Beginning in 2013-14 The Baker-Nord Center has significantly revised and expanded its grant offerings in the digital humanities. We hope that the offerings will continue to inspire new and creative exploration of humanistic endeavors.
Digital Interfaces Grant
Haptic and Locative Interfaces in the Museum Environment
Jessica Slentz is a 2nd-year Ph.D. student interested in rhetoric and digital literacies, new media, multimodal composition and visual rhetoric. Her primary area of focus is locative/mobile media and the rhetoric of display, with additional studies in composition pedagogy, digital writing and rhetoric and internet research ethics. She holds a B.A. in Professional Communication and Information Design from Nazareth College of Rochester, an M.A. in Creative Writing from Kingston University, London, UK, and an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Rochester.
Museums have long used technology to facilitate visitor engagement, interpretation and education. Museums today, however, are expanding upon linear and top-down media experiences -- such as wall placards, audio tours, brochures and docent-led tours that position visitors as "empty vessels" to be educated by the more culturally literate, and adopting more participatory and immersive exhibition practices. Haptic and locative interfaces in these hybrid spaces of virtual and physical activity, by delineating what the user/visitor can do and how they may do it, invite "lay" visitors to participate in the cultural work of the institution in distinctive ways. As these interfaces become more pervasive in everyday life and accepted tools for the creation and preservation of culture, it is crucial that we understand how they operate rhetorically within cultural institutions. Taking a Burkean approach to "experience" as rhetorical and having the power to affect public change, I aim to show how such haptic and locative interfaces can shift the interpretive position of the viewer and open up new modes of interaction with cultural texts and artifacts.
This project will explore the use of haptic and locative interfaces within the technologically integrated exhibition spaces and new media experiences at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. I will explore how these interfaces and the experiences they afford position the viewer rhetorically in relation to the art object and to the cultural work of the institution itself, showing how haptic and locative technology in spaces of display has the potential to complicate the traditionally private roles of curator and collector.
Preservation and Curation Grant
Robert Spadon is an associate professor at Case Western Reserve University, where he teaches film courses on a variety of topics. He holds a doctorate in English from the University of Chicago and a master of arts in cinema studies from New York University. His research focuses on the horror genre and the historical reception of cinema.
In every course I teach, I constantly show clips from a wide variety of films. This is for reasons ranging from illustrating a concrete technique, such as a low-angle camera shot, to showing longer sequences that launch discussions pertinent to the particular course focus. I have been steadily gathering these clips in the eleven years since I began teaching at Case Western Reserve University. I have been building this collection of visual media materials for eleven years. I plan to use the Baker-Nord Preservation & Curation Grant to build an archive of these materials.
For an excerpt from Spadoni's "A Pocket Guide to Analyzing Films," click HERE.
Theorizing Digital Humanities Grant
Technology and Epistemological Thresholds
Chris Haufe works on problems in the history and philosophy of science, particularly biology. His current research focuses on conceptions of natural law in biological science from the late 18th century up to the present, the epistemology of subjunctive propositions, and the way in which philosophical presuppositions about science affect scientific funding.
The discipline of paleontology has undergone three major transitions in its history. The first occurred at the end of the 18th century, when Cuvier convinced the scientific world that some fossils were the petrified bones of species that no longer existed. The second occurred in 1859, when the Origin of Species convinced the scientific world that the geological column was a vertical chronology of the history of organismic descent. These transitions would appropriately be called conceptual, in that they marked a fundamental shift in the way paleontologists though about features of the world with which they had always been familiar. The third occurred in the early 1960s, and it was not conceptual -- at least, nor initially. This was the point in the discipline's history when paleontologists began using computers to assist them in organizing and analyzing data. This was the moment in which paleontology became a science.
Paleontology was quite late in incorporating digital technology into its methodology. Had it not been for a small number of evolutionary biologists who had been trained as physicists, the delay might have persisted even longer. Part of the explanation for the delay was that the culture of paleontology was still very much imbued with a sense of classical naturalism, museum collection, and exhibit curating that had characterized much of its history since the 18th century. But as biology became more theory-driven and quantitative in the late 1920s and early 1930s, paleontologists saw clearly that paleontology's survival as an academic discipline was facing a real threat. In the wake of the synthesis of genetics and Darwinian evolutionary theory, the narrow and now mostly sentimental focus on collecting and describing fossils that characterized most of the discipline's history was shown to be an outmoded and superfluous add-on to what had become the new standard for scientific knowledge.
Rather than resort to special pleading or sentimental and unconvincing appeals to the intrinsic importance of ancient life, paleontologists made a very well-thought out effort to pose and answer questions of general significance. The initial stages of this effort were articulated in 1944 through a brilliant book by George Gaylord Simpson called Tempo and Mode in Evolution, which argued that patterns in the fossil record reflected over tens of millions of years the short-timescale evolutionary dynamics described by the neo-Darwinian theory.
The chief importance of this argument, however, lies nor in what it tells us about nee-Darwinian theory, but rather what it tells us about paleontology. For, if fossil patterns are able to confirm neo-Darwinian theory, then that means that fossil patterns are generally significant evolutionary phenomena. Most importantly, those patterns are generally significant evolutionary phenomena, whether or not we can use Darwinian theory to explain them. If we can't, that suggests that the theory is not the complete story about how evolution works, in which case we'll have to come up with other ways of explaining those patterns, ways which may or may not be consistent with Darwinian theory. In the space of a few pages, Simpson have provided the failsafe strategy for paleontology's salvation.
What Simpson and other paleontologists lacked was the requisite large-scale, broadbased perspective on the fossil record that would allow them to detect widespread trends in the fossil record of the sort that could give rise to questions of general significance. Not that it would have helped them all that much, because they also lacked the means with which to analyze those trends and relate them to scientific theory (which they also lacked). That all changed in the early 1960s, when computers made it possible to organize fossil data and formulate hypotheses which those data could be used to test. Because of this transition, paleontology is a core evolutionary discipline which has entirely changed the way we think about evolution. Had it not been for the conscious and initially discomfiting effort to join the digital age, paleontology would probably no longer cease to exist as an independent discipline (Sepkoski 2012).