digital methods seminar

We (Katja Mayer and I) have just finalized our course on digital methods for next summer term. We’ll be teaching at the Department of Social Studies of Science, University of Vienna. The seminar will be part of the master program “Master of Arts – Science. Technology. Society”, but, in principle, everyone can join – if I understood it correctly. I’m not really familiar with the new curriculum yet though.. But I’m sure it will be fun since theoretical inquiry will be mixed with hands-on empirical research – fed by our own research and recent studies from our colleagues.

© image credit: Digital Methods Initiative (Amsterdam)

Here’s the syllabus. Join us if you like! Or otherwise, follow our seminar blog (which we plan to write if we find the time to do so 😉 )

Digital Methods – How Do We Know?

New information and communication technologies (ICTs) and social media like Google, Facebook and co. crucially change our daily lives. The “computational turn”, however, also affects the social sciences and humanities. Applications and software programs – ranging from simple presentation to complex network visualization tools – increasingly intrude into and shape scientific practices and the ways we conduct, present, and disseminate research. Rooted in the tradition of Science and Technology Studies (STS) this seminar addresses the central question of how digital methods of all kinds influence “how we know”. We will experiment with and critically examine various software tools and visualization techniques to better understand the growing number of digital methods used not only in the natural sciences, but increasingly also in the social sciences and humanities. We will ground these new tools respectively in older research traditions, discuss implications digital methods have in the process of knowledge production, and how to meet new challenges arising in the growing field of “digital social sciences and humanities”.

Drawing on literature from STS and critical new media studies, we aim to discuss the following questions: What are “digital methods” and what kind of knowledge(s) do they create? How do (digital) methods organize our research objects and what realities are enacted by them? How can hyperlink networks and Google analyses be used to analyze controversies like climate change or biofuels? How can social networking services, and Twitter in particular, be used to analyze political discourses and “hacktivist mobilization”? What information hierarchies and biases does commercial software trigger in the research process, and how can we handle this problem? What is “big data” and what are the benefits and dangers of large-scale computational science? And, finally, what are the implications of open access, creative commons, and Wikis in the context of both research and politics?

workshop “studying digital cultures” / lund

I just returned from a great workshop on “studying digital cultures” organized by Jutta Haider, Sara Kjellberg, Joost van de Weijer & Marianne Gullberg (from HEX, the Humanities Lab, and the Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences). They invited me and Kim Holmberg (Department of Information Studies, Åbo Akademi University/ Finland) to present tools and methods to study digital cultures. Drawing on our own work we presented, explained and discussed the tools we used and for what purposes.

Referring to his dissertation work Kim presented tools, which have been developed by Mike Thelwall, the SocSciBot and LexiURL in particular. Since I’ve been reading quite some of Thelwall’s publications I found it highly interesting to learn more about the technicalities involved in these link network visualization methods. If you’re willing to invest some time to understand the various tools (and have a PC since the tools don’t work on macs) you could do some pretty neat stuff with them (including YouTube searches with LexiURL). The advantage of these tools is that they are free to use; the downside of LexiURL is that it only includes Bing searches. Besides serious research tools Kim also showed us some fun stuff including the Twitter Sentiment Analysis Tool or the We Feel Fine websites, that enables you to explore human emotions (both didn’t seem to work properly though, but try it for yourself).

© photo credits: digital cultures blog

Compared to the methods Kim presented the tools developed by Richard Rogers and his team are user-friendly and easy to use. Both the Issuecrawler and related tools, such as the Issue Discovery tool or the Google scraper, are ready-made software packages that allow the user to create link network visualizations by clicking on a number of settings (which make them appealing to social sciences and humanities scholars with limited technical skills and less appealing to people, who want to modify/ adapt the tools for their own research purposes, as I’d assume). To really understand what you see on the Issuecrawler link network maps, however, also requires a certain understanding of the software and the algorithm it incorporates, which I tried to explain during the workshop by walking participanst through the software. The log-in for the Issuecrawler is easy to get and 10 crawls are for free. After that individual terms of use may be negotiated depending on whether researchers have funding or not. For more advanced users I suggested, a network visualization tool free to use with great capacities (ask Bernhard Rieder for details, he knows all about it). Finally, we played around with Wordle, a tool that creates beautiful issue clouds out of text (with one mouse click).

After the presentations participants tried to make use of the tools for their own research purposes. It was a mixed crowd with different research interests, which was fun. Further, Joost van de Weijer showed us the Lund Humanities Lab, which appeared to be really different from the Umeå HUMlab since it mainly focuses on eye tracking, motion tracking and similar technologies (it was impressive to see their “experiment” rooms!). All in all we had a great time and a delicious dinner after a long day of digital work 😉 Thanks again to the organizers for having made this event happen & all the participants for having shared their ideas with us! Finally, I want to thank Olof Sundin, who gave me the opportunity to speak about digital methods in his methods seminar, and Karolina Lindh, who let me and Mike Frangos stay at her gorgeous apartment in Lund. You guys really made my stay – as always – a great pleasure! Take care & hope to see you again soon!!!

goodtosee #5: video archive of HUMlab lectures/ digital humanities 2002-?

Yesterday I gave a talk in HUMlab: “Search technology in society. Constructing search engines, shaping knowledge”. I was excited to present and discuss my research in this vibrant space and get feed-back from the wonderful HUMlab crowd! I really enjoyed the discussions that even continued after the talk – thanks for that!

Since the lab is not only a physical space, but also a highly digital space or “media place” – as the director Patrik Svensson himself often calls it – the HUMlab seminars are also live streamed and archived. I highly recommend to check out this rich repertoire of HUMlab lectures that goes back to the year of 2002 (!). The seminars are primarily dealing with research/ theories of the digital humanities, but also new media studies, digital sociology and related fields. This video archive assembles exciting scholars such as Whitney Trettien, Alan Liu, Rita Raley – just to name a few of the most recent speakers – and covers a wide variety of issues such as reading and writing in the digital age, cyberarcheology, digital modernism, online art production, file sharing communities and many more as you will find out here.. I’m really happy to be now part of this truly great video archive :)

media places: from the gardens of versailles to spatial robots

The media places conference at the HUMlab has come to an end. It was a highly inspiring three-day gathering of international scholars in the broad field of digital humanities. Besides researchers from the humanities and the social sciences, software developers, architects, advertisers, musicians, and a bunch of people from the digital media and gaming industry have been part of the tight program. The juxtaposition of all these different types of actors and their perspectives on the mutual shaping of media, technology and place made this event mind-blowing indeed.

It enabled our minds to travel from the historic gardens of Versailles and smart homes from the 50s to future scenarios in architecture and spatial robots telling us when to water the plant. The opening talk of Chandra Mukerji reminded us of the fact that power and authority is not only exercised by social action, but also by materiality and architecture. Her detailed analysis of the gardens of Versailles and the beautiful fountains, statues and mazes provided a theoretical framework for the politics of place, which I found applicable to a lot of the talks that followed thereafter. Most impressively, probably, in Erica Robles‘ analysis of Californian Megachurches. The glassy facades and huge screens mediating the congregation to a global TV audience may be seen as a manifestation of authority (and capitalism).

While most of the talks, such as these two, might be neatly woven together, others pointed to contradictions and misunderstandings, most particularly between critical analysis and software developers. I found it most striking, for example, that Lynn Spigel‘s gender clichés embedded in historic advertisements of smart homes and TV may still be found in demonstration videos of the fascinating information systems and spatial robots Miles Kemp presented. Is the “future of the past”, as Lynn Spigel called it – the white nuclear family and the woman taking care of the kinds – still applying to the future of the present? Or is it rather time to create new societal visions along with new technological possibilities?

Photo credits: The Univesity of Chicago Press & Variate Labs

Since pretty much all the talks I’ve heard were highly inspiring I could go on forever here. To avoid that I would like to invite you to check out the program and speakers in detail on the conference website. There you can learn more about Molly Steenson‘s analysis of Cedric Price and his imaginations of information architecture, Zephyr Frank‘s network visualizations of the spread of diseases or the mobility of Rio de Janeiro’s slave population, Jesus de Francisco‘s advertising films and music videos from Motion Theory, Simon Lindgren‘s networks of file sharing and other social media communities, Jeffrey Sconce‘s reflections on schizophrenia and delusional media, Nicklas Nygren‘s fantastic video or rather “audio” games, Carter Emmart‘s simulations of the universe and much more. Not having been in an observatory for ages Carter Emmart’s tour from Mars to the Moon and back to the Earth was most impressive to me!! Thanks for that!

Last but not least I would like to refer to the talks of my HUMlab colleagues: Jim Barrett, Jenna Ng and Mats Deutschmann gave a wonderful presentation on second life as a media place for learning, symbolic representation and cinematic experience. Mike Frangos was talking about archiving and social media featuring Machfeld‘s M1+1 performances (I personally love to advertise ; ). And Lisa Swanstrom presented her really interesting book on new media places and environmental consciousness hinting at the blurring boundaries between nature and technology. Good luck with your book! We’ll miss you here Lisa!

Last last, but not least: I would like to thank Patrik Svensson and Emma Ewadotter and all the helping hands from the HUMlab crowd for the wonderful conference, and the Julbord and Glögg party, of course :) I would love to see more events mixing people with different backgrounds and creating a media place for fruitful thinking beyond disciplinary boundaries!!

Patrik’s reflections on the use of space during the conference and more interesting material on all that may also be found at the HUMlab blog.

“Media Places” conference at HUMlab

Preparations have already started for the upcoming conference “Media Places”, that will take place at the HUMlab, Umeå University/ Sweden, 9-11 December 2010. Within the broader context of what has been labeled the “Digital Humanities” this conferences aims to investigate the interplay between media, technology and location. “A basic premise is that the social, cultural and spatial are deeply embedded, and that space is constantly structured and produced by those of who occupy it”, as may be read on the conference website. To approach phenomena at the intersection of media, technology and place the conference brings together cultural historians, architects, screen researchers, art and creative directors from digital media production industry, visualization experts, design researchers, sociologists, gender researchers, and game industry representatives. This broad range of scholars with different backgrounds shows the interdisciplinary dimension of topics the growing field of Digital Humanities deals with.

Details on the program and international guests from top-class institutions in the field of Digital Humanities may be found here. I’m already looking forward to an exciting three-day conference in the far north of Sweden 😉