“Digital Humanities and Dance” with Kate Elswit and Amy Elias


[INTRO SOUND] [ELIAS] Hi, I’m Amy Elias. I’m the director of the UT Humanities Center at the University of Tennessee And today I have a wonderful guest with me, Dr. Kate Elswit, who is professor at the University of London, who studies dance, theater, and performance and she specializes in merging digital technologies with these areas. Most people when they think about
digital humanities they don’t put it together with dance and the arts. And
it’s a shame because so much exciting work is being done. So I was wondering if
you could explain a little bit how those two things come together in your work? [ELSWIT] So I run a project called “Dunham’s Data” and the project is really
the first large-scale project to use digital methods to think about dance
historical analysis and as the first project we’ve really been trying to start from some first principle. So, what are the kinds of questions and problems
that make the analysis and visualization of data meaningful for the study of
dance. Like you said we’re not doing this; I’m not sure we really know. So many of
these digital tools are built to understand literary text, built maybe
even to understand certain ways that bodies move in history, but not the way
dancers move. And so that’s been really a lot of what we’re trying to do, is really
to learn from existing work that’s trying to understand lived experience,
and then also add what our dance perspective on maybe — we were talking
earlier about embodied knowledge — what our dance perspective can bring to that.
[ELIAS] How did this project come about? [ELSWIT] Both Harmony and I were really interested in what happens when you apply digital methods to thinking about a problem in
dance, and a problem that’s really important for us as dance scholars is
the problem of the transnational circulation of movement. So, dance touring. And so this started as a project that was really asking in a broad sense “how does movement move?” and then we arrived at the choreographer
Katherine Dunham as an exemplary case study So this is someone who’s travelling around the world for decades and left some extraordinary archives that really give us a chance to explore what it means to
build these digital materials from the ground up. [ELIAS] That’s really exciting work! What would you say to people who are in the arts that want to do digital humanities work? What would you say would be a good first step for them?
[ELSWIT] Yes do it!! I think in terms of a first step, really look out; there’s
such a wide range of digital arts projects that are already out there.
There’s things like Motion Bank, that’s doing video annotation, there things like
the Siobhan Davies Archive, and so I’d really say the the first step would be
maybe look around and learn from all of the digital arts projects that are out
there, because there are so many and it offers such a repertoire and
such a reservoir for us. [ELSWIT] Yeah, that’s terrific! Well, thank you for coming to Tennessee! We’re so glad you’re here and we hope you come to the UTHC Visiting Speaker Series to hear our wonderful speakers like Dr. Elswit in the future.

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