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Tag / digital humanities

An Interview with Professor Meredith Martin of the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton

Interview by Melissa McDoniel

17/11/2015

“…while the global digital humanities community is constantly defining and redefining itself, we embrace an inclusive understanding that respects and investigates the myriad of ways that digital methods and technology are opening an avenue to research, and the human experience.” – Meredith Martin, CDH Princeton

Melissa McDoniel: Can you say a little bit about your role in Princeton’s Center for Digital Humanities, and how you came to be involved with DH and also the Center?

Meredith Martin: This is the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton’s second year with a physical location. We started last year officially, but before that, we were an initiative that I started with a number of faculty colleagues as well as colleagues from the University Library and from our Office of Information Technology. We began as a discussion group, bringing together faculty from across all divisions of campus — from computer science, from sociology, from all of the humanities departments. These discussions began in September of 2011. Over the course of the 2011-2012 school-year, we developed four focus groups after holding a a day-long meeting in January 2012. We decided collectively that we wanted to do some research on what Princeton could offer and was already offering, since we are so resource-rich. We wanted to investigate whether we needed to have a Center at all. The preliminary meetings in the fall of 2011 were primarily to talk about what other peer institutions had and what kind of possibilities there were to support digital work at Princeton. We talked about collaborative and interdisciplinary possibilities across campus. Then we thought about how we might develop a kind of white paper that we aimed to complete by the end of the spring term of 2012. We also started thinking about a mission statement for the initiative itself at that January meeting.

After our January meeting, we broke into those four focus groups that met separately over the course of the spring 2012. These were defined by the group as “teaching and research,” “infrastructure,” “funding,” and “programming.” Programming meant basically inviting people to campus to give talks, but also offering workshops Princeton wasn’t already offering. Infrastructure was tasked with thinking about what Research Computing, the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, the Library, etc., was already doing. At the end of that spring the four focus groups turned in a separate section of a vision statement to a steering committee that we had assembled. That vision statement was then put together by the steering committee over the course of the summer of 2012.
With the advice of what we called an “executive committee” including the Chief Information Officer, the Deputy Dean of the Faculty, the Executive Director of the Humanities Council, and the University Librarian we turned the vision statement into a document asking for a Center. This was their strong advice.
Over the course of the fall 2012 we revised the document and submitted it, and then I worked closely with the Provost over the course of that year, approved officially sometime in early 2013. In that approval process we were approved to hire an Associate Director, which is the first thing that we wanted so that it wasn’t completely grassroots, faculty run with all of us doing this volunteer work that was not recognized service.

Basically 2012/2013 was revising the proposal, and 2013/2014 was the year of the search for the Associate Director, and that was also the year that I was officially named the Faculty Director of the “Center”; however we didn’t yet have a physical Center. I spent most of that year (13/14) fundraising, and I raised half of the total operating budget with support from 25 different departments and divisions as a three-year commitment with a substantial amount of that support coming from Princeton’s Humanities Council. I took this broad-based campus support to the Provost’s Office and the new Provost (the former Provost had been named President) were very supportive when they saw the work we had done. The University Library took the Center for DH as an administrative home at the University and funded the search for the Associate Director, as well as helped us to become a fully-fledged academic unit (the first in the University Library). Being an academic unit rather than an administrative unit at Princeton means that we can have faculty teach, support research grants for graduate students and stuff like that. Jean Bauer was hired in the academic year in July of 2014, and 2014/2015 was her first full year, and now 2015/2016 is her second year.

We now have a temporary (they call it “swing”) space that we were given at the beginning of last year, Fall 2014. It’s in the former psychology department. Some of our offices are converted observation rooms that are more like small closets with one-way glass. We put some particleboard up so that they don’t look so horrible, but we have equipment, we have space, we have our stuff there. We’re in our official third year as a Center, but we didn’t have any physical space except the last two years so we really think of this as our second official year.
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An Interview With Sydney Shep of Wai-te-ata Press at Victoria University (Wellington, New Zealand)

Interview by Elana Friedland

EF:  Hi.

SS:  Hello.

EF:  How are you?

SS:  I’m good, thank you. I’ve put video on, as you can see, just so you can have a look at my space and have some fun. Lots of printing presses, lots of stuff, yeah.

EF: It’s also been a real pleasure to see your space through the videos that you have on the website too, so thank you.

SS: Well, that’s good, because we just had a new website with the responsive template launched last week, so really good timing.

EF:  I noticed that and I was curious: what prompted the change to the new website?

SS: They had rolled out a responsive template all across the university, and I’m one of the smaller centers so I wasn’t included in the first tranche, and then they had some extra money so three of the research institutes and centers were asked to rethink their websites.  So it’s transitioning into a different mode, but there’s a lot more, shall we say, things to play with, to make it a lot more user-friendly, and to profile a lot more images and that, so that’s a first step, but it will be a growing thing.

EF:  Thank you for explaining that.  And thank you too for taking the time out to talk to me about the press.

SS:  Well, it’s sort of cool that you were here for a semester.  When was that?

EF:  Back in 2010. I took a survey course on New Zealand literature through the English department.

SS:  Yeah.  Who was your lecturer? Jane Stafford, or Mark Williams, or Lydia Wevers, or —

EF:  I think they all took turns lecturing, because I remember having a rotating cast of lecturers in there.

SS:  Great.  Yeah.  So, small world.  So thank you so much for connecting with me, and yeah, it looks like this is a great project, and I love the way that Lori sort of framed the whole course, so it’s been a real inspiration for me to dig down a bit into that too.

EF:  Awesome. I’m glad there’s been a value in this for you too.

SS:  Oh, absolutely.  We’re talking the same language, so I was really excited to see that not only she got her media archeology lab, but some of her inspirations are mine as well, so yeah, I’ll be interested to see how the class goes, and particularly with whatever creative work that you end up producing as a result of your, you know, intersections with all these worlds.

EF:  To shift gears a bit, I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about the work that you do in your role as the director and the printer over at the press.  Since it seems like you encompass a wide range of things in that role, how do you find the balance between the different aspects of your role?

SS:  Yeah, it’s a bit of a juggling act, as you can imagine.  I inherited the space, and the three pillars, which were the research, the teaching and learning, and the printing and publishing, were an important marker of what Wai-te-ata Press was all about.

So I retained all three of those, and in the world of accountability and administrivia, there’s a lot more to do in terms of the back end administration stuff as well.  But it doesn’t mean that I can juggle all the balls all at the same time, it means that according to the rhythms of getting external funding for research projects, funding or commissions for printing work, and then the schedule of teaching through the year, it’s quite a flexible kind of space where, depending on what comes in the door and what’s on the menu at the moment, able to weave things in and out.

I’m a sole charge director, which means it’s just me, and I run my own budget center, so I’ve got a level of autonomy, because I’m not associated with the school or a department, but I am under the faculty of humanities and social science, so I do have a kind of academic affiliation, but it’s more a facility that is available to anyone in the university.  So a lot of what I do is not only work within the existing spaces that I have, but also reach out to across the university and a lot of external engagement.

So in order to help execute all the stuff that I really want to do, that relies upon me getting funding, generally external funding that then I can hire research assistants.  So that’s easiest when it comes to research projects.  So at the moment I’ve got four research assistants working on my project on William Colenso and the Victorian Republic of Letters.

We also have something called Performance-Based — PBRF, Performance-Based Research Fund, which is a government-organized census of all individual and university research outputs that are then, every five to eight years, collated, and universities are then ranked, and based on their ranking they get a lump sum from the government, and based on then how the university wants to distribute that lump sum, it will go back to the schools or the departments, not necessarily to the person who has earned it through their research portfolio.  So because I’m a single unit and because I’m the one doing the declared research in the census, they’ve made an accommodation for me, and I get the research fund money directed to Wai-te-ata Press, which means then I can hire publication assistants as well to help with that component of the operation.

And then with teaching, depending on what’s going on, that’s a revenue stream, so it gives me a bit of latitude to be able to cross subsidize other stuff that we do.

So I try and keep a healthy balance, because in a world of accountability, if you’re down below the line too often, people start to look askance at you, but I’ve got lots of support from the university which likes the idea that this is quite a unique facility for Australasia, that it does a lot of things, and that it has a lot of street cred and profile in the wider community.  So as I say, it’s a bit of a balancing act, but it’s — and juggling the balls all the time for survival in a way, but you can never be complacent in one of these spaces, nor can you be complacent in academia anymore anyway.

EF: I’m interested in how much the community outside of the university is able to get involved with or does get involved with the goings-on of the lab.  Is it easily accessible to the wider community, or are most of the folks who come in affiliated with the university?

SS:  If we look at the research side of things, we do have partnering with externals, and that can be people who are working on specific research projects themselves, people who have expertise that we want to buy in or collaborate with.

So in digital humanities work, in digital history, which is where I locate our research platform, you can’t always times compared to that within the university, just because in New Zealand we’re about 10, 15 years behind the thrust through North America and Europe.  So we don’t have the skill space and we don’t have the density of people who have graduated through DH programs, because we only really have one in the country, and it’s not a fully rendered one. So we’re always looking outwards for expertise.  Always looking out beyond the subject area and the individual faculty to alliances within the university.

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An Interview with Mark Algee-Hewitt of the Stanford Literary Lab

Interview by Hillary Susz, MFA Candidate at CU Boulder

HS: What is your lab called and where is it?

MA-H: The lab is called “The Stanford Literary Lab,” and it is located at Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California.

HS: What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

MA-H: Our focus is primarily on the quantitative, and computational, analysis of texts in order to speak to questions of Literary critical or historical interest. In terms of our methodologies, we work with a variety of different text mining, NLP and otherwise quantitative approaches depending on the needs of the given project. Chronologically, our work ranges from the Medieval period, to contemporary writing. But, what unites the research of the Literary Lab is our primary focus on the Literary critical questions that we seek to answer through this range of methodologies. That is, our projects and studies are rarely inspired by a technology or method, but rather, seek to find (or create) appropriate methods for the Literary critical and historical concepts that we research. Although most of our work has been on corpora that are specifically Literary (whether prose or poetry), recent projects have begun incorporating other kinds of texts into our analyses.

HS: Can you clarify what you mean by critical or historical interests? What are the critical questions you seek to answer? What are examples of projects that explore these questions and interests? 

MA-H: What really drives the lab as a research group are concepts that are important to us as humanists. Most of us are literary scholars, so that takes different forms based on the questions we want to explore. Some of us deal with critical theory—representations of gender or exploring the discourse of race in American fiction. Some of us take a more formalist approach—the shape and form of narrative or how word patterns change across texts. We seek to understand the function of literary texts in a historical context. A lot of our projects deal with synchronic structures in the world, even if they don’t change over time.

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An Interview with Lily Diaz and Philip Dean at Media Lab Helsinki

An interview with Lily Diaz-Kommonen and Philip Dean of the Media Lab Helsinki in Aalto.

Can you tell us about the background and emergence of the Media Lab Helsinki?

Lily Diaz: The Media Lab Helsinki came into being in 1994. It was formed by merging the existing resources of the Computer-aided photography lab led by Philip Dean and the IMI (Image Media Institute), an experimental unit created in 1992 to investigate high-end 3D animation and 3D computer-aided design (and provide master’s-level education in those areas). Because there was a need to create an academic unit that would concentrate on the potential of digital technologies to transform media and create new markets for new media content, a discussion ensued (involving the Ministry and other key players in the Finnish education scene) as to where to host such an environment. At the time there seemed to be a desire to focus on the education of new media content developers as well as to further develop collaborative applied research with Finnish industry. These orientations might have played a role in the decision about where to locate the unit, so that it was eventually placed at the University of Art and Design Helsinki (Taideteollinen korkeakoulu).

Originally the Media Lab project received three years additional funding from the ministry. This institution – that in 2010 became the School of Arts, Design and Architecture at Aalto University – has deep roots in the history of Finnish design, from having been the descendant of the School of Craft and Arts, initially based in the venerable Ateneum building during the late 19th Century.

The Lab opened its doors in 1994 and was a key partner is hosting the 4th International Society of Electronic Arts (ISEA) Conference. The Conference itself was a highlight, featuring the best and latest [research and innovations from] the international electronic arts/media culture scene.

The initial team at the Media Lab Helsinki [was] comprised [of] Philip Dean, Kari-Hans Kommonen, Isto Männistö and, later, Minna Tarkka.

Having [just] started the master’s studies program in the previous year, the Lab did not have a post-graduate program of studies when I arrived as a doctoral student and researcher in 1995. Post-graduate studies were done independently with tutoring by professors in the departments of Design and of Art Education where postgraduate programs and communities of researchers already had existed since the late 1980s.

Art and design research is certainly not a new endeavour. What is new is the growing trend by which artists and designers have become involved in research activities as part of their practice, cultivating and acquiring a voice as researchers and with an understanding of their role as creators of primary sources.

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An Interview with Dr. Matthew Kirschenbaum of Maryland Institute for Technology

Interview by Jaime Kirtz

Matthew G. Kirschenbaum is Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Maryland and Associate Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH, an applied thinktank for the digital humanities). He is the author of Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (MIT Press, 2008) and Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (Harvard University Press, 2016).

JK: Can you explain a bit about you, your role in the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities and how you came to be involved?

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An Interview with Professor David Radcliffe of the CATH Lab at Virginia Tech

Interview by Rebecca Jones

Note: My recording application for this interview failed, so the information below is a compilation of the notes that I took and is not verbatim. To read more about how Professor David Radcliffe became involved with humanities computing, read this article

RJ: How did your interest in digital humanities develop?

DR: Quite pragmatically. It was before DH had become a term. I was trying to find tools to perform the research that I needed. I had bibliographies on note cards that I wanted to migrate using a word processor. From there, I started to learn SQL and other programming tools. For me it was a problem solving enterprise. It was really funny, I would have a list of 500 citations and using a word processor, 30 seconds later I would have a process that could pull up the requested items.

RJ: How did you learn your skills or programming languages?

DR: I was self‐taught, we’re talking the late 70s, early 80s. You could do a Cobalt class at community college. You had to learn it by yourself. I’m an antiquarian, so I had lots and lots of information that I needed to work with and needed to figure out how to do it.

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An Interview with Matthew Jockers

Interview by Mitch Ingraham

Dr. Matthew L. Jockers is the Susan J. Rosowski Associate Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln where he currently acts as a faculty fellow in the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities and Director of the Nebraska Literary Lab. In addition to teaching courses, conducting seminars and workshops, and authoring numerous articles, his publications include: Text Analysis With R for Students of Literature (2014) and Macroanalysis: Digital Methods & Literary History (University of Illinois Press, 2013).

Together with Franco Moretti, he co-founded and directed the Stanford Literary Lab, where he worked from 2010 to 2012. Dr. Jockers received his B.A. from Montana State University (1989), a M.A. from the University of Northern Colorado (1993), and his PhD. from Southern Illinois University (1997). His areas of interest/specialties include: Digital Humanities: text mining/text analysis, Irish and Irish American Literature, 20th Century British Literature, and Literature of the American West.

MI: When did you first become involved and interested in digital humanities: specifically as related to English literature?

MJ: Well … long before DH was ever a term, that’s how. I probably discovered that there was a field of people doing computational quantitative work in the humanities in around 1990. Between ‘90 and ‘93 really, just before the birth of the Internet. And, of course, there was no term ‘digital humanities,’ that doesn’t come along until about 2005. The people at that point called themselves computing humanists, and I certainly wasn’t part of that crowd until quite awhile later. In fact, I didn’t even really discover that there was such a crowd or organization at that point. I was in my MA program at that point. I was a literature grad student who was sort of fascinated by computers and had that as a side hobby. I got pretty savvy with the computer during my master’s program and when I went to do my PhD, my dissertation advisor learned that I had some computer savvy and he didn’t. So, he asked me to be his RA and basically bought me out of my teaching for the last two years of the four years of my PhD program. So I started working for him in 1995. Just prior to that, of course, the internet is born in about 1993. I started dabbling in HTML and those kinds of things. One of the first projects I did for him was to create a digital archive.

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An Interview with Lara Stein Pardo of RAP Lab

Interview by Erin Armstrong

Lara Stein Pardo is a cultural anthropologist and visual artist currently working as a Research Associate in the Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture (RAP Lab) at University of Colorado, Boulder.

 

EA: Lara, I want to start by thanking you for taking the time to speak with me and to explain to our Digital Humanities class about your work. As you know, I’m incredibly interested in your Mapping Arts Project, which has led to some interesting developments in my own pedagogical aspirations. Could you tell us a little bit about what the Mapping Arts Project is, and where it is headed?

LSP: The Mapping Arts Project is a primarily web-based project that maps cities through places where artists have lived and worked historically. The project is online at mappingartsproject.org, and includes Miami and Providence so far. Denver and Chicago are in development. The project includes archival, spatial, artistic, and ethnographic research and materials. Future plans include continual technological improvement such as the use of mobile locational technologies and the redevelopment of the website to show a global map (vs city maps). In the Spring I’ll be working with students in the course, “Geographies of the Arts,” to launch Mapping Arts-Denver.

EA: Could you explain what started the project? What were some of the biggest challenges (knowledge of coding etc., economically, gaining interest, etc.) you faced, and ones you may still be facing, when you started this?

LSP: I started the project in 2009, while doing ethnographic fieldwork for my dissertation on contemporary arts. I wanted to find a book that would tell me about the history of the arts in Miami. I could not find such a book. Instead, I began to conduct archival, ethnographic, and historical research. At first, I thought the project would be a short-lived participatory art project. But, the more research I did, the more I realized it needed to be a bigger project. That’s when I designed and developed the website – to be able to create a broadly accessible and continually growing project. Some of the biggest challenges in the beginning were time and funds to do the initial web development. Oh, also, finding the right team to work with. I have kept the project manageable thus far. Eventually, I will need to raise funds again to expand the technological capabilities of the project.

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Exploring Digital Ephemera: An Interview with The Digital Studies Center at Rutgers University

Jim Brown is Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Digital Studies Center at Rutgers University Camden. His research focuses on the ethical and rhetorical dimensions of new media technologies.

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What is your lab called and where is it?

JB: We are the Digital Studies Center at Rutgers University Camden. We attempted to put together a snazzier name than that, but our dean was keen to keep “Center” in the title. Like “lab”and “studio,” the term “center” has its own political weight (maybe suggesting size, research heft, etc.)Rutgers-Camden is one of three campuses in the Rutgers system, the state university system of New Jersey. Camden is in South Jersey, just across the Ben Franklin Bridge from Philadelphia Pennsylvania. I am the Director and Robert Emmons is our Associate Director.

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

JB: We are two years old, so we’re still fairly “young,” but our main research project is the Rutgers-Camden Archive of Digital Ephemera (R-CADE). The R-CADE operates with much the same ethos as Lori Emerson’s Media Archaeology Lab. We don’t have an extensive collection of technology, but our primary focus is actually on providing scholars with software or hardware that they’d like to investigate, research, and/or repurpose. Our R-CADE Symposium features this kind of work.

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