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The Laboratory for Information Analysis and Knowledge Mobilization


Digital Humanities




Sara Diamond, Paula Gardner, Keith Bresnahan, David Cecchetto,
Greg Van Alstyne, Martha Ladly, Lynne Milgram, Suzanne Stein,
Emma Westecott, Charles Reeve, Luke Painter, Jutta Treviranus, OCAD University;
Neil Tennhaff, Caitlan Fisher, Jennifer Jenson, York University
RBC, G&M National Gallery of Canada Library, the Canadian Heritage
Information Network, the International Federation of Library Associations

and the Art Library Society of America, COREL


Digital Humanities is a growing field of research that brings together the research and teaching of history, archival, library and information studies, philosophy, linguistics, literature, religious studies, cultural studies, or sociology with new methods, sources and questions that emerge from the integration of digital technology into Humanities research. Humanities scholars begin to use digital tools and approaches such as text-analytic techniques; GIS; commons-based peer collaboration; interactive games and digital media. As Alison Byerly notes,humanitiestend to privilege individual texts or products of the human mind, rather than collective wisdom or data. More recently, online collections or data bases of text, art and music make possible wholly different frameworks for study.”[1] Knowledge-making, dispersal, and collection are common among the disciplines that make up the liberal arts and hence Digital Humanities research provides valuable knowledge to the overarching concerns of data collection and analysis. Digital Humanities research has entered into data visualization and simulation practices in the last decade, each requiring data extraction and analysis, often of large samples. These practices allow the analysis of pre-existing objects and speculative analysis and reasoning. Humanities researchers have found digital tools to be of particular value in the study of existing human artefacts.

Evaluating Technologies with a Digital Humanities Methodology (Paula Gardner)

A Digital Humanities approach is essential to the exploration of and experimentation with media and art technologies as it creates possibilities and venues for inquiry into classic yet still pressing metaphysical questions regarding subjectivity, and the relation of mind to body, the physical and material to the digital. Moreover, digital humanities offers a broad range of theoretical approaches and grounded concepts with which we can excavate technological assumptions and expectation, and pursue , critically, experimental technology practices in both the studio environment and the real world environment, that, importantly, merge the analogue with the digital.

The theoretical richness of the humanities environment undergirds essential methods which enable fine, and precise, democratic, and rigorous investigation of broad questions regarding social interaction, ethics, the social impact of imagined and existing technologies, and the possibilities of aestheticization for understanding the human experience, and rendering sustainable and desirous human environments.

My research will explore the stakes in specific technologies, using a digital humanities research methodology. It will examine the personal, ethical and democratic implications of: 1) Body augmentation technologies, 2) The myriad of Mobile Apparatuses and 3) Data Visualization Technologies. These technologies will be assessed in relation to their implications for 1) How we might critically access and manage our health and wellbeing, 2) analyze the role of social and institutional organizations upon scientific and technological development and practices, 3) devise pedagogical practices that teach critical and reflexive engagement with technologies.

A methodology will be developed that makes use of qualitative research methods in order to integrate the critical capacity of the humanities to intervene early in the development of technologies, and to assess our existing technological environments, in order to ensure that we are successfully implement the ethical, social, cultural and democratic processes that we in fact are aiming for.

Networked/Embodied/Emergent: A Digital Humanities/Cultural Studies Approach (Keith Bresnahan, David Cecchetto, Sara Diamond, Greg Van Alstyne, Martha Ladly, Suzanne Stein, Emma Westecott)

The nature of communication has shifted dramatically in the last decade from linear text to interactive media driven by user generated content and social networks.  Human behavior has been mediated through the integration of devices that make use of digital communication to order the practices of daily life and entertainment.  The line between virtual and real worlds has elided, creating opportunities to analyze impacts and create new interfaces.  At the same time new information systems operate on a machine to machine basis that will shape human experiences in ways that are not yet known. The implications of this changing world has tremendous repercussions in terms of the kinds of products, services and experiences industries can and might produce, ranging from computer gaming, mobile applications & the mobile internet, augmented reality experiences, music creation & learning systems.

1) How does emergence work within social media and networks? At what point do social networking trends 'tip' and begin to anticipate social activities rather than report them? That is, how do crowd behaviors on the Internet or between devices align with (or differ from) the patterns that have been observed in the 'real world' (i.e. in flocking patterns, ant colonies, crowd movements, and traffic)? In the context of ubiquitous media, to what extent do these emergent behaviors 'trickle down' to individual behaviors? For example, does a behavioral distinction between 'connected' and 'disconnected' still obtain in moments when connected individuals are not literally connected to the web? What interfaces should be created to enhance our use of emergence.

2) The Impact of the Internet of Things:  As machine to machine (device to device) communication (such as between consumer household appliances and mobile devices) becomes a significant part of digital capacity, mediated through mobile devices, how might these communications impact human behaviors mediated through communications? What are the overlays and interfaces that engage the user in appropriate levels of control?  What are the social impacts of a machine to machine coordinated world? How can usability testing be designed for the emerging Internet of Things? How does this world interact with users and systems that do not deploy “smart” devices?

3)  Collaboration Technologies, Gaming Knowledge Creation:  How can the next generation of collaboration tools, multiplayer games and cultural tools environments (such as music-making systems) integrate the fully engaged mind and body? To what extent do collaborative environments depend on shared sensory experience? What impacts do emerging technologies have on gaming design and on the experience and consciousness of the “gamers”? Are there settings where information-rich environments that operate algorithmically allow users to act relative to a mediating algorithm rather than the perceptions it generates? If so, how does this impact the large body of existing literature that treats affect as distinct from (or anterior to) perception? What kinds of usability methods can be developed that take into account the human sensorium to its fullest extent? What are the risks as well as opportunities in full-bodied technological immersion? What impacts does full-bodied experience have on knowledge workers and the actual knowledge produced?

4) Location Aware/Context Aware Augmentations:  Twentieth century theorizations that separate the virtual and physical worlds have lost ground with the advent of location aware/context aware devices, layering data on top of and within our lived physical spaces and practices. This shift will accelerate with the integration of augmented reality tools as these technologies become more effective. How does the overlay of data into the physical world impact our social practices and networks? What are the implications for work, entertainment and learning, in particular the creation of locative geospatially aware narratives, games and information systems?

5)  Recognizing the increasing importance that design thinking can play in positively impacting society, enhancing business success, and managing organizational change, Strategic Foresight and Innovation addresses the complex dilemmas of contemporary society. This method applies foresight and design innovation methods to develop solutions which are transformative and sustainable - economically, environmentally and which address human needs. Strategic foresight relies on data in order to interweave design with social science, technology and business providing the skills and knowledge to identify critical issues, frame problems and develop innovative solutions and implementation plans. Through holistic thinking in a co-creative environment, the designer, the business person, the social scientist and the engineer will develop together the skills required to  use data in innovative ways to engender true socio-technological innovation.

6) New tools are needed to undertake the research outlined above:

a) Data repositories that include content such as text, geo-tagging and context data must be linked with effective data extraction and analysis techniques in order to understand the implications of the device, content and behavior relationships.   Studying embodied processes or location based systems requires new tools that allow for research to occur in the field, with engaged research subjects. We will build the data repositories and analysis systems and tools. 

b) Simulation research with large scale data sets will be used to build collaborative gaming opportunities that address social circumstances and challenges.

c) Working with the Centre for Data Visualization and Data Driven Design we will create visualizations of social media applications.

7)  Outcomes will include an online journal that will include digital media studies (gaming, social media) and network analysis.

Mobile Transformations of Cultural Citizenship (B. Lynne Milgram)

New digital communication technologies, currently ubiquitous throughout regions of the urban Global South, constitute a frontier of cross-sector mobility utilized by entrepreneurs. My research investigates the multiple channels through which women entrepreneurs engaged in “illegal” trades (e.g., importing banned products from Hong Kong into the Philippines) use digital technologies (mobile phones and the internet) as powerful tools through which to bypass state control commonly materialized through national laws regulating goods, people and capital that travel over state territory. I investigate the channels through which digital ‘sideroads’ – mobile flows and networks across public/private, informal/formal and legal/illegal spaces – enable a subaltern democratization.

The collection and analysis of large scale data sets are needed in order to facilitate the development of an analysis of population mobility.The sociology of mobilities are physical (in the form of mobile people, objects and hybrids of humans-in-machines) and most importantly informational (in the form of electronic digital communication via data, visual images, sounds and texts). I argue that this proliferation of multiple ‘mobile’ sites de-territorializes state control over each of these spheres opening potential avenues for entrepreneurs to contest old hierarchies of exclusion and inclusion with regard to their livelihoods and to cultural citizenship rights. Changes in such democratic possibility are usually related to macro-structural trends in the ‘globalization’ of markets and states, but I argue here that such socio-economic and political shifts are also tied into these everyday forms of swelling in transnational mobility and digital-mediated communications. Analyzing Philippine entrepreneurs’ access to and use of transnational digital technologies, this project proposal challenges local commentaries of ‘immobility’ – the common exclusion of people on the edge – resituating them within wider negotiations of meaning and agency and analyses of destabilizing political and global market forces.

Artists as Writers Database (Charles Reeve)

This database will be a massive on-line, comprehensive bibliography of writings by artists (e.g.: of art criticism, art history, autobiography, fiction, poetry, plays, film scripts, etc.) that will: (1) enable researchers to develop a more nuanced understanding of our understanding of core aspects of subjectivity (such as sincerity) than exists currently; (2) help opinion leaders and decision-makers in art and design education and policy to map patterns of overlap to better understand the relationship between the arts and the humanities; and (3) in both its development and operational phrases, provide valuable mentoring opportunities for coming generations of humanities scholars, education innovators and policy specialists.

The creation of this research tool is prompted by the observation that, although artists have written prolifically throughout the modern era broadly defined, and although their writing often is popular (for example, English editions of the Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini’s autobiography have been in print more or less constantly since it was first translated in the late eighteenth century), this literature tends to be understood as epiphenomenal. As such, any given artist’s writing tends to be viewed in isolation both from that artist’s practice in the visual arts as well as from the broader historical trajectory of artists as authors.

Synthesizing these fragments into a genealogy of artists as writers requires creating, extracting and analyzing large-scale databases, which in turn will help researchers identify longitudinal and conjunctural trends in artistic practice, and extract implications for education and policy-making. This project presents extensive opportunities for consultation and collaboration (e.g. participation in a committee to establish terms of reference; contribution to identification, input and analysis of data). Key potential partners include the National Gallery of Canada Library, the Canadian Heritage Information Network, the International Federation of Library Associations and the Art Library Society of America.

Data will be collected, analyzed and visualized in order to create a repository that scholars can use.

Inclusive Design – the Fluid Project (Jutta Treviranus et al.)

The overarching goal is to help ensure that emerging information technology and practices are designed inclusively from the very beginning. We define inclusive design as design that enables and supports the participation of individuals and groups representing the full range of human diversity. Disability can be seen as a mismatch between the needs of the individual and the service, education, tools or environment provided and accessibility as the adaptability of the system to the needs of each individual.

The qualities of digital tools, content and environments have made it possible to radically rethink and reform notions of disability and accessibility in a digitally mediated world. This has led to more sustainable, integrated and personally optimized design strategies. This shift in accessible or inclusive design has significant ramifications not only for accessibility legislation, guidelines and policy but the design and development of information systems, practices and processes in general. There are compelling reasons to make this corresponding shift that go well beyond a wish to “accommodate people with disabilities.”

Inclusive design projects rely on the ability to access, extract and customize data. For example, FLUID will help develop and distribute modular, re-usable, swappable interface components for web applications and build the software architecture to support their implementation, while using high quality graphic design,

The Digital Painting Archive (Luke Painter)

Over a five-year period I will investigate the issues of traditional manual painting practices and how they have developed in conjunction with technological trends and software. The central goal is to understand how traditional methodologies and concepts, inherent in the vast history of painting, are being interpreted by artists and designers today specifically through digital technology. This research can have a significant impact on technologies that are created for specialist use as well as for consumer. For example, Char Davies, one of the co-owners and inventors of Soft Image in the 1990s, used her painterly knowledge to influence the software suite of that company, leading to its intuitive feel and powerful and popular aesthetics. Programs such as Adobe Illustrator, Flash and the Corel suite of products have had an impact on artists’ works.

Research into artists’ works and overall trends in drawing and painting in its relation to Digital production will be compiled and disseminated through a web archive titled. The Post-Digital Painting Research Archive. Developed in the newly created Drawing and Painting Digital Research Lab at OCADU, this online presence will contain artists’ works, essays and resources about this subject resulting in an innovative research tool for artists, designers, academics and software companies. Additionally, an extensive research statement and literature review will be made available through the archive and a shorter version of the research statement will be written for presentation at conferences and symposia.

The main purpose of The Post-Digital Painting Research Archive is to create a comprehensive studio-based website that acts as a central hub for this innovative subject and establishes LIAKM as a frontrunner of research in this area. Sophisticated data management and analysis will be needed to create an archive that is of value to different kinds of users and that can be easily sustained over time as technologies and practices change. Management, analysis and visualization will be needed to create an archive that is of value to different kinds of users and that can be easily sustained over time as technologies and practices change.


[1] Alison Byerly, Humanities in the Digital Age, MIT World. January 4, 2011.


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