A panel of three papers:
Multisensory Gesamtkunstwerk: Pattern, Form and the Future of the Digital Humanities
My colleagues in history describe my work as “creative,” not “scholarly.” This presentation will describe an approach to the digital humanities based on a hermeneutics of visual and multisensory perception. “Art,” in this context, means pre-linguistic/pre-discursive forms of knowing. I share the same impulse as Matthew Jockers, to “read” humanities texts at a macro-scale, to deemphasize a close reading of an individual text to instead “focus on the larger system.” While I believe it will be a fruitful line of inquiry, I seek a move away from a “scientistic” turn in the digital humanities--science, statistics and analysis--and toward the digital humanities as art and design: interpretation derived from visual perception and material experience.
James English has recently coined the term “creative humanities” as a way to distinguish this newly emerging branch of the digital humanities:
"There's a problem in the way a lot of humanities centers are set up these days, in that they situate "humanities and the arts" off to one side of the academic humanities and "digital humanities" off to the other. But there is a vital linkage between them: a growing interest in learning by building, making, creating new cultural objects…people often assume DH represents a kind of techno-quantitative tendency away from art and imagination and the beautiful etc. But the more important vector in the digital humanities is that which aligns with this broader interest in learning by making, designing, creating new and original works."
My focus will be on ways that humanists can “read” and interpret Big Data. The most effective way to draw meaning from large data sets is through visualizations and the knowing that comes from the perception of pattern and form. Spatial form--the result of a reading of a large textual corpus at a distance--can in and of itself result in interpretive insights. Making and experiencing these visual, tactile, material objects is the hermeneutic act. These are not merely aesthetic objects (although the results may be beautiful) but objects that, via our experience and perception of them, allow us to engage in the kind of interpretive acts we expect from all inquiries in the humanities: an object-oriented hermeneutics.
The bulk of this presentation will be a display of some of my cultural-objects-as-humanistic-scholarship, objects that hover between art and scholarship:
1) Style in History, a visualization of classic works of history,
2) The Virtual Wunderkammern, a associative assemblage of images
3) Writing Space, a large-scale text collage
4) syncretism:mashup, a large-scale collage of text and image,
5) On Violence Against Objects, an image collage
6) FHQ III, a 3-D printed model of big data in visual/material/sculptural/haptic form.
I will also present the first models of a multi-storey installation that will allow viewers to visualize and experience the entire run of the American Historical Review.
The future of the digital humanities lies in the creation of these multi-sensory Gesamtkunstwerk: total works of art beyond text. Such work is scholarly, at the same time that it is creative.
"Accra Mobile": Motor Transportation, Imagination, and New Media
Historians have often used words to bring their stories to life. The best writers, like the best novelists, place the reader in context by describing the surroundings and setting the scene, painting a picture with words that creates a visual of the unfolding narrative. However, in relying on the reader to exercise their spatial, kinesthetic, visual, and aural imaginations, we foreclose the questions that might arise from experiencing the past more directly with the senses. I seek to connect my research to a burgeoning field of Digital History, which uses new technologies to address these issues.
This presentation explores the possibilities for new media and media integration in creating a more sensorial approach to social and cultural history. In particular, I will use my own historical research on the history of motor transportation in Ghana, West Africa, to suggest new ways of narrating the past that more directly engage with the experiences of drivers and passengers. Such an approach is particularly important for a social and cultural history of automobility. As John Urry has argued, auto/mobility is much more than decontextualized infrastructure. The technologies and infrastructures that enable movement are part of a much larger system of experience and interaction rooted in the autonomy and movement of participants, their interests and priorities, their choices and actions. I suggest that multidimensional maps of mobility, which incorporate both spatial mapping as well as sonic, visual, material, and social mapping, help us better understand the experience of automobility in Ghana’s capital city, Accra. The hand signals that indicate routes, the calls that drivers and their assistants shout out the window at bus stops, the ubiquitous horn honking, the slogans painted on vehicles and other forms of vehicular decoration, the cramped quarters of the buses, the interactions between drivers and passengers, the music blaring over loud speakers, and the atmosphere of vibrant social and economic exchange in and around lorry parks and bus stops are all essential elements of Ghanaian automobility. Video and audio recordings of these phenomena, coupled with video recordings and photographs of drivers and passengers who talk about their experience of automobility invite observers to engage directly with that experience through observation, implicating observers in the act of analysis and interpretation. At least in the African context, such technologies and evidence are limited to the relatively recent past; however, in placing past and present in conversation, such maps more fully capture the dynamism of the street. Particularly for a city that is unfamiliar to most American students and the general public, providing such context is essential to achieving a more complete understanding of urban life and mobility in Ghana. Digital technologies allow us to create a historical and cultural sensorium that introduces students and the public to a different reality, but they also enable us to ask new questions about why mobility mattered and how it changed throughout the 20th century. As such, I welcome audience suggestions for other possibilities.
Introducing Gladys Fornell: Constructing and Publishing an Online Critical Edition of Unpublished Texts
This past fall I was involved with the HASTAC community as an undergraduate HASTAC scholar and, additionally, I am conducting research as a junior fellow at the Newberry Library. The Newberry Seminar in the Humanities has given me the opportunity to spend a semester learning about the role of the digital humanities in libraries and archives, and conducting a major independent research project. The majority of my research has been focused on an unpublished manuscript for Montel, a novel written by editor Gladys Fornell in the mid-twentieth century. I hope to reclaim and redefine Fornell’s writing as a female author— I believe exploring her work could provide a new, interesting perspective through which we can examine literature and the publishing industry during this period.
Based on my experience exploring digital humanities projects through the HASTAC scholars community and my work at the Newberry Library, I decided to create both a more formal academic essay and also a critical scholarly edition of Montel to be published online. In its final form, I am hoping that my essay can serve as an introduction to the online text and will be accompanied by other supplementary information such as timelines and images from the Newberry’s collections. Specifically, this digital component is driven by my desire to share my discoveries with a range of readers who may be interested in Fornell’s work. I believe that these goals draw on HASTAC 2015’s emphasis on the dissemination of knowledge through publishing and technological means.
I intend to highlight three major points of my research. First, I plan to provide a brief history of Gladys Fornell and her work on Montel— namely, I intend to emphasize her work as an editor and the specific issues of publication she faced. Second, I will outline why I felt it significant to complete a digital project as a part of my research. I ultimately hope to emphasize that in creating this project, I am simultaneously reclaiming Fornell’s work and presenting it to the expansive audience she desired during her lifetime and, additionally, providing a more specific, elaborate understanding of one author in order to better understand the time in which she was writing. Third, I plan to outline the actual process of creating this digital project and the challenges it presented as an undergraduate student. I believe this would be an opportunity to explain the logistics of navigating legal issues, different online platforms, and the technical aspects of a critical text.…