Visiting Professorship at UCLA (and a personal account)

I am very happy to announce that I will be a Visiting Professor of Digital Humanities at UC Los Angeles starting from the fall of 2016 (connected to my chair at Umeå University). My institutional home will be Information Studies with a dual appointment with the Digital Humanities Program. It is a multiple-year appointment.

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I am grateful for the wonderful opportunities I have had and still have at Umeå University – building HUMlab has been an amazing collaborative project set within an institution fostering such intersectional and risky, out-of-the-box work. Critically, the lab has been inhabited by world-class technologists, researchers and collaborators (recent examples of how this collaborative sentiment is manifested through projects – “Digital Models. Techno-historical collections, digital humanities & narratives of industrialisation” and “Streaming Heritage: ‘Following Files’ in Digital Music Distribution”).  Furthermore, this work would not have been possible without very strong support from the university, funding agencies and foundations. Also, HUMlab would not have been possible without the far-reaching buy-in and commitment from a large international network. I write in my new book (Big Digital Humanities, University of Michigan Press) how people and networks get materially embedded (part of the texture) of the operation, and I really strongly believe this is true. I also believe that ideas, intellectual drive and material engagement are key to such work.

I am now also eager to put energy and time into developing my work and working with others in different academic contexts (while still being based at Umeå). I got a sense of what this means last academic year when I was at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. Working with leaders such as Don Robotham, Cathy Davidson, Katina Rogers and Matt Gold and a range of amazing graduate students, research fellows and administrators has been a true privilege. My NYC experience is not just CUNY, of course, but also working with colleagues across a number of schools and institutions – including Erica Robles-Anderson and Natalie Jeremijenko at New York University, Anne Balsamo (New School), Shannon Mattern (New School), Carter Emmart (American Museum of Natural History), and Alex Gil and Dennis Tenen at Columbia and many others.  Anne Balsamo gave an amazing talk the first conference I organized at CUNY. Erica Robles-Anderson I had worked with extensively before and she always challenges and inspires me. We finished our article on PowerPoint (“One Damn Slide After Another’: PowerPoint at every Occasion for Speech”, Computational Culture) while I was in NYC. Natalie Jeremijenko I did not know before, and she has changed the way I think about the world and scholarship. Truly. And Shannon Mattern’s work continues to be uniquely cross-cutting, sharp and important (and her person important to me), and I really enjoyed getting to know the Columbia group and Studio@Butler better – there are perspectives, sentiment and ideas there that I really appreciate and have learnt much from. Carter Emmart continues to inspire me as a storyteller and person (the below image is from a Carter-narrated exploration of Mars in the Hayden Planetarium, American Museum of Natural History, early June 2016).

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Three brief takeaway points from my NYC year: 1) the importance of thinking about the role of graduate students. The Futures Initiative really is predicated on graduate student leadership and the true empowering of (highly /multiply/competent, passionate, amazing) graduate students under a peer and mentorship model. 2) Another learning experience for me has been to be embedded within a very large public school (of which the Graduate Center is a privileged part, important but also totally dependent on the /struggling/ system, and vice versa) and being in an environment where societal issues and engagement are so critical. I still vividly the first Advanced Research Collaborative talk in the fall of 2015 when Naomi Murakawa talked fiercely, sharply and convincingly about procedural justice under the rubric of “The Perils of Policing Reform” (packed room with people outside the actual room and heated dialogue). Being at ARC was an amazing experience. 3) A third learning experience for me was that my interest in curating events and intellectual-material exchange also seemed to make sense in the NYC context (away from the lab) and that there are so many singular individuals around. I curated and co-curated two events during my time at CUNY (with institutional partners at CUNY): “Digging Deep: Ecosystems, Institutions and Processes for Critical Making” (Dec 1, 2015, with Matt Ratto and Shannon Mattern) and “Unflattening and Enacting Visualization” (June 9, 2016, with Ted Byfield, Lauren Klein, Shannon Mattern and Erica-Robles Anderson).

I can think of few (if any) places more exciting and promising for doing work in the digital humanities (broadly speaking) than Southern California. Needless to say, UCLA has a great deal of intellectual power, range and perspectives, and the digital humanities program is solid. There are also obvious points of intersection to information studies, media arts, environmental humanities, architecture, urban humanities and many other relevant areas. The broader context is also important here – including many of the other schools in the area – the UCs (and University of California as a whole), USC, SDSU, the Art Center etc. – and industry, individuals, the art scene etc. I will not pretend to have a good sense at all, but I am excited to be here and eager to learn and work with others (and give this time), and I have been lucky to already have worked (humbly) with leading scholars and intellectuals such as Johanna Drucker (our article “The Why and How of Middleware” was just published in Digital Humanities Quarterly) and David Theo Goldberg (our edited volume Between Humanities and the Digital was published by MIT Press in 2015). I also feel connected to many of the universities (or more precisely, individuals and groups at these schools) around here through past collaborations.

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My work can perhaps increasingly be classified as information studies or science and technology studies, and this an intriguing and promising connection that I am keen to explore, although I have not been able to develop this thinking and practice as much as I would have liked. I am therefore particularly happy to have Information Studies at UCLA as a home department (which is a stellar department with people whose work I really respect) – and equally happy to have a  joint affiliation with the Digital Humanities Program, which is such an exciting and importantly student-oriented platform for digital humanities work. Having this double affiliation is deeply meaningful to me. I am looking forward to pursuing my work and to be working with a range of great people at UCLA and beyond (including existing networks and collaborations).

Photo credit: Patrik Svensson.

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