Podcast: Jentery Sayers on Remaking the Past

Remaking Victorian Miniatures: The Speculative Stitches between 2D and 3D

In both digital humanities and popular culture, there is a rapidly growing interest in big data. How not to read a million books? How to wrangle petabytes of data? How to discover and express patterns across thousands of images? Frequently, this research is framed as a response to an historically unprecedented abundance of information. For instance, over 40 million photos are posted to Instagram each day, and roughly 6,000 tweets appear on Twitter each second. But in this talk I shift the focus away from amounts of data and toward ways of seeing with computers. In this sense, contemporary computing is more about mediation than media, or more about vision than the visible. As a case in point, I draw material from the Kits for Cultural History project at the University of Victoria’s Maker Lab in the Humanities in order to outline how digital humanities methods also help scholars think small. More specifically, I explain how the Kits use computer vision, photogrammetry, and fabrication techniques to remake Victorian miniatures (such as Gustave Trouvé’s electric jewelry) in 3D, based on extant 2D drawings, diagrams, photographs, and research notes from the second half of the nineteenth century. These miniatures pose a number of curious problems for humanities scholars: How to historicize the minutiae of their manufacture? How to understand their undocumented uses and reception? And how to reconstruct them when they no longer exist, or parts of them are simply not accessible? Comparable to big data projects, these acts of remaking involve some serious speculation where archival gaps are concerned. They also rely quite heavily on computation to stitch together evidence in the presence of absences. In short, they are matters not of “how many” but of “how this becomes that.”

Jentery Sayers is Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Maker Lab in the Humanities at the University of Victoria. His research interests include comparative media studies, critical theories of technology, and cultural histories of dead devices. He is currently working on a book about the “digging condition” of digital humanities, or how new media, data, and computing were embedded in materialist metaphors and methods during the 2000s. With William J. Turkel (Western University), he is the PI of the SSHRC-supported Kits for Cultural History project, which is reconstructing pre-digital technologies using physical computing and fabrication techniques.

This talk was recorded in Alderman Library, Rm 421 on November 20, 2014.  You can follow Jentery’s accompanying slides and read his further thoughts on the relevance of remaking. If you encounter problems with the playback, please email scholarslab@virginia.edu.

The Scholars' Lab supports a diverse community of digital scholars and scholarly makers across the University and beyond. As Head of Public Programs, my main goal is to foster and grow that community. I convene our speaker events and workshops, designed to connect researchers - at all levels - with expertise, training, and intellectual discourse. …

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