February 02, 2011

NEH Grant deadline approaches

There is less than a month left before the application deadline for the NEH Digital Humanities Start-up Grant. For more information, click HERE.

January 27, 2011

Crowdsourcing reaches Sundance

A new documentary film created by a team led by producer Ridley Scott and Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald is making waves at Sundance. The film, titled Life in a Day is a crowdsource creation. Crowdsourcing or distributed problem-solving and production is on the rise as advances in technology (and associated decreases in relative cost) allow for collaboration that is both more broad-based and richer. The final film is a distillation of the best of more than 80,000 video submissions to the project. "Knowing where the content came from — users from 120 countries shot footage on cellphones, consumer cameras and webcams — makes Life in a Day feel like an entirely new form of storytelling." (J. Silverman wired.com)

January 21, 2011

Chief Marie Dies; So Does Her Language

2008: Marie Smith Jones, a chief of the Eyak Indian tribe in Alaska, dies. With her dies the Eyak language.

Chief Marie, 89, was the last person to speak this tribal tongue, which she learned from her parents as a little girl. She was also the last full-blooded Eyak. Following her elder sister’s death in the 1990s, Chief Marie, now the lone native Eyak speaker, kept the language alive with the help of linguist Michael Krauss. He’d begun working with Chief Marie in 1962.

Because Eyak’s eventual demise could be foreseen, it became kind of a poster child in the battle against language extinction.

Eyak, a branch of the Na-Dené language, was — like many aboriginal tongues — spoken only in a small, local area. In this case, it was found in south central Alaska, centered near the mouth of the Copper River.

The spread of English certainly played a role in the decline of Eyak, but the real nail in the coffin came from the Tlingit, another aboriginal tribe who first came into contact with the Eyak through migration and eventually subsumed the former’s culture. Tlingit, another offshoot of the Na-Dené phylum, became predominant as the two cultures merged.

The matter of language extinction has become more acute in a world made smaller by technology. Linguists are divided over whether this is a good or bad thing.

Those seeking preservation say that each language represents an entree into individual cultures, including insights into local knowledge. Those who would let a fading language go extinct argue that the fewer languages around to muddle understanding, the better.

Source: Wikipedia, Alaska Public Radio

This article first appeared on Wired.com Jan. 21, 2009.

Get the full article here.

January 20, 2011

The Humanities Really Do Produce a Profit

Chronicle of Higher Education - March 21, 2010

The Humanities Really Do Produce a Profit
By Robert N. Watson

The humanities—philosophy, art history, English literature, Slavic languages, musicology, and the rest—are quaint, elderly relatives that the real, serious, modern university (consisting of technological researchers and the professional schools) subsidizes out of charitable tradition but has trouble pampering during difficult times. The president of my university, the University of California, made that clear on national television not long ago: "Many of our, if I can put it this way, businesses are in good shape. We're doing very well there. Our hospitals are full, our medical business, our medical research, the patient care. So, we have this core problem: Who is going to pay the salary of the English department? We have to have it. Who's going to pay it in sociology, in the humanities? And that's where we're running into trouble."

President Mark G. Yudof probably meant no disrespect when he identified us as the "core problem" of the university's budget crisis, and maybe I'm mistaken to hear more resignation than enthusiasm in the assertion that an English department is "trouble" that you nonetheless "have to have." But he is mistaken about the economics—and you probably are, too. As Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability, said in a New York Times article last fall, English students usually generate a profit. "They're paying for the chemistry major and the music major. ... The little ugly facts about cross-subsidies are inflammatory, so they get papered over."

If you count what patients pay for treatment as income earned by a medical center, but do not count what students pay for literature courses as income earned by the humanities department, the hospital will surely look like a much smarter business.

But, according to spreadsheet calculations done at my request by Reem Hanna-Harwell, assistant dean of the humanities at the University of California at Los Angeles, based on the latest annual student-credit hours, fee levels, and total general-fund expenditures, the humanities there generate over $59-million in student fees, while spending only $53.5-million (unlike the physical sciences, which came up several million dollars short in that category). The entire teaching staff of Writing Programs, which is absolutely essential to UCLA's educational mission, has been sent firing notices, even though the spreadsheet shows that program generating $4.3-million dollars in fee revenue, at a cost of only $2.4-million.

So, the answer to "Who's going to pay the salary of the English department?" is that the English department at UCLA earns its own salary and more, through the fees paid by its students—profits that will only grow with the increase in student fees.

That isn't an eccentric calculation. Of the 21 units at the University of Washington, the humanities and, to a lesser degree, the social sciences are the only ones that generate more tuition income than 100 percent of their total expenditure. Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, recently cited a University of Illinois report showing that a large humanities department like English produces a substantial net profit, whereas units such as engineering and agriculture run at a loss. The widely respected Delaware Study of Instructional Costs and Productivity shows the same pattern.

Because that evidence runs up against the widespread myth that other units and departments subsidize the humanities, and up against such well-entrenched forces within the university, it is regularly ignored or even suppressed. In the 1990s, UCLA invested huge amounts of money setting up Responsibility Centered Management, an accounting system eventually used at many universities to evaluate all the real costs of different units and the revenue they actually produce. The goal was to make budgeting fair and transparent. However, according to administrators then prominently involved in the process, when the initial run of those intricate spreadsheets showed that the College of Letters and Science was the most efficient user and producer of money, and the health sciences were far less efficient, RCM was abandoned. I have no illusions that the businesspeople and University of California medical executives who evidently have President Yudof's ear will be more receptive to that inconvenient truth today than they were then.

University budgets, fraught with indirect costs and shared infrastructure, are far too complicated for an amateur to master, and people in other fields would surely emphasize other numbers. We're all in this leaking, listing ship together, and the humanities will have to bear some of the pain of bailing it out. But, as Wellman of the Delta Project observed in a follow-up e-mail message to me, "cutting humanities is penny-wise and pound-foolish. ... Even though scientists bring in research money, research grants never pay for their full costs, so they actually erode resources from the general instructional program. And cutting budgets further in the courses that are already the lowest cost is nutty."

We produce a profit despite the irreducibly labor-intensive aspects of much work in the humanities, where there are seldom any single right answers toward which students may be directed, and where instruction must therefore engage actively and progressively with the particular subjective attributes of each developing voice and mind in a classroom discussion or in drafts of an essay. Class size therefore cannot swell in many of our departments without destroying our essential pedagogical function, any more than the sciences could function without laboratories.

Yet because the discretionary budget in humanities goes almost entirely for teaching staff, across-the-board cuts hit our instruction especially hard. The dean of humanities' office at UCLA warned a few months ago that the proposed budget would require programs in this division—already the leanest in staff per faculty—to fire most of their lecturers and teaching assistants, making our curriculum unsustainable.

If you're wondering who would ever deem that an acceptable outcome, consider that the 30-member commission that the chairman of the University of California Board of Regents, Russell S. Gould, and President Yudof appointed last year to plan the university's future includes a dozen people from business and economics, a half-dozen from medicine, some lawyers, educational theorists, and social-science undergraduates—but only one humanist, a late addition reportedly after faculty protests. Even in the commission's satellite working groups, humanities faculty members are outnumbered by a ratio of about 14 to 1, according to my calculations. That scientific researchers always subsidize the humanities was blithely repeated at the commission's public forum at UCLA without challenge—and without a single humanist on the podium. The official budget-crisis Web site of the University of California warns that "a federal grant for laser-beam research can't be used to fund a deficit in the English Department." Top administrative positions are now dominated by people from technology and medicine, who, without any conscious bias or ill will, are naturally susceptible to that complacent belief, that well-known fact that isn't true.

For students and faculty members in the humanities, the result is essentially taxation without representation. For the University of California system, the result may be a drastic loss of educational quality that will soon turn into a net loss of money as well—especially if it damages the traditional teaching of writing skills, languages, and cultural literacy that both taxpayers and employers value so highly.

No sane citizenry measures its public elementary schools by whether they pay for themselves immediately and in dollars. We shouldn't have to make a balance-sheet argument for the humanities, either, at least not until the balance-sheet includes the value, to the student and to the state, of expanded powers of personal empathy and cross-cultural respect, improved communication through language and other symbolic systems, and increased ability to tolerate and interpret complexity, contemplate morality, appreciate the many forms of artistic beauty, and generate creative, independent thought.

That grandiose description surely reveals my own tribal loyalties, and I don't mean to pick fights with my brilliant and dedicated colleagues in the sciences when it's really the shared project of a broad and meaningful undergraduate education that's at risk. And the gravest wounds to this magnificent public university have come from the state legislature itself, which imagines it can continue cutting what it pays for educating Californians without hurting California.

But when a university's own leaders begin talking about higher education as if it were just another business rather than a great collective legacy, by making English professors the scapegoat for hundreds of millions of dollars in operating deficit, they need to hear some other voices. The assumption that the humanities are a vestigial parasite within an otherwise self-sufficient institutional body is dangerously wrong.

December 20, 2010

Digital Humanities Sessions at the 2011 MLA

Sample Reality has compiled a list of the 2011 MLA conference sessions with topics particular to the digital humanities. This should give interested followers a great view into the hot topics in the field.

Digital Humanities Sessions

December 17, 2010

Le blog est mort. Vive le blog!

Pew Internet & American Life Project has just released its Generations Online 2009 report and...[drum-roll]...blogging is quickly becoming a thing of the past as the younger generations move to more rapid modes of information-dispersal. (Here's a really cool Mashable of the report information) So, why start a blog now? I'll admit it: I'm not much of a blogger and I don't actually seek out and read any blogs. I am, however, a huge RSS advocate. I love having highly specific and organized information delivered directly to me. To that end, I'm using the blog platform as a virtual distribution center to send interesting Humanities happenings right to your feed reader. Once you've subscribed (just click the logo below), sit back and enjoy!

December 16, 2010

NYTimes.com - Mapping America

Another in a growing class of mapping visualization tools, this particular entry in the field tracks 05-09 Census information to provide a demographic breakdown of the country. Click HERE to view the map.