At the heart of the Greenhouse Studios design process is the concept of “collaboration from the start.” All too often collaborators are brought on board at a late stage merely to implement or put the finishing touches on scholarly projects, not to conceptualize them. This is particularly true with respect to designers and developers, whose labor and expertise are typically used in a service capacity to support the work of credentialed faculty researchers. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with hiring a developer to build a website for a scholarly research project, or having a design technologist create colorful and engaging data visualizations. Indeed, designers, developers and other technologists can enhance conventional research outputs, especially at the publication and dissemination stages, by making them more accessible, more engaging and more comprehensible to broader audiences.
But what happens when collaborators with expertise in design and technology are part of a project team from the very beginning? Moreover, what happens when technologists work alongside other diverse researchers, whose respective fields may lie adjacent to one another, but rarely overlap?
Since the 1970s, scholars in fields as varied as sedimentology, ornithology, sociology, and philosophy have come to understand the importance of self-organizing systems, of how higher-order complexity can “emerge” from independent lower-order elements. Emergence describes how millions of tiny mud cracks at the bottom of a dry lake bed form large scale geometries when viewed at a distance, or how water molecules, each responding simply to a change in temperature, come to form the complex crystalline patterns of a snowflake. Emergence describes how hundreds of birds, each following its own, relatively simple rules of behavior, self-organize into a flock that displays its own complex behaviors, behaviors that none of the individual birds themselves would display. In the words of writer Steven Johnson, emergence describes how those birds, without a master plan or executive leadership, go from being a “they” to being an “it.” In other words, emergence describes a becoming.
We, too, form emergent systems. Emergence describes how a crowd of pedestrians self-organizes to form complex traffic flows on a busy sidewalk. Viewed close-up, each pedestrian is just trying to get to his or her destination without getting trampled, reacting to what’s in front of him or her according to a set of relatively simple behavioral rules—one foot in front of the other. Viewed from above, however, we see a structured flow, a river of humanity. Acting without direction, the crowd spontaneously orders itself into a complex system for maximizing pedestrian traffic. The mass of individual actors has, without someone in charge, gone from being an uncoordinated “they” to an organized “it.” Continue reading →
At Greenhouse Studios, we are working out the process of creating new forms of scholarship. One important aspect of what differentiates scholarship from projects is sustainability. As I like to say, there is no scholarship without persistence. The infrastructure of persistence is well understood in traditional academic publishing, but is less understood in the world digital humanities.
The Greenhouse Studios model works through five distinct phases, Understand, Identify, Build, Review, Release, and is based on the idea of flattening traditional academic hierarchies: we do not build things for faculty, we gather together a group of people around a common intellectual question, and go from there.
Archivists have traditionally insisted that it improves the preservation potential of any digital record for the archivist—or at least preservation thinking—to be a part of the creation of that record from the beginning. At Greenhouse Studios we are testing what that actually means in terms of new forms of scholarship. What is the beginning? When is it appropriate to consider preservation? Continue reading →
When people ask me about what we do at Greenhouse Studios, it is challenging to distill all of its ambitions into a easily digestible tidbit. Ultimately, we are attempting to change the way scholarship is produced. As a result, many of Greenhouse Studios’ features are responsive to the limitations of mainstream academic practice. In this post, I thought I would share an in-depth explanation of the Understand phase, the first phase stage of collaboration in the Greenhouse Studios design process. I will describe our current process with a degree of generality, as we are constantly evaluating its efficacy and suggesting possible tweaks. I’ll explain how this first phase sets the stage for our teams to generate innovative forms of scholarship.
Enter Greenhouse Studios and you'll almost always spot Design Technologist Tom Lee diligently at work in the corner project room. Step up to its glass wall and inside you'll see architectural blueprints, virtual reality (VR) equipment, and Tom, who's often wearing a pair of VR goggles and staring into space. He's not just day dreaming, he is actually working on Greenhouse Studios’ first and furthest-developed collaboration: The Charles V Coronation. This project involves experts from the History, Music, Research Services, and Digital Media & Design departments. Their goal is to recreate the coronation Mass of Charles V, which took place in 1530, as realistically as possible, including the original architectural space, artifacts, and music of the event.
On the evening of November 9th, I gathered in the Ballard Institute of Puppetry theater to watch four short films produced by students with old-fashioned 16-mm cameras. The films were made in a workshop conducted by Cuban artist Juan Carlos Alom, a filmmaker and photographer whose work has been exhibited throughout the world, and Aimara Fernádez. Alom is a team member of our Fino and Global Cuban Cultures collaboration, which is in the build phase of project development. The event was sponsored by the University of Connecticut: School of Fine Arts; Robert H. Gray Memorial Lecture; Greenhouse Studios; Literatures, Cultures & Languages; El Instituto: Plank Lecture Series; Humanities Institute; Global Affairs; Dodd Center; Human Rights Institute; Connecting with the Arts; and Center for the Study of Popular Music.
Greenhouse Studios, a new research unit at the University of Connecticut, is beginning implementation of a collaboration-first approach for the creation and communication of scholarship thanks to a $789,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This award is the first of its kind at UConn and part of the Mellon Foundation’s Scholarly Communications program, a multi-pronged effort to accelerate the evolution of scholarly practice and academic publishing to meet the opportunities and challenges of the digital age. Greenhouse Studios is a joint effort of the University Library, School of Fine Arts, and the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute, with each contributing resources and personnel to advance scholarly communications research. “Greenhouse Studios represents the kind of bold commitment to interdisciplinary research that our academic plan identified as central to solving the problems of the 21st century and to cementing UConn’s place as a driver of innovation and excellence within the State of Connecticut and around the world,” says Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeremy Teitelbaum.