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"Grow Your Research"

Yesterday, I attended most of a one-day conference hosted by the Center for Computing in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS) here at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. CHASS adds itself to a growing list of technology-based interdisciplinary initiatives on the UIUC campus, such as the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the Beckman Institute, and the Seedbed Initiative for Transdomain Creativity to name a few.
The conference featured speakers from history, english and geography discussing various projects that made use of digital visualizations, computational processing and networked archives. Historians discussed the potential (actual and speculative) of "Dynamic Open-Ended Information Systems" as new way to publish accessible scholarship (William Thomas of U of Nebraska) and the need for historians to become aesthetes that consider the formal conventions of media as well as the overt content (in a situation Jon Bonnett of Canada's Brock University calls the "Topographic Revolution"). We looked at the development of an interactive archive of William Blake's work (Morris Eaves of the U of Rochester) and the potential of GIS and spatial analysis for social science (ICU Spatial Analysis Lab's Luc Anselin).
While I'm very interested in the contributions of spatial analysis, it was the narratives provided by the historians that caught my attention most. The desire for "impact" was especially felt, whether in the form of quantity (the number of website "hits") or quality (talk of "augmented reality" as a pedagogical tool). Discussions about the potential of digital tools in the classroom recalled Gregory Ulmer's concept of heuretics and learning through invention. But something was different, in a pretty major way. Ulmer's project seems to embody an aesthetic of montage while the work discussed here moved towards the seamless and an aesthetic of virtual realism/illusionism. Lev Manovich has discussed the political implications of this difference, between montage and continuity. While the work presented by the historians attempts to (and I would say successfully) differentiate representation from reality for students, it only does so in the process of production. The final product, what is supposed to "educate" the rest of us, leaves the authority of the media in tact. A user of an augmented reality device isn't likely to question the graphic overlays that might be explaining a site's history if those overlays don't disrupt both experiential and virtual realities. I'm reminded of the Harold Pinter speech that's been in the press and discussed reality and truth in art and civic life... it may be interesting aesthetically and theoretically to explore the illusionism of digital visualizations, but as a citizen, it seems necessary to problematize illusion and engage the political economy of the media apparatus.
Of course, there is the political economy of these initiatives themselves to consider, which I certainly don't have a handle on...

02:20 AM | Permalink

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