Last week, the Center for Digital Humanities brought together scholars from across Princeton University for the inaugural Humanities + Data Science Institute.
The five-day Institute, supported by a Magic Grant from the Humanities Council, gave humanities researchers and practitioners the opportunity “to learn about emerging methods in data science in a structured way,” said CDH Digital Humanities Strategist Grant Wythoff, who orchestrated the series, with crucial planning and instructional input from Sierra Eckert, CDH postdoctoral research associate and Perkins Fellow at the Humanities Council, and CDH Research Software Engineer Ryan Heuser.
“The goal of the Institute is for faculty and grad students in the humanities to become familiar with baseline concepts and methods in data science and to feel empowered to advocate for the value of humanistic research amid the rise of new technologies that hunt for patterns of meaning,” Wythoff added.
During the Institute, the sixteen participants—who are affiliated with thirteen campus units—discussed pre-assigned readings, engaged in hands-on workshops, and received consultations on their individual research projects.
Institute instructors and facilitators included CDH staff members and two guests: Amy Winecoff, DataX Fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy and the Center for Statistics and Machine Learning (CSML), who offered an introduction to machine learning and the humanities; and David Kinney, postdoctoral research associate in cognitive science of values at the University Center for Human Values, who lectured on the history of measurement and led a workshop on word embeddings.
“The individual instructors are all amazing and facilitated learning as they backed up their teachings with practical examples,” said Ijeoma D. Odoh, lecturer in the Department of African American Studies. “These practical examples helped a lot, especially for beginners like me.”
The Institute also featured presentations by Peter Ramadge, Gordon Y.S. Wu Professor of Engineering and CSML director, who shared information on the “data science ecosystem” at Princeton; and Institute participant Marina Rustow, Khedouri A. Zilkha professor of Jewish civilization in the Near East, who shared research on handwritten text recognition for the Princeton Geniza Project.
To introduce participants to additional data-engaged colleagues, a roundtable on computational and digital resources included representatives from Princeton University Library, the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, and other campus units.
Institute participant Cara Turnbull, a graduate student in musicology, said that she gained new information and perspectives from the series.
“I learned some of the history and philosophy of data science, which I had never thought about before, as well as some of the ongoing tensions and debates about methodologies and techniques,” she said. “I also learned some really fun tidbits and applications for things I had a bit of previous experience with (like word embedding and NLP), but that opened up new questions and ways of thinking about these methods.”
At the close of the week, participants also reflected on the practical applications of the Institute’s lessons to their work.
Fedor Karmanov, a graduate student in English, cited “applications and interesting coding libraries that I can use later on in my research.” Lecturer Emma Ljung shared plans to use what she learned at the Institute as she develops courses for the Princeton Writing Program.
“I am currently creating a sophomore writing seminar for fall 2023 in which we will use Princeton’s campus as an archive. I really, really want to develop at least one module that asks students to use some of the tools we used this week to analyze the dataset they themselves develop on campus,” Ljung said. “I am also 100% going to use what I have learned here to encourage different types of independent research in the standard freshman writing seminar.”
Elizabeth Margulis, professor of music and director of the Music Cognition Lab, said she looked forward to the Institute because it offered the opportunity “to be immersed in a community of people working across the boundaries of science and the humanities.”
Participants noted that the hybrid format allowed them to have flexibility while also affording the possibility for in-person connection.
“The atmosphere and lunches and presence of multiple CDH staff members was great,” Rustow said. “The mix of students, staff, non-tenure-line and tenure-line faculty was a rare treat.”
The next Humanities + Data Science Institute is scheduled for June. The CFP will be posted later this semester.