I am a first-year PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at Temple University and am coming to the HASTAC program as something of a neophyte, having little first-hand experience engaging with digital technologies (apart from my experience as a consumer of these products). Hence, I am eager to learn from others about their experiences working with digital technologies (as research and teaching tools) and about their experiences producing, manipulating, or otherwise engaging with digital technologies (both in and out of academic settings). I’m also encouraged to see that there are a few other digital humanities novices among the HASTAC Scholars and that there is a fair deal of skepticism regarding the place of digital technology as a teaching tool in the classroom. I, too, am hesitant to whole-heartedly embrace all things digital. Skeptical, but optimistic (if you’ll allow me this seeming illogicality).
That being said let me step back and give a cursory overview of my background. I completed my BA at The Ohio State University in 2005, with a dual degree in anthropology and microbiology. I went on to complete my MS in Genetics and Gene Regulation at the University of Pennsylvania in 2011, after which time I stayed engaged in the biomedical field as a research specialist conducting HIV studies at UPenn (2011–summer of 2013). For some time, I realized that bench science wasn’t “for me,” so while working at UPenn I also took classes part-time as a means of exploring other disciplines. In a course on 20th century and contemporary art history, I stumbled upon “bioart,” and have been hooked on the topic ever since. Its position at the somewhat fragile and constantly blurring boundary between “art” and “science” excites me, satisfying my desire to explore “nature” (while interrogating the shifting narrative around the meaning of nature) through a creative and sometimes anti-logical lens. (For those unfamiliar with bioart, I’ll just say that the definition of “bioart” is somewhat debated, but typically refers to aesthetic practices that use or manipulate living matter to produce art objects or to those practices in which artists incorporate and manipulate 20th and 21st century scientific iconography. Bioart is practiced internationally at sites throughout the United States, Australia, Asia, and Europe. This definition hardly does justice to the diverse and interdisciplinary practices of bioartists, but hopefully it gives you a sense of what it’s “about.”)
My interest in bioart is multifaceted. I am intrigued by its appropriation of scientific discourse and tools/methodologies for the realization of what are sometimes anti-science sentiments and its simultaneous deployment of scientific discourse for the purpose of engendering public engagement with and understanding of current scientific debates. I am impressed by its ability to question, to rearrange, and to juxtapose definitions of “art,” “science,” “nature,” and “the natural.” Additionally, given my explicit concerns regarding animal rights, I am interested in how animals are portrayed and manipulated for the purpose of creating bioart (and other visual or multi-media presentations/manipulations of animal bodies or animal parts). How do such portrayals affect or alter our understanding of animals and of the alleged human-animal divide? Finally – and of central importance – as an anthropologist, I desire to understand these practices from an emic (“insider’s”) viewpoint. Since I am just beginning my PhD, I have not yet selected a research site, but I hope to situate myself in an urban setting in which bioartists collaborate with others to produce and display their work. I am interested in collaborating with the people who inhabit the lab, studio, and gallery spaces where such work is displayed so as to understand the intended and received meanings of such art.
You may be saying, “this is all good and fine, but where do digital practices come into play?” My interest in digital technologies is three-fold (and growing!), but for now I will simply list my interests, to be elaborated upon in future blogs:
1) As an instructor-in-training, I am interested in how to use digital technologies to enhance learning, both distance and classroom learning.
2) As a researcher, I am interested in a) how to use digital technologies as a method for data collection (e.g., how best to integrate audio and video recording as tools to archive conversations with participants/collaborators in the field?); b) how to use digital methods for effective data management; and c) how to use digital technology (as a form of documentary art) to engage with a wider, non-academic community.
3) As a bioart-aficionada, I want to think critically about how digital practices are used for the production, display, and archiving of bioart works. What is the role/function of digital technologies at each stage?
I’m thrilled to be participating in the HASTAC Scholars community and look forward to reading everyone’s future posts and receiving feedback on my blog posts, too. Here’s to a productive and exciting year of blogging, thinking, and … dare I say fun!