This year’s themes:
- STE(A)M: Adding art/design/humanities to STEM disciplines.
- Filter bubbles and Internet censorship.
The week will include presentations and workshops featuring such diverse topics as mapping the Holocaust, indigenous archives, copyright and digital humanities, digital documentation, and digital art production. The week will also include THATCamps (ad hoc learning sessions), “Discovering the ‘Long’ 18th-Century: Making Connections within Gale Primary Sources” workshop, a visit to Bangor’s ArtWalk, Todd Presner lecture as part of the History Department’s 2017-18 Symposium Series, and digital poet Claire Donato as part of the New Writing Series. Check out more on the official website: DigitalHumanitiesWeek.org.
The theme of this year’s Digital Humanities Week is STEM to STEAM—a movement that proposes that the arts and humanities play a stronger role in setting the agenda for and assessing the outcome of scientific and technological research. Held from 2-6 October 2017, this will be the fourth biennial Digital Humanities Week to focus on the ways that new technologies are transforming arts and letters, history, and the social sciences. Other sub-themes of the conference will include audiovisual archiving, women and code, copyright and net neutrality, and technology and culture.
What relevance do the arts and humanities play in a world whose swift transformation is increasingly driven by science and technology? That’s the theme of this year’s Digital Humanities Week, a conference at the University of Maine during the first week of October whose events range from formal presentations by extraordinary speakers to ad hoc hackathons run by students.
A growing movement known as “STEM To STEAM” aims to interject the Arts into the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). This movement’s radical premise is not simply that humanistic creators and scholars will benefit from access to digital tools, but that traditional STEM fields need the creativity and perspective of the arts and letters to improve their diversity, retention, and accountability.
It may be hard to imagine lay citizens contributing to science in a time of Big Data and $9 billion particle accelerators. Yet the inventors of the pacemaker, medical stents, military camouflage, and vehicle airbags were all artists or inspired by artists, while today’s Nobel laureates in the sciences are seventeen times likelier than the average scientist to be a painter and twelve times as likely to be a poet.
This year, speakers from MIT, Harvard, Dartmouth, UCLA, and the University of Texas–as well as other UMaine campuses and Bowdoin and Colby colleges–will demonstrate or examine art-science collaborations that have produced groundbreaking scientific discoveries, from the use of DNA to store cultural data (the Library of Congress fits in a test tube) to audio microscopes (each microbe has its own signature sound). Other demonstrations include creating “Hypercities” by superimposing layers of historical data on an urban map; using a planetarium dome for data visualization or 3d sound; and building virtual museums to document local economies (“Blueberries, Clams, and Beer”).
Founded at the University of Maine in 2011, the biennial Digital Humanities Weeks focus on the ways that new technologies are transforming arts and letters, history, and the social sciences. Other subthemes of this year’s conference will include women and code, digital storytelling, copyright and fair use, and others related to technology and culture.
All events are free and open to the public, although the organizers request that you register on the website to ensure sufficient space for all and to target the workshops to participants’ interests. To register or learn more, visit: http://DigitalHumanitiesWeek.org.
Digital Humanities Week is sponsored by a CLAS Events & Experiences grant, the McGillicuddy Humanities Center, McBride Fund, New Writing Series, Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, and the Departments of History and New Media, a program of the School of Computing and Information Science.
More about the STEAM theme:
Every year software makes a new kind of decision that humans previously made themselves— from what news to read to which data to scrutinize, from when to turn left to how long to toast our bread. In response to this trend, pressure has been building to adapt 21st-century education to the needs of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. Some legislators have called upon universities to discount tuition for science- and technology-oriented degrees, while outside the ivory tower massive open online courses and small-scale boot-camps have cropped up to focus on coding, with various degrees of success.
Meanwhile, a small but growing counter-narrative asserted by a spate of recent books has made the case that careers restricted to quantitative and analytic skills are precisely the jobs most likely to be replaced by algorithms and robots. According to these thinkers, the “fuzzy” skills prioritized by the arts and humanities will be more adaptable to change in the workplace.
The last five years have seen practitioners with a foot in both the arts and sciences propose a third way: turning STEM into STEAM by integrating the arts and humanities into science-oriented education and professions. This hybrid approach would marry the creativity of the arts with the performativity of science, to the betterment of both.
Turning STEM into STEAM requires more than just gathering scientists and artists together over coffee–though that’s a start. In the United States, the cultures of science and art can seem diametrically opposed. One has ample funding from both the private sector and institutes like the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health; the other seems always in danger of losing what little government sponsorship exists in the form of the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts. One values focus and rigor; the other, lateral thinking and spontaneity. One prepares graduates for plentiful, lucrative jobs, often without a sense of moral purpose; the other prepares graduates for a creative and fulfilling life, often without economic security. One publishes in peer-reviewed journals; the other exhibits work in galleries or online. One contributes to a Silicon Valley-style, globalized economy; the other enhances the local color that makes Maine a cherished destination.
Yet the stakes for integrating the two are high–not just to inject the arts and letters with renewed relevance in a software-driven society, but to confront some of the gaps in the way scientists and technologists approach problems.
From gene editing to artificial intelligence to social media “filter bubbles,” scientists and technologists have stepped into powerful new roles–and into ethical quagmires. The arts provide moral landmarks that help to navigate such momentous breakthroughs. Can you make music without harmony? Should we act like Madam Bovary? Can a painting reflect more than one point of view? To complement science’s interrogation of what is, the arts ask what could be–and the humanities provide a cultural framework to evaluate those possibilities.
Despite the nationwide push by proponents such as Code.org to teach programming from kindergarten through college, retention in computer science and related fields lags far behind the arts, and many of the coding boot camps that cropped up in the last two years have shuttered their doors. While an ever increasing number of jobs in the 21st-century will require some understanding of programming, it’s clear that the ways we are trying to teach code are not working for a broad swath of the people whose professions will evaporate if they don’t learn to code.
One of the most well documented deficiencies in the tech sector is the underrepresentation of women, from the C-suites of Facebook and Google to engineering staff on the lower decks. Recent studies suggest that college is the time most women drop out of computer science and related fields. While putative causes include the lack of female peers, professors, and models in mass media, another cause cited by some researchers is the lack of cultural, ethical, or personal connection between what is taught and what is relevant to those women’s lives. The higher percentage of women in fields such as art and design suggests a more inclusive approach to educating a technically literate future generation might be to incorporate more teaching techniques and issues from the arts.
Sample topics for discussion:
- Is code the new literacy?
- Is software and the Internet making the production and distribution of art more or less egalitarian?
- Is it more important to invigorate the humanities with big data, or to humanize big data with the humanities?
- What are some good and bad examples of art–science collaboration? Can we derive lessons about how such entanglements work best?
- How can artists and scientists work together, when their expectations of success and relative resources are so different?
- Are artists best employed to portray complex scientific developments like climate change and gene editing for the lay public? Or, instead of providing aesthetic window dressing to predetermined meanings, can they play a more critical role in the production of scientific knowledge and technical infrastructures?
- Can artists contribute to scientific research without a background in science? Can scientists produce artwork without a background in art history or studio art?
- Can artists such as SymbioticA and Stelarc who confront the ethical challenges of today’s technologies help prepare us for future challenges?
- Can a multi-disciplinary approach made possible by STEM to STEAM help us re-design our cultural, economic, and political systems so they regenerate rather than destroy the ecological basis for life on our planet?
- About Digital Humanities Week
“Inaugurated in 2011, the biennial Digital Humanities Week (#dhweek) at the University of Maine explores the impact of digital research and publication tools on artistic creation and humanities scholarship.
The theme of the 2017 Digital Humanities Week will be STEM to STE(A)M–a movement proposing that the arts and humanities play a stronger role in setting the agenda for and assessing the outcome of scientific and technological research. The 2017 conference will also cover other germane topics, from audiovisual archiving to women and code to copyright and net neutrality.