WM Fellow Lectures

LEIF WEATHERBY (Associate Professor of German, Arts & Sciences, NYU, and KCL’s Willard McCarty Fellow)

Data as Capital

A recent report from MIT announces the arrival of a new metaphysical player in the game of business: data capital. This form of wealth forms represents a shift in the relationship between capital and society. Data capital has now driven the market capitalization of the largest platform companies above the “unicorn” value of 1 trillion USD, creating something like intelligent monopolies. But capital as data has to be interpreted to be useful, an operation most often carried out by algorithms called “neural nets.” The data is exascale, beyond any human imagination – yet parsed, categorized, interpreted. I propose to call this activity at the heart of modern enterprise “artificial semiotics” in order to analyse how data has altered the structure of capital in the present.

Leif’s lecture is part of the inaugural WM Fellowship event ‘Monopolies of Intelligence’ running on Wednesday 29th May 2019. More details and registration are available on the Eventbrite page at https://bit.ly/2JddlEc.

ANTONINA PUCHKOVSKAIA | АНТОНИНА АЛЕКСЕЕВНА ПУЧКОВСКАЯ (Associate Professor, Institute of International Development and Partnership, Russia, and KCL’s Willard McCarty Fellow)

Visualizing St. Petersburg Based on Russian Corpus Analysis

What is/are Digital Humanities? How to rise a research question challenging enough for both Humanities and Computer Science fields? What are the challenges of doing DH at the predominantly STEM-based University? This lecture will revolve around interdisciplinary research in progress situated at the intersection of history, librarian studies, cultural studies, and information technologies. The aim of this research is to create an open-source-software-based web application by using historical and cultural heritage data on the key landmarks of St. Petersburg. Our deliverables are an educational database and web/mobile applications into which users will be able to tap by means of retrospective visualization and an interactive city map that would track nearby objects via user’s geolocation. To that end, we are analyzing both sources and records. In our case, sources are manuscripts that range from a single paragraph to a multi-volume book. Records are source fragments that can range from a single record to hundreds of sections, pages, or paragraphs in a book. Our database schema links people, occasions, and dates based on primary sources. Finally, all objects are being mapped onto an interactive city map of St. Petersburg, the interface of which will facilitate easy navigation and allow filtering by different categories such as restaurants, music salons, and apartments.

Antonina’s lecture is part of the WM Fellowship event ‘Language and Space in Public Imagination’ running on Tuesday 11th June 2019 from 4pm to 7pm in Bush House SE 2.10. More details and registration are available on the Eventbrite page at https://bit.ly/2MrHDp2.

URSZULA PAWLICKA-DEGER (Postdoctoral researcher, Dept of Media, Aalto University, Finland, and KCL’s Willard McCarty Fellow)

A Laboratory as Critical Infrastructure in the Humanities

Laboratories have entered the humanities as a new infrastructure aimed at transforming the humanities into an experimental, collaborative, and technology-driven discipline. With the spread of the idea of the laboratory into academic spaces, city spaces, and cultural institutions, the definition of lab has been extended significantly. A laboratory goes beyond the notion of a physical place involving specialized instruments and hands-on scientific exploration, becoming, instead, a widely understood project. A laboratory is thus more than infrastructure; it is a “conceptual vehicle” (Critical Media Lab at the Academy of Art and Design FHNW) and it involves “new ways of engaging with public audiences” (the Humanities Laboratories at Duke University). In short, a laboratory can be conceptualized as a way of thinking that entails new social practices and new research modes. Thus, a lab can be established anywhere. The only condition for creating a lab is community: a lab is constituted by and for the people gathered together to address particular challenges.

My goal is to present the impact of the laboratory through two different perspectives: infrastructural changes in the humanities and structural changes through the humanities. I attempt to go beyond the discussion of a laboratory as a research infrastructure to investigate it as the infrastructure of engagement in social and global challenges. Hence, I pose the following questions: How does a laboratory grow from a physical workspace into actions taken around challenges? How does a laboratory become the driving force of the engaged humanities? How can changes be made through the (digital) humanities infrastructure? Drawing on the sociology of scientific knowledge, laboratory studies, and critical infrastructure studies, I will address these questions and explore the laboratory as a platform for systemic changes.

This talk will consist of two parts. In the first part, I will present three discourses that gave rise to the laboratory in the humanities: the transformation of the humanities infrastructure within the university, the paradigm shifts in the social sciences, and the expansion of particular cultural categories. Further, based on an interactive map of laboratories (humanities labs, digital humanities labs, and media labs) established around the world, I will sketch the history of the lab in the humanities within a global context from the 1980s to 2018. Next, I will determine models for humanities labs based on laboratories’ statements and operations, including the techno-science, workstation, and virtual models. The second part of the lecture aims to examine the lab structure critically and reflect on its potential for the engaged humanities. Referring to social lab theorists, I will seek to answer questions as to how humanities research can be translated into action and how a laboratory drives this process. The analysis will be based on different forms of laboratories seen as sites of interventions: the lab as a challenge-centric space, coalition, and community platform.

Urszula’s lecture is part of the event ‘Humanities Laboratories: Critical Infrastructures and Knowledge Experiments’ running on Thursday 23rd May 2019. More details and registration are available on the Eventbrite page at https://bit.ly/2TRnwnw.

ANGUELINA POPOVA (Director, Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technologies, American University of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan, and KCL’s Willard McCarty Fellow)

Tracking the Nomads: How Digital Humanities Can Assist the Preservation and Deeper Understanding of an Ancient and Living Oral Tradition 

This talk will revolve around three major threads as follows:

  • The nomadic culture of the Kyrgyz and why we find it interesting to study;
  • The Manas epos and the studies of the epos;
  • The contribution of the American University of Central Asia, in particular of James Plumtree, and the AKYN project, to a fresh look at the Manas epos.

I will introduce the digital aspect in working with this vast oral tradition. While the epos constitutes a significant part of the cultural heritage of the Kyrgyz, and has been used as a nation- building block after the collapse of the Soviet Union (including being part of a higher education state exam), the tradition has been considered as a fixed one. This significantly mutilates the oral tradition as a rich and evolving one. We are working on studying and demonstrating how the tradition has evolved over time, and our project has been significantly facilitated by the digital humanities tools. The talk will present the venues which have been used, and those that can be used, to map historical events, migrations, and languages within and beyond the Manas epos and other oral traditions of the region.

Aguelina’s lecture is part of the WM Fellowship event ‘Language and Space in Public Imagination’ running on Tuesday 11th June 2019 from 4pm to 7pm in Bush House SE 2.10. More details and registration are available on the Eventbrite page at https://bit.ly/2MrHDp2.