconstruct with tender loving care. The Romans and ‘us’ might be the same species yet we are indeed divided by technological progress. To quote Betts (2011)

‘in the Roman period, the loudest sound heard would have been a thunderclap (120 decibels)… Compare this to a city of the early twenty- first century, where constant, average, traffic noise reaches 80 decibels.’

In other words, one can reconstruct a happy dinner at Kathleen Lumley college where Singapore Laksa is served, but they only reproduce its conceptual image. The Homo Academicus Ludens is still a happy baby, crawling about, considering the gamification of knowledge, testing things out, making mistakes, but overall having fun and learning through the process of conceptualizing images for a graphic, digital medium.

Back at the University of Adelaide, the inaugural professorial talk was delivered by professor Frederick Ahl (see caption below), perhaps one of the most influential Latinistis of our times. Professor Ahl’s speech was about his latest translation of Virgil’s Aeneid for Oxford University Press. Professor Ahl tried to incorporate elements of interactivity within the text itself that are identified in Latin but not in English. Puns, anagrams, overindulgence in sounds, were but some of his observations. He rounded up his comment with an interesting, anachronistic simile: ‘modern (and ancient) audiences alike should consider Virgil’s Aeneid an intensively interactive text that unfolds before the reader in the form of an interactive computer game.’ Imagination conveyed through visual media is one thing, however there is no doubt that if Virgil’s readers in 2013 see the parallel between an Epic as old as Europe and an interactive computer game, a toddler Homo Academicus Ludens is reframing old and new questions, and the communication of knowledge altogether through the primal action of playing.

PS: Last week I attended Carl-Erik Engqvist’s seminar on Gamemaker at HUMlabX. Please notice my mini game (only two levels! Caption below). I called it Space Debris. It obviously takes place above the Earth’s atmosphere. I never thought it would be that easy. Too much fun…to paraphrase Levi Strauss: Games are good to think with.


[i] Please allow me to remind you that Linnaeus coined the term homo in Latin to describe the genus that is separated from the earlier hominids because of the emergence of tool use, language and culture. Homo refers to human. Not man, unless you are a 1970s anthropologist who enjoys flying small planes over Borneo. It is 2013: get over it, we are gender-cool.

[ii] Homo Ludens (Playing human) is a book written in 1938 by historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga. He discusses the importance of the play element of culture and society. Huizinga uses the term play theory within the book to define the conceptual space in which play occurs. Huizinga suggests that play is primary to and a necessary (though not sufficient) condition of the generation of culture.

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Visualizing the Classics

Anvil Academic and Dickinson College Commentaries announce the availability of a $1,000 prize for the best scholarly visualization of data in the field of classical studies submitted during 2013. Two runners-up will be awarded prizes of $500 each.

Submissions must include:
• one or more visual representations of data that involves some linguistic component (Latin, Greek, or another ancient language of the Greco-Roman worlds), but may also include physical, geospatial, temporal, or other data;
• a research question and narrative argument that describes the conclusions drawn from the data and the visualization; and
• the source data itself

Submissions in any and all sub-fields of classical studies, including pedagogical approaches, are welcome from any individual or team. The three winning submissions will be published by Anvil under a Creative Commons license (CC-BY-ND). The visualizations themselves and the narratives that accompany them will be published on Anvil’s website. The source data may be published there as well; though in any case the source data must be in some published form and included, even if only via link, with the submission. Submissions will be evaluated by the panel of reviewers listed below on the criteria of scholarly contribution, effectiveness of the visualization, accuracy and relevance of the data, and the cogency of the conclusions drawn. Existing digital projects are welcome to submit entries, which must be formatted in a way that can be republished by Anvil, as described above.

Please contact Fred Moody (fmoody@anvilacademic.org)  or Chris Francese (francese@dickinson.edu) with any questions.
Deadline for submission: December 31, 2013, to fmoody@anvilacademic.org; only submissions in electronic form will be considered.

Panel of reviewers:
John Bodel, W. Duncan MacMillan II Professor of Classics and Professor of History, Brown University
Alison Cooley, Reader & Deputy Head, Department of Classics & Ancient History, University of Warwick
Gregory Crane, Professor of Computer Science, Tufts University, and Humboldt Professor, Universität Leipzig
Lin Foxhall, Professor of Greek Archaeology and History, Head of School, School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester
Chris Francese, Professor of Classical Studies, Dickinson College
Jonathan Hall, Phyllis Fay Horton Distinguished Service Professor in the Humanities and Professor of History and Classics, University of Chicago
Dominique Longrée, Professor of Classics, University of Liège and Saint-Louis University, Brussels
Andrew M. Riggsby, Professor of Classics and Art History, University of Texas at Austin
Greg Woolf, Professor of Ancient History, University of St. Andrews

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