Media Systems Workshop at UC Santa Cruz

August 23, 2012
Photograph of tall trees from a bottom-up portrait perspective.

Media Systems Workshop at UC Santa Cruz

A workshop co-sponsored by NSF, NEH, NEA, and Microsoft. How cool is that? (Well, as a funder, I find it really cool.)

Next week, I'll be attending the Media Systems workshop along with ODH's own Jason Rhody. The workshop was organized by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Michael Mateas, Chaim Gingold and other folks at the Center for Games and Playable Media in collaboration with the Institute for Humanities Research at UCSC.

First, in brief, the workshop "seeks to catalyze major progress in how we create and understand the computational systems that drive interactive media. We will begin by convening a set of field leaders who have been working across the boundaries of media-focused computer science, the digital humanities, and the digital arts." To learn more about topics to be discussed at the workshop, definitely check out the press release for the event as well as Noah's March 2012 editorial from Inside Higher Ed, "The Prison-House of Data." You can also see the terrific group of participants on the workshop's website.

So, you may be wondering, how did this come to pass? How did the ODH come to co-sponsor this event? It started over a year ago, in July 2011, when Noah gave me a call and he pitched the idea of the Media Systems workshop. He noted the fact that NSF and NEA had co-sponsored a workshop in 2010 called RE/Search that sought to "advance exploration at the intersection of art and science. Areas of particular interest include evolving forms of digital and electronic media, human‐centered computing, videogame design and technology, digitally‐mediated performing and visual arts and research that can lead to a better understanding of these fields." Noah made the point that there was one obvious constituent group missing from that conversation and that was the digital humanities. I immediately agreed with him and was happy to hear that he was organizing a follow-up workshop -- Media Systems -- that was designed to bring the digital humanities community into this wider conversation.

This was of particular interest to ODH for several reasons: First off, as someone always touting interdisciplinary collaboration, this area -- studying digital media systems and culture -- was clearly one that bridged humanities, arts, and science. So I felt it genuinely could kick off some interesting new research and collaborative work. Second, we had never worked with the NEA before, so we thought this might be a great opportunity for us to build some kind of relationship. (People are surprised to hear that, as the public often gets NEH and NEA confused. But in truth, our missions and constituents are quite distinct. In practice, we work much more with the NSF than the NEA.) Third, we had been kicking around ideas, internally, on how to attract more grant applications from scholars studying digital culture (see previous blog post on our new Start-Up Grant guidelines). Fourth, I liked the fact that Noah had pitched the workshop both at the scholarly community (to include humanists, digital artists, designers, computer scientists, etc.) as well as at the grantmaking community. One of the tough parts about doing any kind of interdisciplinary research is trying to get grants for it, as such work often falls in the gaps between funders. So it struck me as very useful for the NEH, NSF, NEA, and Microsoft to be able to participate and talk to each other to see how our own efforts and grant program portfolios could best help the field.

Eventually, Noah received a grant from the NSF to fund the bulk of the conference, including travel for a number of computer scientists. ODH ended up making a grant to cover additional travel funds to send humanities scholars to the event. In the meantime, I cold called folks in the NEA and Jason and I met with them and chatted about the idea of us doing something together and suggested that Media Systems might be a great first project. We met some terrific people there and, ultimately, NEA came in too and is funding travel for a number of digital artists to attend. Noah got in touch with Microsoft's Don Brinkman and Kent Foster and they are providing support as well. So I'm pleased to say that everything came together rather nicely. In the meantime, Noah wrote an article in the IHE back in March 2012 announcing the event and I'm happy to say he and his team put together a terrific agenda and group of participants.

I'm very much looking forward to a productive event next week in Santa Cruz and glad all the pieces came together to make this happen. Please follow on Twitter: #MediaSystems

Funding information

Funded by ODH grant HC-50011-12.