[Humanist] 28.395 a new discipline

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Oct 15 07:43:19 CEST 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 395.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 14 Oct 2014 13:58:06 +0200
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: celebrating a new discipline

The Chronicle of Higher Education
October 14, 2014

A New Department Marks the Rise of a Discipline: "Computational Media"
by Rebecca Koenig

Pixar movies, interactive video games, smartphone applications—all are 
forms of computational media, the marriage of computer science to the 
arts and humanities. Signaling a deeper investment in that fast-growing 
if slippery field, the University of California at Santa Cruz announced 
the creation on Monday of what it called the first computational-media 
department ever.

"There's always been, in the heart of computing, a concern with human 
communication and media," said Noah Wardrip-Fruin, an associate 
professor of computer science at Santa Cruz. Mr. Wardrip-Fruin and 
Michael Mateas, a professor who will become chair of the new department, 
argued this year in a university report that computational media is an 
interdisciplinary field, not one that simply applies computer science to 
arts and humanities projects.

The report was supported by the National Science Foundation, the 
National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the 
Humanities, which also expressed their interest in interdisciplinary 
computer-based research.

That's an important message, according to Ian Bogost, an 
interactive-computing and media-studies professor at the Georgia 
Institute of Technology. Researchers in the STEM fields and policy 
makers sometimes view artistry and ethics as afterthoughts, he said.

"We'll kind of sneak that in or spread it like a glaze on top," he said, 
describing what he perceives to be a common attitude. "There is 
sometimes a sense that we've decoupled computing from its cultural and 
artistic and humanistic context, and some of the trouble we might point 
to in the world we are living in—run by Wall Street and Silicon 
Valley—is perhaps a result of thinking of everything as just an 
engineering problem."

Georgia Tech already offers a bachelor's degree in computational media, 
which is run jointly run by its Schools of Interactive Computing and of 
Literature, Media, and Communication. And other universities are 
exploring the intersection of computing and the liberal arts. The 
University of Calgary, in Canada, has a graduate program in 
computational-media design that's administered by the departments of 
computer science, environmental design, and creative and performing 
arts. New York University's Tisch School of the Arts has a Game Center 
dedicated, according to its website, "to the exploration of games as a 
cultural form and game design as creative practice."

While the products of computational media may often be entertaining, the 
field is not all fun and games. The kinds of deeply interactive stories 
found in video games can have more utilitarian applications, too, Mr. 
Wardrip-Fruin said, such as "embedding people in a rich, fictional 
social situation instead of reading a training manual."

And according to Mr. Bogost, the field encourages students to question 
the potential purposes and uses of technology.

"It's not just What can we make? and Can we do it fast and cheap? but 
Should we?," Mr. Bogost said. "It's about reconnecting computation to 
culture and creativity in a way that makes us ask the questions we donÂ't 
ask about the role of computers in our lives." An autonomous department 
of computational media, Mr. Bogost said, may be better-positioned to 
foster those conversations.

Santa Cruz's new department will administer the university's extant 
degrees in computer-game design and in games and playable media. The 
university will also create new degree programs, as yet unannounced, and 
hire an unspecified number of new professors.

"At some universities, it's hard to do this interdisciplinary research, 
since people reviewing your work don't understand one of the major 
elements you're bringing together," Mr. Wardrip-Fruin said. "We'll be 
able to bring in a junior faculty member with confidence their 
interdisciplinary research is valuable."

Correction (10/13/2014, 5:32 p.m.): This post originally misidentified 
the position held by Ian Bogost at the Georgia Institute of Technology. 
He is an interactive-computing and media-studies professor at the 
university, not director of the graduate program in digital media. The 
post has been updated to reflect this correction.

Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
Group, University of Western Sydney

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