Information for Prospective Students

A letter to prospective students from Alan Liu, Professor of English and founder of the Transcriptions Center (last updated 17 Nov. 2019)

If you have an interest in the digital humanities and new media studies, UCSB is a particularly good place to be. UCSB was early to engage in the fields of digital humanities and new media studies, and its focus on these areas has allowed it to build up a deep and wide network of people and resources. Some of the concentrations of strength on our campus in these areas include:

* English Department

My colleagues Jeremy Douglass, Melody Jue, Rachael King, and Rita Raley join me in teaching a variety of courses related to digital humanities, new media studies, game studies, electronic literature, and cultural criticism of digital society. (And this year we have a job search for a new colleague to join us in 2020 who works on digital humanities and new media studies; see job call here.) For example, I often teach courses on the digital humanities, and I have just offered a new graduate seminar in 2019-2020 on the humanities and data science that explores today’s quickening mutation of the “liberal arts” into “data science,” a new universal mode of knowledge touching all fields. The colleagues I mention also teach some blend of the digital humanities and new media studies, often enriching that blend by making connections to new areas of study (such as “environmental media” and “algorithmic culture”) and also old areas of study seen afresh from the perspective of technology, media, and information (such as history of the book). In regard to old media made new, for instance, colleagues among our English department faculty such as Patricia Fumerton and James Kearney (as well as Rachael King, already mentioned) focus on the history of media and information in ways that bridge between the approaches of media history, “media archaeology,” and digital humanities and new media.

Besides the Transcriptions Center for DH and new media in our department, there is also our Early Modern Center (home of the major English Broadside Ballad Archive (EBBA) digitization project), as well as the initiative, which I lead and whose “WhatEvery1Says” project (using digital methods to study public media discourse about the humanities at “big data” scales) has received a grant of $1.1 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for 2017-2020. Early on, major projects in the English department established UCSB as the leader in DH and new media among University of California campuses–e.g., the two UC Multi-campus Research Groups hosted in the department: the Digital Cultures Project (2000-2005) and Transliteracies Project (2005-2010). Less wide-scale but gem-like projects originating in the English department include The Agrippa Files. A group of graduate students (almost all now with tenured or tenure-track positions in DH/new media) and I created that site in a burst of collaborative activity. Plus, there is our recent, strong “maker” or “builder” emphasis in the English department. For instance, the department’s EBBA project (mentioned above) is teaching students how to print broadside ballads using a historically accurate pull-press press named Mad Madge (a press like Gutenberg would have used), while the 3D printer in the Transcriptions Center is creating special type for the press. The Transcriptions Center’s DIY book scanner will then scan in and digitize ballads printed by EBBA to complete the whole circuit from print to digital.

All this activity has today attracted to our department a robust critical mass of graduate students interested in the digital humanities and new media. Visiting scholars from other parts of the world interested in DH and new media complete the set as regular participants in our courses, talk series, and workshops. Recently, for example, our Transcriptions Center staged a “Strange Books” event in which faculty and students (including visiting guest N. Katherine Hayles) showcased books that crossed the divide between media forms in “strange” ways.

Transcriptions “Strange Books” showcase, Feb. 2019, featuring guest speaker N. Katherine Hayles, UCSB faculty members (shown in photos: Jeremy Douglass, Melody Jue, Rita Raley, Harry Reese, William Warner), and graduate and undergraduate students.

Digital humanities and new media studies graduate students in the English department often write dissertations that incorporate digital projects. Blending traditional and DH/new media research positions them well for applying for a range of academic jobs. The result has been a very high rate of placement of graduates in these areas in tenure-track, postdoctoral, and also “alt-ac” (alternative academic) positions related to the digital humanities and new media studies. (Disclaimer: of course, as they say in the financial investment industry, past results are not a guarantee of future returns.)

* Other Departments, Programs, and Centers at UCSB

Faculty and students working on the digital humanities and new media studies in the English department have the advantage of working in a rich interdisciplinary campus milieu of people and programs in related areas. Here are a few of our collaborators:

Comparative Literature: In the English department, we often teach courses and lead projects that include Comparative Literature graduate students, many of whom have a strong DH/new media interest.

Film & Media Studies: Our F&M department has several faculty members who work in digital media studies, including professors Alenda Chang, Anna Everett, Jennifer Holt, Constance Penley, and Cristina Venegas. Our DH and new media courses in the English department often include F&M students. The ongoing F&M Environmental Media Initiative also intersects with the English department’s interest in environment and media (and in particular with Melody Jue’s research on ocean media).

MAT (Media Arts & Technology) Program: Our campus’s MAT program is a unique, flourishing MA/PhD program that consists of engineers, computer scientists, digital artists, and digital musicians working together to create remarkable environments of digital sound, sight, augmented reality, and information design. MAT graduate students have been key collaborators in English department courses and projects.

CITS (Center for Information Technology & Society): CITS has been a powerful catalyst for interdisciplinary collaboration in digital media studies at UCSB. It brings together faculty and graduate students from fields that include social sciences, humanities, and computer science/engineering. It runs a robust event and lecture series; incubates collaborative grant projects; and runs a Ph.D. Emphasis program that some English department students have completed. (The gateway seminar and other courses for that emphasis are a particularly good way to mix it up with other disciplines on campus interested in digital methods or media.)

DAHC (Digital Arts and Humanities Commons): New at UCSB is the DAHC directed by faculty member Jeremy Douglass from the English department. The DAHC is an incubation space for groups and projects on campus engaged in digital scholarship and pedagogy. A large open-plan physical space with room for multiple project groups each making their own unique use of creative, high-tech space and learning from each other’s projects, the DAHC is just now getting off the ground with proposed projects. The WhatEvery1Says project, for example, is proposing a Text Analysis Hackerspace for the DAHC.

For a longer list of past and present DH and New Media Studies projects, please check out the “Projects” page of the Transcriptions Center site.

I helped start the digital humanities and new media fields at UCSB back in the days when email was a new concept and the Web even more so for humanities scholars. For a blast from the past, see, my Voice of the Shuttle site for humanities research–the earliest online “portal” (that use of the word had not even been invented) for the humanities. VoS is now a legacy site, but I saw back then how new media could be a full partner with the humanities, each giving new perspectives on the other. I still believe in that reciprocity between the old and new countries of literate, and literary, sensibility. So I hope that UCSB can continue to attract superb students whose interest in the reciprocity between old and new media, in whatever balance between the two, can keep the flame alight.

— Alan Liu

Goleta, CA, November 17, 2019