Proposal to Institute a Multi-campus Research Group (MRG) in


1: Title page


Principal Investigator: William B. Warner

Department: English

Campus: University of California/ Santa Barbara

Email: warner@humanitas.ucsb.edu

Mailing Address:

South Hall; UC/ Santa Barbara; Santa Barbara, CA 93106

Campus phone: 805-893-3237


The Digital Cultures Project will bring together faculty and graduate students from across the UC system who are actively engaged with the history and theory of new digital technologies and the ways in which they impact humanistic studies and the arts. It will also serve as an agency through which faculty and graduate students who have not been actively engaged in these matters can learn about them in order to incorporate them in their future work. The MRG will sponsor four interrelated activities. 1) Each summer there will be a week-long institute, consisting of a program of seminars and workshops followed by a public conference on a key topic. 2) Throughout the year a Web-based network will serve as a discussion forum and resource library for participants. 3) The MRG will provide a visiting research stipend to a faculty member or post-doctoral fellow enabling them to come to UCSB, for from 3 to 10 weeks, in order to do research in the area of digital cultures. 4) Each fall there will be a separate conference organized and run by graduate students. 5) The proceedings of the institutes, conferences, and Web-based collaborations will result in periodic casebook publications on the use of information technology in humanities research and teaching. These activities will be administered by the Direction, located on the UCSB campus, together with an advisory committee consisting of one representative from each of the eight general campuses of the university.


Digital technologies – the computer, the cd, and the Web– and the new kinds of textual, aural and visual activities that they make possible are profoundly changing objects and methods of study in the humanities and the ways in which scholars and practitioners think about their work. Among other things, the interactive, collaborative, and fluid media created by digital technology challenge such fundamental concepts as the author, conceived as the solitary creative individual, and the work of art, conceived as a fixed and permanent monument. At the same time digital technologies are making new kinds of archives possible and creating new resources for scholarship, teaching, and the digital arts. Too often scholars and artists are seen as mere users of the informational technologies. By situating the new digital media as central to the history and criticism, theory and art we already do, the Digital Cultures Project will enable the humanities to play an active role in the development of emerging digital cultures.

In the past decade, distinguished UC humanists from many disciplines have turned their attention to new digital technologies and the ways they are impacting – indeed, perhaps transforming – the objects of humanities research and the ways of conducting that research. Some have been concerned with practical applications such as the web-based William Blake Archive, an invaluable tool for both art-historical and literary research. Others have examined information technologies in historical context, to understand the parallels and differences between, for example, the printing revolution of the Renaissance and Enlightenment and the current digital revolution. Changes in the contemporary “mode of information” (Poster) have allowed these scholars to see the salience of information to earlier epochs and cultures, and that historical understanding has provided a critical perspective upon the latest changes in information technology. Probably no university in the world can compare to UC in the number and distinction of faculty actively engaged in these areas of research. These scholars are distributed across the university with perhaps no more than three or four clustered on any one campus. One of these clusters is at UCSB, which is home of Transcriptions, an NEH-supported project devoted to research and teaching in the area of information culture which can serve as the administrative center for the MRG.

One of our goals, then, is to use the state-of-the-art facilities associated with Transcriptions as a foundation to enable UC faculty to engage with each other and with graduate students in scholarly study of digital technology and in the development of new practical applications. We envision many joint projects involving faculty from multiple campuses; we also envision the training of new graduate students with courses and dissertation committees drawn from across the university. A second goal is to provide a resource for faculty and graduate students who are interested in these matters but who have not yet become actively engaged. Many of the seminars and workshops of the annual institute will be designed with this audience in mind. In addition the institute will work to attract at least some K-12 educators, policy makers, digital professionals, and other non-university people to participate in its activities. A third goal is the production of web-based materials and periodical casebooks designed to focus and promulgate the activities of the group and to advance the state of thought about topics related to the digital humanities. Related to each of the goals is a further fundamental purpose: to establish UC as the leading institution in the country in the digital humanities.


A. Background of the Applicant Group: The following UC faculty have indicated their interest in and desire to participate in the Digital Culture MRG:

Sue Ellen Case, Theater and Dance, UCD

Anne Friedberg, Visual Studies, UC/Irvine

Katherine Hayles, English, UC/Los Angeles

Robert Essick, English, UC/Riverside

Earl Jackson, Literature Board, UC/Santa Cruz

Alan Liu, English, UCSB

Peter Lyman, Political Science, Information Science, UCB

J Hillis Miller, English and Comparative Literature,

UC/Irvine Mark Poster, History and Visual Studies, UC/Irvine

Dan Schiller, Communications, UC/San Diego

William Warner, English, UCSB

Samuel Weber, English, UC/Los Angeles

The applicant group consists of twelve UC faculty representing at least six different disciplines (visual studies, literature, history, information science, theater and dance, and communications) and all of the eight UC general campuses (UCB, UC/Santa Cruz, UCSB, UC/Los Angeles, UC/Riverside, UC/Irvine, UC/San Diego). Various subsets of the group have worked together at various times. Thus, for example, Mark Poster and Katherine Hayles have long been in contact as have Alan Liu and Hillis Miller. Mark Rose and Dan Schiller, too, have worked together as joint members of a UC/San Diego doctoral student’s committee (on intellectual property in the contemporary university). Probably the most extensive pre-existing collaboration, however, has been that between William Warner, the PI for the group, and Alan Liu in the founding and development of the Transcriptions project, now in its second active year, at UCSB.

Aspects of the proposed MRG have been under discussion among some of these faculty members for over a year, first in preparation for the original submission to UCOP last Spring and then in preparation for the present revised submission. In preparation for the present submission William Warner traveled to several campuses to meet with faculty and discuss their interests and Warner and Liu also hosted a meeting of digital arts practitioners (UCDARNET) at the Transcriptions facility. Finally, on December 4, UCSB hosted a weekend conference of eleven UC faculty members interested in this project. Present at this meeting were Anne Friedberg, N. Katherine Hayles, Robert Essick, Earl Jackson, Alan Liu, J. Hillis Miller, Mark Poster, Mark Rose, Dan Schiller, Randolph Starn, and William Warner. David Marshall, Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts at UCSB, also participated. There is a web site for that December Planning Conference. Out of this meeting emerged the organization, activities, and agenda, described in the present proposal.

The interests of the participants include applied digital projects such as Robert Essick’s William Blake Archive, a vast research archive devoted to Blake, and Alan Liu’s Voice of the Shuttle, which is probably the most extensive single general resource for humanities research available on the Web. Many of the participants have also written critical and theoretical books on topics related to digital issues. These include Katherine Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics (Chicago, 1999); J. Hillis Miller’s, Black Holes (Stanford, 1999); Mark Poster’s The Mode of Information (Polity, 1990) and The Second Media Age (Polity, 1995); and Daniel Schiller’s Digital Capitalism (MIT, 1999). Others in our group have written books and articles bearing upon the history of cultures of information, including Peter Lyman, Anne Friedberg, Alan Liu, Mark Rose, William Warner, and Sam Weber. Short bibliographies and other information about the participants are attached as Appendix A.

B. Administration and Organization: The MRG will be based at UCSB where the English Department is the home to Transcriptions, an NEH-supported project concerned with digital technology in research and teaching. The Digital Cultures Project will be administered by a Director and a rotating Advisory Committee composed of one representative from each of the eight general UC campuses. William Warner (English, UCSB) has agreed to serve as Director of the MRG. From our applicant group of 12 scholars, the following have agreed to serve on next year’s Advisory Committee:

UCB: Peter Lyman (Political Science, Information Science)

UCD: Sue-Ellen Case (Theater and Dance) UC/Irvine: Mark Poster (History and Visual Studies)

UC/Los Angeles: Katherine Hayles (English)

UC/Riverside: Bob Essick (English)

UCSB: Alan Liu (English)

UC/Santa Cruz: Early Jackson Jr. (Literature Board)

UC/San Diego: Dan Schiller (Communications)

The Advisory Committee will assist the Director in the selection of an annual theme for the Summer Institute and Conference, as well as selecting the site for the Graduate Student Conference. The Committee will also include working sub-groups on the following particular aspects of the MRG’s mission: 1) the study of the history and theory of information culture, 2) the development of new pedagogical models, 3) the effort to include an ever larger and more various group of humanists within our MRG, 4) outreach by staging events where scholars working on the digital humanities can interact with K-12 educators, business people, software designers, legislators, and others. We anticipate that the Advisory Committee and the Director will also serve as lobbyists and promoters of the interests of humanists with such UC agencies as the California Digital Library and the newly proposed Standing Committee on Copyright and the University.

The MRG will have office space in the English Department at UCSB. It will receive staff support from the English Department, which presently has a full-time staff person devoted to computer technology. It will also employ a 50% graduate research assistant who will oversee the MRG web-site and assist in the organizing of meetings, institutes, and conferences. The Director of the MRG will receive course relief from the English Department.

C. Programs:

1. The Digital Culture Institute

The annual Institute will be a 5-day long program held at Santa Barbara in late June and designed with the guidance of the Advisory Committee. The substance of each institute will be developed with respect to three different coordinates: 1) research subjects relating to the history and theory of information technology, 2) pedagogical and practical subjects relating to the use of digital technology in teaching and publishing, and (3) outreach to educators, business people, and others from beyond the university, as well as “outreach” to new constituencies within the university.

5-Day Program of Morning Seminars and Afternoon Workshops. We anticipate a program that for the first year will start with perhaps 30-40 participants. These will be drawn principally from UC faculty and graduate students but we also anticipate attracting participants from beyond the university. We expect to mount 4 seminars and workshops meeting within a five-day program, each with a specially qualified leader. One seminar might be on a historical or theoretical topic, for example, the relationship between the web and earlier media forms such as print, radio, and film. A second, which might be conducted in workshop format using the Transcriptions facility, would focus on developing a web-page authoring project.

2. Public Conference. The institute will be followed by a weekend conference on a theme selected in consultation with the Advisory Committee. Possible topics include such general formulations as “Academic Knowledge in the Age of Knowledge Work” or “The Aesthetics of Information” or “The Personal Computer and the Public Sphere” but conference sessions will also be concerned with such specific issues as “The Library in the Digital Age” or “The Classroom of the Future.” It is assumed that faculty and students from the Institute would participate in the conference; but the conference will draw a larger group of participants. We will actively solicit non-academics – technical people from industry as well as policy-makers and educators – to participate in conference sessions.

3. The Graduate Conference. We anticipate that a large number of UC graduate students will become associated with the Digital Humanities Project and its programs and that one important function of the MRG will be to enable graduate students to become familiar with faculty members and students from across the university who share their interests. Each year the Digital Cultures Project will support a weekend conference, probably during the Fall, organized and run by graduate students on a campus other than UCSB. The goal of the conference will be to give graduate students genuine autonomy in developing a topic that compels them and to allow them to take a leadership role in the activities of the MRG. UCSB has had excellent experience with such conferences – for some years the English Department, together with the UCSB Renaissance Studies Program, has run just such a graduate student conference – and so has The Dickens Project.

4. The Digital Culture Network. A Web-based network administered by the MRG’s Graduate Research Assistant under the supervision of the Director will serve as a discussion forum and a resource library for group participants. Initially, the network will archive relevant course syllabi as well as teaching materials and a database of relevant links. It will also archive materials developed in the various workshops and conferences. A second function of the network will be to promulgate the MRG’S activities both to the group and to the public at large. Over time, we will develop the network into a cross-campus platform for such advanced online activities as virtual meetings between MRG participants, real-time conversations between participants and public figures, participants and K-12 students, and shared courses (team-taught by MRG faculty on different campuses).

5. Visiting Research Stipend. Each year the Digital Cultures Project will fund a Visiting Research Stipend of $12,000. This money will enable a faculty member or post-doc to come to UCSB—for a period from 2-10 weeks—and work upon a research project in our research area. (The length of the visit will depend upon other funding.) The stipend will support travel to and from UCSB, housing and expenses. We envision that research projects would entail intensive use of the Digital Cultures Network, and the machines and digital resources we are developing here. Priority will be given to projects that enable collaboration with and between participants in the MRG.

6. Dissemination and Publication. The MRG will collect and publish – most likely in digital form -- the proceedings from its institutes and conferences. In addition it will develop a schedule for prodUC/Irvineng, after the fifth year of activity, a casebook of specific models, templates, and planning documents for the following: a “Course of the Future,” a “Classroom of the Future,” a “Conference of the Future,” and a ”Library of the Future.” That is, the group will undertake in the normal course of its yearly proceedings to research, discuss, and advance the state of thought on these topics by creating a set of concrete paradigms that reflect the needs of the humanities.

D. Fund Raising

The MRG should be able to operate its core programs with the requested funds from UCOP and the matching funds and other support from UCSB. Nonetheless if it is to grow and develop it will need to raise additional funds from other sources. One source might be institutional subscriptions from non-UC campuses on the model of The Dickens Project. The Transcriptions Project has already received feelers from other digitals humanities programs on forming a consortium in this area. Such a consortium would allow the annual Institute to develop into a much larger and fuller series of events, one that could include participants from across the country. Another might be program-specific grants to allow, for instance, the development of one-day in-service seminars on digital humanities topics for high school teachers. We hope to involve non-academics in the activities of the MRG and we hope that these involvements will lead to substantial fund raising opportunities.

E. How the Proposed Program is Relevant to Humanities Issues

In the past few years, every academic discipline seems to be striving to come to terms with the digital mutation in the information media. It seems to be one of those rare moments when the obsessions of academia have come into alignment with those of the culture at large. Of course, at least since humankind began using tools to etch culture into matter–let us say, with the invention of writing and painting–information technologies have provided the media infrastructure of culture. The Digital Cultures Project seeks to splice together what the university usually separates: the most recent innovations in digital technology with the modern disciplines of the humanities, rooted in the revival of secular Classical thought initiated by Renaissance humanists and organized in their modern form (as History, English, Art, etc.) during the Enlightenment and Romantic periods. This double valence of our project distinguishes it from the many other initiatives relating to information technology.

First, we don’t propose to study the “impact” of digital media on “society.” This kind of study, usually centered in the social sciences, and often endowed by corporations in the media business, too often assumes a radical separation of humans and information. This line of analysis makes the new media our all-encompassing fate, or conversely, a mere tool the use of which we may redirect at will.

Secondly, we intend to avoid the “presentist” bias of all too many studies of new media. Our sense of media history reminds us that cultures have often negotiated the movement from one media form to another, for example, from oral to written media, from manuscript to print. The changes they witnessed may have appeared just as transforming as the emergence of global digital networks does in our own epoch. We are convinced that the sense of history so central to the humanities is an indispensable component of the study of modern cultures of information.

Finally, an historical consciousness of the complex interplay between information and culture suggests why information technology should not be understood as a “tool.” This metaphor, grounded in the Greek etymology of the word “technology” (from techne, tool), has the effect of giving it a narrowly instrumental function, and leads one to underestimate how each new information technology grows out of the lusts and longings of culture. This metaphor obscures the way culture and information become intimately entangled, how what may have appeared as a mere tool has become integral to one’s self and one’s experience. But this intimate relation does not herald an insidious takeover of culture by technology. Because of the plasticity of both media forms and social practices, we are enthusiastic about the potential for humanists to be full and equal collaborators in the formation of new information technologies and new digital cultures. Thus, for example, a humanistic grasp of the value of visual and verbal literacy is indispensable to the practical task of shaping the digital classroom; a humanistic understanding of the critical function of aesthetic invention can help us devise a fruitful balance between copyright and fair use. In sum, we believe that humanists should be central players in the study and invention of the emerging forms of information technology.

F. Timetable for Major Components of the Program 2000-2001

Fall 2000: sponsor a “Cultures of Information” conference

The goal of such a “big tent” conference will be to bring together the large number of UC faculty and students interested in the digital humanities. The participants of our MRG will be organizers of different sessions and events, and will take the lead in stimulating graduate student participation. The goal of our “Cultures of Information” conference will be to widen our UC participant base and clarify the focus of our common interests. Although we lost two digital artists from our applicant group shortly before our planning meeting in December, we remain convinced of the importance of the digital arts to a balanced digital humanities initiative. Our Fall 2000 “Cultures of Information” conference will allow us to invite participation by UC digital artists who share our interests. Here are the other activities for our busy start-up year:

  • Set up office space and staff infra-structure at UCSB.
  • Design and implement the Digital Cultures Network on our NT server.
  • Hold a meeting of the Advisory Committee to plan the 1st Annual Institute.
  • Stage a 1st Annual Institute June 2001.
  • Select faculty member of post-doc to receive $10,000 Visiting Research Stipend
  • Select campus to receive $3,000 in seed money for a Graduate Student conference (Fall 2001)


  • Planning meeting of MRG Advisory Committee (early Fall 2001).
  • Graduate Student conference (Fall 2001).
  • 2nd Annual Institute (June 2002)
  • 1st Annual Conference on the weekend after Institute (June 2002)

2002-2003: All of the primary components of the program will b e working: the network, the Fall Graduate Student Conference, and the June Institute and Conference. Additional funding sources should allow us to expand the scope of the Institute and Conferences.


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