Monday, June 22, 2009

Digital Humanities 2009 Conference: opening speaker Lev Manovich

Digital Humanities 2009 is underway! Lev Manovich is the opening keynote speaker. His talk entitled 'Cultural Analytics: theory, methodology, practice'. He discussed three things tonight regarding analysis and visualization of large cultural data: theoretical implications, interfaces/visualization techniques, and finally methods for analysis of visual media and born-digital culture.

The availability of large cultural data sets from museums and libraries, digital traces and self-presentation, cultural information--web presence of all cultural agents, the tools already employed in sciences to analyze data, and the techniques developed in new media art, make feasible new methodologies for studying.

Manovich used the analogy or parallel with neuroscience fMRI of a global 'cultural brain'. We "need to start tracking, analyzing, and visualizing larger cultural structures, including connectivity, dynamics, over space and time." See: world heat map made up from 35 million Flickr geo-coded photos (

We must have anew scale: digitization of exisitng cultural institutions; instant availability of cultural news. See the Coroflot Portfolios website.

In studying cultural processes and human beings, distinguish between shallow data and deep data. Shallow data is about many people and objects (e.g. statistics, sociology). Deep data is about a few people and objects (e.g. psychology, psychoanalysis, ethnography), the 'thick description'--the humanities. The development of high performance computing, social computing, destroyed this division.

Cultural Analytics

Why cultural analytics? Knowledge discovery, from data to knowledge, google analytics , web analytics, business analytics, visual analytics--the science of analytical reasoning facilitated by 'interactive visual interfaces.'

What types of interfaces would you want in cultural analytics? Example would be the Platform for Cultural Analytics Research environment: HIperSpace (287 megapixels). Other examples: Barco's iCommand, AT & T Control Center.

Such interfaces would have multiple windows, a long tail, e.g. looks on (created by

What to use in analytics? The following three items:
INTERFACES which combine media browsing and visualization to enable visual exploration of data.
GRAPHS which are from actual media objects.
VISUALIZATION of a structure of a cultural artifact--borrowing and extending techniques from media art and 'artistic visualization.'

Dr. Manovich used many examples from his lab. Examples of works of art used include Rothko's Abstractionism patings to create new images and analyze the constituents of the paintings, manipulating the entire text of Hamlet by examining blocks of text for visual patterns, and finally, manipualting images of Betty Boop.

Theoretical Issues

Jeremy Douglass, Dr. Manovich's postdoctoral student, presented at this point. He used small sets of types of data,
webcomics, 'juxtaposed images' e.g. A Softer World, and FreakAngels. In quantizing, count the number of panels over hundreds of pages, we could treat it as a series of sequences, see panel types, aspect ratios hues and saturation of colors similar to DND sequences, the brightness of each page. OS X Finder can be used as a visual browser of data. Two other examples of manipulating large data sets include GamePlay--graphical template of joystick moves coordinated with the video music(Zelda); and 40 hours of playing Knights of the Old Republic. e.g. Markov chains can be created.

Back to Dr. Manovich. Some theoretical issues around cultural data mining/cultural visualization:

  • culture does not equate cultural artifacts
  • statistical paradigm (using a sample )vs data mining paradigmanalyzing the complete population)
  • pattern as a new epistemological object--from meaning to pattern we know the interpretation of meaning of a cultural artifact but we don't know the larger patterns they form.
  • new digital divide, those who leave digital traces and those who do not.
  • from small number of genres to multidimensional space of features where we can look for clusters and patterns.

Analysis of Born Digital Culture

  • new technologies offer the possibility of analying interactions between readers and cultural objects/processes.
  • 'big data' has a new meaning in the case of interactive digital media (e.g. one single video game but analyze many users in one session).
  • digital objects have a self-describing property.
  • digital objects are sets of possibilities. Every moment of interaction can be tagged through structures of interaction. In the case of time-based procedural media, such range of possibilities will change over time.

Dr Manovich's web site for Cultural Analytics:
Free downloads to experiment with media.

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