By Rachel Rochester and Heidi Kaufman
DH in CAS is holding a WordPress workshop this Thursday, October 27, from 3:30-5:00 in Villard 201. For those who don’t know, everyone at UO has access to a free WordPress account. Our workshop is designed for those who have never set up a website or blog using WordPress. We’ll walk you through the basics of building, maintaining, and exploring your digital options on WordPress. You will walk away from this workshop having set up your own WordPress site. Be sure to bring a laptop computer (any working laptop will do) and a power cord. If you have content you’d like to place on your site, please feel free to bring that too!
DH in CAS is also hosting our first RIG of the season on Veteran’s Day, Friday, Nov. 11, from 3-5 p.m. We’ll be hearing about ongoing projects from Dr. Alex Dracobly, who’ll be speaking about the UO Veterans Oral History Project, and Rachel Rochester, who’ll be discussing the role of podcast’s like We’re Alive in environmental activism. Light refreshments will be served. We’ll be meeting in HEDCO 146, and we hope to see you there!
We’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Oregon Humanities Center for their generous support of DH in CAS. Their sponsorship of our RIG meetings will help to advance our goal of fostering a vibrant and visible DH community across campus. We hope you will join us for this work-in-progress series. Meetings take place twice a term and are open to anyone interested in learning more about the Digital Humanities. Please let us know if you have a project you’d like to present at our RIG meetings. Presenters can share work at any stage—even the very beginning “I have an idea” stage.
As you’ve almost certainly heard by now, Phil and Penny Knight have generously donated $500 million to create the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact at the University of Oregon. It’s an exciting time at UO, and the gift will create a “campus within a campus” dedicated to scientific innovation and excellence. In announcing the gift to the College of Arts and Sciences, Dean W. Andrew Marcus asked those of us in the liberal arts to “consider the question: ‘What does it mean to accelerate scientific impact?’”
Inspired by his request, I want to spend some time thinking about how the digital humanities can foster collaboration between, in particular, computer science and the humanities. To that end I sat down with Dr. Stephen Fickas, a professor in the University of Oregon Computer Science Department, to get his take on how the humanities and computer sciences can collaborate productively.
Fickas leads an effort to provide non-majors at UO with programming skills they can use after they graduate, and he has a strong commitment to interdisciplinary research. He has been part of projects across departments and colleges on campus with more than $5M in funding. He has a similar commitment to interdisciplinary co-teaching and was part of a highly successful program at UO that brought together students and faculty in CIS, Business, Law and New Media.
Fickas was originally inspired to get involved in DH work because it presents an interesting artificial intelligence problem. Thinking about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Fickas notes how teaching computers to interpret the novel could present a unique set of intriguing challenges for computer scientists. According to Fickas, sentiment analysis, wherein computers try to determine basic human emotion from online comments and reviews, is a hot topic in computer science right now. “Heidi [Kaufman] brought up some concepts from Frankenstein, like “horror” and “the gothic,” and I don’t think on the computer science side, at least the artificial intelligence side, we’ve really grappled with those concepts,” Fickas said. “The closest we’ve gotten is seeing if someone’s angry or not, if someone likes Clinton or Trump, or dislikes your product. That’s a long way from picking up much more subtle concepts. And no one is really looking at it. It’s an interesting research topic in artificial intelligence.”
Fickas and Kaufman are collaborating on developing a new course that will bring Computer Science and English majors together to study Frankenstein from both disciplinary perspectives. Projects like theirs present unique research challenges for computer scientists and humanists alike, and can be leveraged to help us bring the humanities and the sciences into collaborations that benefit both fields. It can be challenging to inspire computer scientists to collaborate on DH projects that don’t drive innovative research in both CS and the humanities. “There’s a misconception: computer science is not just building stuff,” Fickas said. There’s much more to it than that, and in order to make DH a truly interdisciplinary endeavor humanists need to think about problems that are as interesting to computer scientists as they are to humanists. The two fields can therefore grow tremendously through these kinds of collaborations.
When such projects emerge, Fickas feels that computer scientists benefit from collaborating with humanists. “It’s subtle what the computer science students pick up from the humanities students. I had the movie view of Frankenstein – I had basically the view that Frankenstein was a monster movie, and after talking to Heidi [Kaufman] I found out that I was missing the whole point of the book. From a computer science standpoint, there’s a whole set of subtle challenges that come from switching focus.”
As always, we’d love to hear from you. Please Tweet us or post in our comments section with your thoughts and questions, and a big thanks to Dr. Fickas for sharing his perspective.