Sept. 23, 2010

Digital humanities initiatives inform new approaches to research, art, media

Scholars are exploring the potentials and challenges of the digital humanities through collaborative initiatives sponsored by Cornell's Society for the Humanities.

Cornell graduate students in the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC) Scholars Program are pursuing digital humanities projects across the disciplines, Society Director Timothy Murray said.

In addition, a group of Cornell humanists, information scientists and librarians have teamed with colleagues at a University of Toronto humanities center, and a lecture series was developed to spur conversations on new approaches to scholarship -- and topics including art, technology and culture, tech-based vs. traditional research and interactive media.

"The Society for the Humanities is pleased to take the leadership at Cornell for advancing awareness of national projects in the digital humanities, from textual editions and historical visualizations to artistic experimentation and theoretical reflection," Murray said.

Last spring, the society hosted five lectures in the A.D. White House that featured influential scholars and practitioners.

In March, Associate University Librarian Oya Rieger presented "Framing Digital Humanities: Perspectives on the Role of New Media in Scholarship," sharing findings from her Cornell dissertation research on how humanists use digital technology, and the perceived benefits or drawbacks. After surveying 45 humanists from 20 institutions, themes that emerged included multimodal scholarly production using non-textual forms, changes in interdisciplinary practices, evolving notions of distance and place, and interactions with social collaboration media.

"I saw technology as a facilitator of scholarly communication and wanted to explore the role of new media on humanists' research and collaboration patterns," said Rieger, who discovered that "core practices were still prevailing even as new practices were emerging."

While some scholars said the digital realm made the research process more efficient, others continued to trust printed works and physical research environments. "You can tell the breadth of related material in a field by browsing library stacks or journals," she said.

Rieger also discussed intellectual property, critical studies of digital culture, and benefits for scholars, including access.

The Digital Humanities Lecture Series, co-sponsored by the Mellon Central New York Humanities Corridor, began in February with "Digital Humanities Meet Digital Arts," a conversation between Dartmouth professor of digital humanities Mary Flanagan, who specializes in game research; Murray; and Kent Kleinman, dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. Flanagan also gave a public lecture, "Utopia Is Not Enough," sponsored by the Department of Art.

Anne Balsamo, professor of interactive media and communications at the University of Southern California, spoke March 17 on "Designing Culture: Digital Humanities and Technological Innovation."

In April, Laura Mandell, of Miami University of Ohio, presented "Close and Distant Readings: Archives, Visualization and Other Matters." Mandell has a leading role in the Modern Language Association's plans for digital scholarship. Visiting Scholar Erin Manning, the fine arts research chair at Concordia University, also lectured in April, on "Choreography as Mobile Architecture."

"The society's digital humanities initiative has profited from collaborations across the campus, particularly with Professor Phoebe Sengers' human interaction lab in information science, Kevin Ernste's digital music lab [Cornell Electroacoustic Music Center], and Renate Ferro's Tinker Factory lab in the Department of Art," Murray said.

Sengers, Ernste, Rieger and Ferro are participants (along with Maria Fernandez, history of art; Eric Rebillard, classics; and University Librarian Anne Kenney) in the Cornell-Toronto Digital Humanities Consortium, a collaboration with the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto.

Ernste said that the team also met in Toronto, and that their sessions included discussions of terminology and archiving.

The society has ongoing collaborations with Tinker Factory and the Rose Goldsen Archive in Cornell Library, and additional speakers are being scheduled for 2010-11, Murray said. A society-sponsored conference on "Global Aesthetics," Oct. 15-16, will feature leading international figures in digital arts and curating. A joint University of Toronto/Cornell workshop, on the theory and practice of the archive, is being planned for spring 2011.

"We continue to welcome new collaborations and opportunities to promote the growth of the digital humanities at Cornell," Murray said.