Our Technoscience Humanity: Critical Engagements from the Mellon Digital Cultures Initiative

Personal drone systems, Chicano cyber-punk performance art, and “paper machines” are coming to UC Davis this year as part of the exciting continuation of the Mellon Research Initiative in Digital Cultures.

2014-2015 is the second year of programming for the Digital Cultures initiative, which continues under the leadership of co-directors Colin Milburn, the Gary Snyder Chair in Science and the Humanities and professor of English, Science and Technology Studies, and Cinema and Technocultural Studies, and Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli, associate professor of Cinema and Technocultural Studies at UC Davis. The Digital Cultures initiative’s associate director is Kristopher Fallon, the Mellon visiting assistant professor in Digital Cultures.

The Mellon Research Initiative in Digital Cultures is designed around innovative research practices that rearticulate the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts with respect to technosciences. The initiative explores how digital technologies have revolutionized the practices of everyday life and become an integral part of our work, communication, politics, economics, artistic creativity, and personal identity.

The Digital Cultures initiative kicked off the year with a lecture and workshop by Joseph DeLappe, a multi-media artist and professor in the Department of Art at the University of Nevada. DeLappe has worked with electronic and new media since 1983, and his work in online gaming, performance, sculpture and electromechanical installation have been shown throughout the world. On October 6th and 7th, DeLappe visited UC Davis and delivered the lecture “Headshot: The Art & Activism of Joe DeLappe” which addressed his critical work on U.S. militarism and surveillance most aptly captured by his “Me and My Predator – Personal Drone System” wearable art.

Following his talk on drone surveillance, DeLappe led an all-day workshop on October 7th where participants learned how to create 3-D imaging. Fallon notes that the lecture/workshop format is an exciting new addition to the Digital Cultures programming this year. Fallon said the initiative plans to focus on workshops with visiting presenters because these artists and academics have a lot to offer the UC Davis community in terms of teaching specific skills and methods.

The Digital Cultures group also plans to broaden its reach on campus to connect with audiences beyond the humanities, arts, and social sciences.  For example, the Digital Cultures emphasis on intellectual property and copyright law connects closely with the UC Davis School of Law, particularly the work of Professor Mario Biagioli. Similarly, the emphasis on gaming and surveillance connects closely with subject areas in the Cinema and Technocultural Studies program, where co-director Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli teaches on media theory, and film studies. Digital Cultures will continue its work with the UC Davis ModLab, an experimental research laboratory for digital humanities, media operations, and postdisciplinary innovations.

While dates continue to be finalized, the Digital Cultures initiative has a stellar line-up of visitors to UC Davis for the 2014-2015 academic year including Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Jo Guldi, Rita Raley and Alan Liu.

  • In January, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, a Chicano performance artist, writer, activist, author, and educator will visit UC Davis.  Gómez-Peña has created work in multiple media, including performance art, experimental radio, video, photography, and installation art.  He is a founding member of the art collective Border Arts Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo and director of the performance art troupe La Pocha Nostra.
  • The Digital Cultures initiative also features a spring-quarter lecture and workshop with Jo Guldi, assistant professor of history at Brown University. Guldi’s scholarship specializes in the history of capitalism and land use, and she also designs computational tools for visualizing large numbers of texts. Guldi will speak about her collaboration with Christopher Johnson-Roberson in the development of Paper Machines. Released in 2013, Paper Machines is a plugin for Zotero, a bibliographic management software, which makes “cutting-edge topic-modeling analysis in Computer Science accessible to humanities researchers without requiring extensive computational resources or technical knowledge.”
  • Rita Raley and Alan Liu, two professors from the Department of English at UC Santa Barbara, will each come to Davis and discuss outcomes of their work in the Mellon-funded project on Digital Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities-funded “Teaching with Technology” project, respectively. Raley is the author of Tactical Media, the first book to focus exclusively on the tactics and goals of new media art activists. Her primary research interests lie at the “intersection of digital media and humanist inquiry, with a particular emphasis on cultural critique, artistic practices, language, and textuality.”

    Liu has led multiple digital humanities projects at UC Santa Barbara, across the UC-system, and internationally as co-founder of the 4Humanities advocacy initiative. A strong proponent of the value of the digital humanities, Liu argues in his article, “Where is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?,” that the “grand challenges” of the 21st century (announced by the Obama administration, the National Academy of Engineering, the Gates Foundation,) require humanistic and digital humanistic involvement to address the pressing cultural dimensions of problems in energy, biomedicine, nutrition, education, and so on.

Stay up-to-date with the Mellon Research Initiative in Digital Cultures for lectures and workshops addressing the impact of technosciences on humanistic disciplines, and for thought-provoking works by renowned artists, activists, academics, and public figures discussing and performing contemporary debates about the convergences of technology and culture in our daily lives.


Stephanie Maroney, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral candidate in Cultural Studies