Virginia Kuhn Connecting DR/DH/Supercomputing Communities at IU

Virginia Kuhn and HASTAC students

Last week, the Department of English brought Virginia Kuhn to campus. Kuhn is an associate professor in the Division of Media Arts + Practice in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. She is, to put it mildly, a veritable tour de force when it comes to the intersections of digital rhetoric and digital humanities, with interests ranging from visual literacy and composition to cinematics and big data. While on campus, Kuhn gave several talks and/or spoke with several groups. The first engagement on her schedule was a presentation to department faculty about practices for recognizing and assessing digital scholarship (particularly for tenure and promotion purposes). Specifically, Kuhn helped provide a language for a more nuanced assessment of multimedia works. Using what has come to be known as the Kuhn method (c.f., Ball), Kuhn walked the faculty through her heuristic of conceptual core, research component, form and content, and creative realization (see Kairos 14.2 for more on this frame). Using example works, she helped the faculty develop a tentative vocabulary for approaching multimedia/digital scholarship—answering questions about praxis along the way.

In addition to speaking to the faculty, Kuhn also had a conversation with IU’s HASTAC scholars and the graduate course, “Introduction to Digital Arts and Humanities”. Both events were held at the Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities, where Kuhn spent time talking about her own work as a digital scholar, particularly her groundbreaking digital dissertation. In 2005, Kuhn produced and defended one of the first ever born-digital dissertations in the United States, titled Ways of Composing: Visual Literacy in the Digital Age. It was a work that not only challenged archiving and copyright conventions, but exposed many issues with the University dissertational process (and/or how we understand the function and role of the dissertation as an artifact that is part of the doctoral granting apparatus). Her dissertation/degree culminated in a feature article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, who offered a journalistic take on the academic and political tensions at stake in Kuhn’s situation and dissertation.

Kuhn also talked about the Scalar program, which the IDAH graduate course is using pedagogically. Kuhn was the first to publish using Scalar. Her 2011 article, “Introduction to Filmic Texts and the Rise of the Fifth Estate” was published in the International Journal of Learning and Media (MIT Press). That work not only explores the potential of films serving as a textbook for undergraduate curricula, but demonstrates a thickness and a hyperthreading technique central to the representational affordances of digital media.

As part of her main act on campus, Kuhn presented as part of the Catapult Center for Digital Humanities & Computational Analysis of Texts speaker series. In that talk, she focused on her large scale video analytics project (The Video Analysis Tableau [The VAT]), which is the recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment grant and has recently been reclassified under “novel and innovative projects” for the NSF’s XSEDE program. The goal of the project is to use supercomputing to make video archives as searchable and navigable as text-based archives—blending both the on-demand access central to humanities computing with the batch computing models of traditional supercomputing applications.

In her final act on campus, Kuhn spoke with the English Department’s Digital Pedagogy/Digital Humanities Reading Group. As part of that meeting, the graduate students and Kuhn discussed her co-authored article with Vicki Callahan, “Nomadic Archives: Remix and the Drift to Praxis” (part of Brett D. Hirsch’s edited collection Digital Humanities Pedagogy). That meeting not only touched on issues of nomadic drifting and remix, but also included an informal discussion about being on the job market and what it means to identify as a digital humanist/digital scholar.

Altogether, Kuhn’s visit to IU helped establish many new cross campus connections and reestablish many of the values central to the humanities, though recast and updated in terms of the digital and twenty-first century mediascapes. Her presence brought together all ends of the digital humanities spectrum on campus, and her presentations helped us develop ways of talking about the kinds of established and emerging projects that run the gamut of digital rhetoric and digital humanities, from pedagogy to promotion.

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