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The Useful In-Between: Where Data, Arts, and Humanities Meet

Presenter 1
Justin Joque
University of Michigan
Presenter 2
David Pavelich
Duke University
Presenter 3
Heather Tompkins
Carleton College
Presenter 4
Margaret Pezalla-Granlund
Carleton College
Presenter 5
Kristin Partlo
Carleton College

In the last 3-5 years data librarians, long accustomed to working primarily with social scientists and scientists, are increasingly called to work with people across the disciplines who are interested in using their data. This leads to many challenges, among them, discerning when a problem of access requires a technological, methodological, or cultural solution. Working across disciplinary boundaries also opens up new possibilities for engaging with data, by uncovering new uses for familiar data and by introducing new approaches of appreciating and critiquing our understanding of data and how we put it to use.  The presenters on this multidisciplinary panel will speak from their experiences in this fertile zone where data science meets the arts and humanities. A digital humanities librarian, a special collections librarian, a visualization librarian, and a curator of library exhibitions will each talk about their experiences reaching across disciplinary practices to get at and connect with data. Their case studies will shed light on common questions and experiences regarding working with new partners, managing expectations around such work, and helping patrons find data in places they may have never thought to look before.

Heather Tompkins
Digital humanities often results in the production of  rich collections of digital objects, metadata, and data, but digital humanists may not always see this digital output as data. This space between digital humanities and data services creates an occasion for librarians in expanding conceptions of data on campus to include materials beyond quantitative information.  This work takes on additional pedagogical significance when mentoring and teaching undergraduate research assistants who will support faculty projects.  This presentation explores one approach for exploring this intersections between  digital humanities and data services and raises questions about what DH can borrow from the tradition of data services in this area.

David Pavelich
For decades, archives and special collections libraries have been collecting data in diverse formats, sometimes purposely, sometimes incidentally. The content is equally, endlessly diverse, from diary reckonings of the value of slaves; to 19th century weather data; to unpublished financial data collected by twentieth century economists. Many such archival items (like ledgers) are passed over by researchers because of their complexities or inscrutability. However, these collections of under-explored data hold pedagogical potential for undergraduate (and even graduate) instruction. This paper offers a way for special collections librarians and data librarians to work together to teach students about using primary sources from two very different perspectives within the research library.

Margaret Pezalla-Granlund
Many artists are interested in the way information is represented, and explore techniques of visualizing data through their artwork. Some of the most interesting artwork about data gets to questions about how we read data, how it is understood (and misunderstood), and the possibility of uncertainty. Is there an art behind data? Can a graph be expressive? What can artists tell us about how we look at numbers? For this session, I will choose three key artist’s books to use as case studies to explore the ways in which artists visualize and interpret data.

Justin Joque
From text mining projects to the creation of interactive websites, humanists are turning towards data as a way to understand and augment their research. Offering data visualization and mapping support as part of our Spatial and Numeric Data Services, we often assist on substantial portions of these projects. Especially as various sources and types of textual data, including those with interesting topological features such as link networks for websites, become available and methodologies for processing large corpora develop, humanists are increasingly using and thinking critically about data. The vast amounts of data that can be computationally processed are pushing the boundaries of what reading and analyzing textual information means in the humanities. This presentation will explore some of the interesting uses of data in the humanities we have developed and supported at the University of Michigan Library and the ways in which humanists along with data librarians are thinking about data and its relation to the humanities.

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