Kathleen Fitzpatrick gave an excellent talk on “The Future History of the Book” on Monday, March 28th, to the UB English Department. Fitzpatrick delivered a wide-ranging and lucid examination of how we in the academy, as readers and scholars, use the various forms of the book available to us at present and often resist – perhaps reflexively – digital ones. Rather than another mournful decline-of-reading narrative, which she characterized as “highly conservative,” Fitzpatrick’s presentation was a reminder that the book is constructed, used, and valued according to the economic and social realities of its time, not a unitary object of knowledge entitled to privileged status. Yet neither did she lead a cheer for the digital; forms of both are historically contingent, and ought to be treated as such rather than naturalized. While she acknowledged that we use different reading practices to attend to print and digital books – the former via “deep attention” (per N. Katherine Hayles), which we as academics tend to valorize, the latter “on the prowl,” typically regarded as a lower or “degraded” form of reading – her point was that enforcing a hierarchical relationship between the two gets in the way of a serious engagement with either. Any authority that a printed book might have has been, and continues to be, a matter of negotiation; Fitzpatrick argued eloquently that rather than shunning digital books, humanities scholars must engage consciously in those negotiations by which these new forms of text acquire meaning, utility, and cultural weight.
Josh Flaccavento, PhD Student, UB English
On April 15 – 16, 2016, the Andrew W. Mellon Fellows in Digital Humanities at the University of Rochester will host “Hard Coded Humanities.” This interdisciplinary conference will “challenge traditional distinctions between software and hardware in scholarly contexts,” according to their announcement. In addition to keynotes by DH scholars Matthew Kirschenbaum and Kari Kraus; there will be workshops on electronic literature, video game music, and physical computing. The physical computing workshop will be led by Joshua Romphf, who recently co-led a Digital Scholarship Week workshop on Reconstructing Historical Structures here at UB. There will also be special-topic panels featuring an international roster of humanities researchers.
All events are free to attend, but the workshop spots may fill up quickly. More information and registration at hardcodedhumanities.com.
Posted on behalf of Joshua Flaccavento (PhD student, UB English):
I attended Michael Jarvis’s talk on Friday the 4th about his Virtual St. George’s Project, an essentially historical project that brings in aspects of gaming to make the historical record more widely accessible. I knew absolutely nothing about St. George, the former capital of Bermuda, before this event, and I still can’t claim to know much, but among the other things I absorbed from Dr. Jarvis’s presentation was a clear picture of why this site was of such particular interest to him as a historian. The island’s ties to both Great Britain and America position Bermuda in a larger Atlantic world that many of us rarely stop to think about at all; the Virtual St. George’s Project is both a novel effort to change that and a fascinating example of how DH projects come into being.
Jarvis’ effort is essentially outward-facing; his interest in gaming engines as platforms for exploring historical research is tied up with his pedagogy, both in the sense that he recruits students to work on the Virtual St. George’s Project directly and that he intends it to reach out to a more public audience than most works of academic history typically invite. He could have taken a radically different approach, conceiving of VSG as a trove of interconnected documents and their accompanying metadata – along the lines of something like the Blake archive – but by setting out to render history in three dimensions and to make it interactive, Jarvis set in motion a complex process of finding, testing, and trying to implement multiple technological tools. That most of these were largely or completely unknown to him, as a humanist scholar, at the beginning of this endeavor is a testament to his curiosity and investigative rigor.
Attending the Reconstructing Historical Structures workshop the following day gave me the “inside look” at VSG; the team of technologists from Rochester who led our efforts that day took us through the results of what they’d learned in the process of assisting Jarvis on the project from the beginning to its current state. What I found most interesting about the workshop was the narrative arc of their work, the dynamic relationship they formed with Jarvis, who acted as both “instigator” and investigator, bringing new tools into the project (such as the Xbox Kinect cameras) to which the tech team would respond. From what I gathered, it sounded like a kind of feedback loop had formed between them, a mutually (in)formative dialogue that continues to push everyone involved to challenge their own assumptions about the theoretical commitments of their disciplines as well as the possible range of practices available to them.
This afternoon several faculty from across UB departments and a digital librarian participated in a “Lightning Round” to kick off Digital Scholarship Week. With only five minutes each (!), the presenters gave an excellent snapshot view of the breadth of digital work taking place on campus. The presenters–Melanie Aceto (Theatre & Dance), Peter Biehl (Anthropology), Neil Coffee (Classics), Jordan Geiger (Architecture), Jeff Good (Linguistics), Walt Hakala (English), Molly Poremski (UB Libraries), and Rohini Srihari (Computer Science & Engineering)–suggested many exciting possibilities for fostering interdisciplinary, collaborative scholarship at UB.
We learned about local or university materials that can be explored and represented digitally in innovative ways, such as the objects in the Cravens Collection at the Anderson Gallery that Peter Biehl and his team have 3D scanned and reproduced as interactive multimedia exhibits, or the Black Student Union periodical collection that Molly Poremski is building into a searchable, annotated web archive. Melanie Aceto’s archiving and analysis of the transmission of influence and traditions in various communities of dance performers opened horizons for digital archiving and the representation of complicated networks. Additionally, connections between methodological questions arose that might foster focal points for continued dialogue across departments and projects. For one example, I noticed multilingualism and translation played central, if very different, roles across the projects of Neil Coffee and the Tesserae Project he co-directs, Jeff Good’s research on the many languages of the Lower Fungom region of Cameroon, Walt Hakala on Urdu, Hindi, and Persian lexicography, and Rohini Srihari on tailoring messages and content for specific communities and users around the globe. Jordan Geiger’s imaginative spatial work was another highlight, and the possibilities for expanded integration of GIS technology into humanities research and teaching also came up in the Q&A.
Special thanks, also, to Erik Seeman, Libby Otto, and the Humanities Institute, as well as the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development for their efforts and support in putting together these events. Looking forward to the rest of the week!
~Nikolaus Wasmoen (firstname.lastname@example.org)