Growing beyond boundaries in 21st century collaborations

Artists and scientists inherit from their separate academic training and social milieus very different standards for evidence, success, and tenure criteria. This discussion asks how intrepid collaborators who want to cross those disciplinary chasms can navigate such cultural differences to invigorate their research and their field.

A number of panelists focus on the oceans as a research topic and artistic inspiration. Marine biologist Jessie Muhlin of Maine Maritime Academy studies the reproductive ecology and food web of seaweeds in the northwestern Atlantic, and has worked in art-science collaborations using marine algae as inspiration.

UMaine’s Lee Karp-Boss is a Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center Faculty Fellow who studies the ecology of phytoplankton, while Emmanuel Boss is an aquatic physicist who tries to understand how marine creatures interact with the constraints of their physical environment.

All three have collaborated with UMaine’s Gene Felice, a New Media artist and educator who draws on production techniques from ecological sensors to 3D printing to tell stories through interactive installations and video mapping.

Also on the panel is Erin Gee, a composer and artist who creates interactive object-scores, biotechnological performances and digital prints inspired by vocal performance practice and technological otherness.

Exploring the intersection of art and artificial intelligence is a research focus for UMaine’s Sofian Audry, who has just joined the faculty of New Media.

The event is free and open to the public.

Free bus to Bangor ARTwalk during Digital Humanities Week


Join the free UMaine student bus trip from campus to the Downtown Bangor ARTwalk on Friday, Oct. 6. We will attend a free reception and performances at the Bangor Arts Exchange (193 Exchange St.), a free reception and tour at the UMaine Museum of Art, and have time to explore on our own.

The first-come, first-served bus will leave from the Collins Center for the Arts parking lot at 4:30 p.m. and return to that location at about 8:15 p.m. You can also drive your own car to this event if you prefer. Please carpool!

This trip is co-sponsored by the Office of Student Life, the McGillicuddy Humanities Center, and the CLAS Advising Office.

BYOT–Bring Your Own Topic!

Sprinkled throughout the 2017 Digital Humanities Week are THATCamps and hackathons that break the academic conference mold by allowing participants to start ad hoc conversations on their own topics, whether how to run a lasercutter or what to do about fake news. Nevertheless some workshops include a “featured” theme for participants who would prefer to join an existing discussion. These include:

Gender and code

Why do so many women drop out of computing majors while in college? What strategies can help open university departments, scientific labs, and tech firms to a more diverse workforce? How might breathing fresh perspectives into these fields change the character of their research and the outcomes for society? Join COCO creator Ruth Leopold and members of the WiSTEMM, ACM-W, and Rising Tide communities for this discussion.

DIY scientific instruments

In an age of Big Data and $9 billion particle accelerators, how can ordinary citizens contribute to DIY science? Joe Davis leads a workshop on creating a cloud chamber, one of the fundamental detectors of astronomy and elementary particle physics. Although only the size of a breadbox, this humble artifact construction helps scientists ascertain the structure of the very largest (galactic) skills as well as the very smallest (quark) scales.

Unmaking audio

Scientific progress is often seen by the lay person as an inevitable sequence of logical inferences, whereas in fact the history of science is punctuated by critical discoveries that were accidental or serendipitous, from anesthetic to the cosmic background radiation. Artists are experts in discovering through play and deconstruction, as exemplified by Nam June Paik’s 1963 work Random Access, which disassembled an audio player to grant the user more ways to listen to the same audio tape. This hackathon offers participants a chance to unmake audio equipment supplied by University of Maine’s Hackerspace and remake instruments of their own. Adam Paul of the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning coordinates the workshop.

Virtual museums and digital publishing

In the digital age, the experience of a museum need no longer be stepping foot through a marble doorway into a brick-and-mortar edifice. Interactive online collections, mobile apps, and augmented and virtual reality offer new ways for cultural heritage organizations to tell stories. This session asks how small nonprofits can leverage these new concepts of the museum, not to replace precious artifacts with digital facsimiles, but to elicit new insights and new audiences. New Media professor Joline Blais joins 360-VR creator Craig Dietrich for this discussion on the future of the museum.

Civic engagement

At a time when policy decisions and electoral politics seem determined more by personal bias than facts, the role of public intellectuals seems more important than ever. Yet this also seems to be a moment when public respect for academics–and the impact of their research–is at an all-time low. Dartmouth’s John Bell has been working on this problem since 2007, when he pioneered a bookmarklet that allowed experts to weigh in on articles in the press on technically complex issues such as net neutrality or climate change. Mina Matthews and Rucha Modak have created a civic engagement tool kit to help professors translate academic research into real-world impact. Judith Rosenbaum-Andre studies the motivations that ordinary people have for engaging with social media like Twitter and its implications for the new public spheres of the 21st century.

The Science and Art of Immersive Media

Whether the subject is symphonies, galaxies, or dinosaurs, immersive audio and video offer a captivating platform for educating and engrossing audiences. The 2017 Digital Humanities Week features two pioneers of such platforms, who will demo their unique systems in UMaine’s new Emera Astronomy Center and M.F. Jordan Planetarium.

Dutch planetarium producer Robin Sip will demonstrate how immersive visualizations can be built from 3d animation, live action capture, and compositing live action. One session explains how fulldome and VR production differs from standard movie or flat screen methodologies, with an emphasis on how motion and point of view influence composition and storytelling in these unique environments. Sip is also conducting a workshop meant to give animators with some knowledge of Maya hands-on experience creating fulldome animations with plugins for Maya.

Immersive sound is the medium for Charlie Morrow, whose custom platform MorrowSound literally takes sound to the next level. MorrowSound projects audio above and below the listening plane, creating the illusion of an expanded space where sound moves up, down and around. MorrowSound has been showcased at major venues worldwide, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, and 2009 Design Week Helsinki–and this year at Digital Humanities Week.

The award-winning composer of soundtracks for feature films and campaigns and chair of the IPS committee on immersive sound, Morrow has experimented with audio as a healing as well as entertaining medium. His works have ranged from massive events in public contexts such as Chicago’s Lake Michigan and New York Harbor to innovative installations for the Kennedy Space Center, Empire State Building, and the American Museum of Natural History.

Robin Sip is CEO of Mirage3D and Director of Show Production and Content for Evans & Sutherland. A resident of The Hague, he has produced and/or directed 20 fulldome shows, including Origins of Life, Dinosaurs@Dusk, and Dawn of the Space Age, the most licensed fulldome film in the industry. Mirage3D’s productions have played in over 700 fulldome theaters and science centers around the world. His current research focuses on designing new camera rigs to improve live action capture for fulldome VR, such as his next production about the planet Mars.

Discovering the “Long” 18th Century


Making Connections within Gale Primary Sources

Tuesday, Oct. 3
4:00-5:15 p.m.
Library Classroom
1st floor Fogler Library (near the “Union” entrance)

This workshop will provide an overview of critical primary sources available to scholars at the University of Maine seeking to enhance their digital humanities research experience. Representatives from Gale will review the Gale Primary Sources platform, including core primary source databases available through the library. We will also cover recent research enhancements that may not easily be found within the normal library discovery tool environment, including term frequency, term clusters, downloadable OCR, and other integrated workflow tools.

Bring your own laptop, or use one provided by Fogler Library. Part of Digital Humanities Week 2017.

Lego-like creativity and the “right to unmake”

As technological platforms have become more powerful, our ability to deconstruct them has weakened. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act criminalizes farmers who disassemble tractors, hip-hop artists who sample vintage songs, and museum conservators who decompile obsolete software.

Store shelves over the last fifty years have likewise undergone a decline in toys that leave play to the imagination, as branded franchises with predetermined narratives like Frozen and Star Wars have crowded out open-ended playthings like generic dolls and chemistry sets.

Lego is one of the few toy companies to survive this encroachment with its reputation for exploratory play intact, yet its plastic bricks are increasingly boxed with instructions to build a single vehicle or building–a trend even more pronounced in competitors like Megablocks, whose specialized parts cannot be used to build anything else. Toys that discourage unmaking teach kids that being creative means following instructions.

Operating in contrast to the decline of hackability in today’s app and toy stores is a spectrum of creators who are decidedly not following instructions. Some hack systems without permission, like those who modify or “speedrun” Super Mario. Other artists exploit the openness of “toy” platforms like Minecraft or design microcontrollers like Arduino explicitly for hacking.

This panel invites artist and scholars to interrogate the often contradictory narratives surrounding makers and unmakers of products and platforms marketed as creative media. Depending on proposals received for the panel, its organizers may structure the discussion according to an aleatoric dynamic consistent with the theme of Lego-like creativity.

The event features Anne Collins Goodyear, a co-director of the Bowdoin Art Museum who began her interest in the digital humanities as curator at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum and presided over the release of the College Art Association’s first guidelines for Fair Use. Wendy Seltzer has served as specialist in digital law for such organizations as the W3C consortium, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Tor project, and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. John Bell focuses on collaborative creativity as artist and Lead Application Developer for Digital Humanities and architect for the Media Ecology Project at Dartmouth. Craig Dietrich harnesses database-driven interactive media for mobile apps that support renters in slums (Tenants in Action), archives that respect Aboriginal cultural protocols (Mukurtu), and Semantic Web publishing platforms (Scalar).


Upper left: Craig Dietrich, LEGO Tire Fire, 2017. Upper right: John Bell, Analog(ue), 2009.

Art + science? Full STEAM ahead

A keynote speaker at this year’s Digital Humanities Week is Roger Malina, widely regarded as a leading champion of the STEM to STEAM movement. As Executive Editor of MIT’s Leonardo publications, Malina has overseen a scholarly magazine and book series that for 50 years has explored emerging research fields that connect the sciences and engineering to the arts, design and humanities.

Yet sometimes innovative ideas require innovative vehicles, so Malina has also spearheaded forays into experimental publishing, from the Yasmin email list to the Creative Disturbance podcasts.

A recent question Malina has explored is how the rigor of peer review can be applied to “gray literature” outside of the traditional grooves of scholarly publishing. This is one of the goals of Arteca, a new federated platform under development by MIT Press.

Malina is Distinguished Professor of Art and Technology, and Professor of Physics, at the University of Texas at Dallas where he runs the ArtSciLab. He founded two nonprofits, ISAST in San Francisco and OLATS in Paris, which advocate and document the work of artists involved in contemporary science and technology. He served as director of the Observatoire Astronomique de Marseille Provence and was NASA Principal Investigator for the Extreme Ultraviolet Satellite project at the University of California, Berkeley.


Photo of Roger Malina at Ars Electronica, Linz, 2011, by rubra.

Fishing for paramecia and beaming runes to the stars

No one better exemplifies the promise and excitement of STEM to STEAM than MIT’s unofficial artist in residence, Joe Davis. Davis’ contagious brilliance has inspired some of the world’s leading scientists to help build his outlandish ideas, from fishing rigs designed to catch microorganisms to ornithopters powered by frog legs.

Combined with his rigorous understanding of scientific principles and advancements, Davis’s lateral thinking has at times put him decades ahead of mainstream scientists in discovering new uses for technology. His 1988 project embedding a visual image in DNA predated the recently publicized demonstration by Harvard researcher George Church by 24 years.

Other inventions of Davis’s have yet to find a scientific application. His Audio Microscope, a microscope that translates light information into sound, thus allowing you to hear the acoustic signature of living cells, might be someday used to identify abnormal cells such as cancer cells. Other experiments, such as learning how E. coli responds to jazz or beaming images into space via radio telescope, may never find a practical application yet are thought-provoking in their juxtaposition of human and bacterial cultures.

At Digital Humanities Week, Davis gives a talk about his latest research on the frontiers of art and science, as well as conducting a workshop on building your own DIY scientific instruments for artistic or scientific ends.

Encouraging women coders with COCO

Despite a nationwide push to teach programming to a more diverse body of students in K-12 education, recent studies suggest women are most likely to drop out of computer science in college. Ruth Leopold’s Coders Collaborative (COCO) aims to increase the retention of women in computing fields by fostering a sense of community among female students.

The key components and benefits of community that COCO targets are peer support, shared experience, confidence and interest.

The COCO website approaches each of these topics on its own, mixing beginner coding tutorials with video testimonials from women in STEM and a Facebook group dedicated to helping women through some of the more technically demanding classes in New Media.

Also represented at Digital Humanities Week will be initiatives such as the Rising Tide Center, WiSTEMM, and ACM-W, which hope to nourish women in STEM fields on a campus-wide and national scales.

Peeling back history one layer at a time

If historians in previous eras used hardware to excavate the past, today it is software that increasingly generates historical knowledge. Todd Presner’s talk “Experimental Knowledge in the Age of Digital Humanities.” examines what these new tools mean for today’s scholars of the cultures past and present.

In the field of Digital Humanities, Presner’s research focuses on the development of the geo-spatial web, digital publications, the ethics and visualization of cultural data, and social media events. He is the founder, director, and editor-in-chief of HyperCities, a collaborative, digital mapping platform that explores the layered histories of urban spaces.

Funded by the MacArthur Foundation as one of its first “digital media and learning” projects in 2008, HyperCities is an open-source, web-based platform for “going back in time” to analyze the cultural, urban, and social layers of city spaces. HyperCities brings together archival objects, maps, 3D models, and other sources for more than two dozen cities, including Berlin, Los Angeles, New York, and Rome.

Presner is Professor of Germanic Languages, Comparative Literature, and Jewish Studies at UCLA. He also directs the Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies. His lecture is co-sponsored by the McBride Fund, History Department, and Digital Humanities Week.