SUTD Launches Inaugural Digital Humanities Symposium

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By Rhema Hokama

Last week, an international group of literary scholars, digital humanists, and computer programmers convened at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) for a two-day symposium on computational analysis and interpretation of texts and their contexts. “Working with different kinds of ‘text’ in the digital humanities,” which took place from March 18-19, 2019 at SUTD’s Tang Zheng Tang Chinese Pavilion, featured a diverse program of hands-on workshops, pedagogy sessions, and presentations showcasing new research potential for digital tools and multimedia resources in humanities fields.

Dr. Donald Sturgeon, of Harvard’s department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, delivered Monday’s keynote address on “Digital Sinology,” which explored the use of new digital methods for literary study on early Chinese literature. Prof. Amlan Das Gupta, of the English department at Jadavpur University in Kolkota, spoke on Tuesday about the history of sound recording in India, focusing on Jadavpur University’s Digital Archive of North Indian Classical Music.

The symposium participants and workshop presenters hailed from Europe, North America, South America, and the wider Asia-Pacific region. Session papers covered a range of research areas, with panels on sound studies, digital text analysis, and new databases and data sources for humanities research. Speakers discussed research projects on topics ranging from digitally enabled analysis of Robert Frost’s audio recordings, to how machine-aided listening can help visualize performed poetry, to how digital tools can help scholars detect rhythm in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Dr. Nazry Bahrawi, a scholar of Malay and Arabic literatures and a senior lecture in SUTD’s Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) cluster, noted that the symposium encouraged him to think how he could incorporate new research methods into his own fields of literary study.

“I found Gimena del Rio Riande’s workshop on ‘Geo-annotation’ to be absolutely insightful in helping me think about how ancient places were named in literary texts,” Dr. Nazry said.

Del Rio Riande, a researcher at the Seminario de Edición y Crítica Textual (SECRIT) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, presented an interactive workshop on how digital resources can help scholars derive semantic data and geographic place references from textual sources.

“I’m excited to apply Gimena’s insights and digital methods to my own research on the ideas of travel and place in the Nusantara’s early modernity,” Dr. Nazry added.

The symposium was organized by four faculty members in SUTD’s HASS cluster. The co-organizers are Dr. Nazry Bahrawi, Dr. Sayan Bhattacharyya, Dr. Alastair Gornall, and Dr. Rhema Hokama. Dr. Bhattacharyya presented a talk on the challenges of performing computing analysis on texts from the Global South, especially those written in non-Roman script. In his talk, Dr. Gornall discussed his pilot study to map Buddhist monastic networks in medieval Sri Lanka using QGIS software.

“Working with different kinds of ‘text’ in the digital humanities” is the inaugural digital humanities symposium in HASS’s new digital learning series, which will bring international digital humanists and scholars to Singapore for bi-annual workshops and conferences.

Prof. Lim Sun Sun, head of cluster for HASS, opened the symposium with a talk on why SUTD’s dynamic interdisciplinary environment provides an ideal intellectual environment for research in the digital humanities.

“SUTD’s strong computational and engineering orientation, along with our close attention to human-centred and social aspects of design, give our faculty and students powerful skillsets for approaching humanistic inquiry,” Prof. Lim said.

“These digital methods allow us to approach traditional humanities and arts research questions in innovative ways—and often reveal surprisingly new answers.” she added.

Prof Lim Sun Sun, Head of HASS Cluster, spoke about potential research possibilities for the digital humanities in her opening remarks at SUTD’s inaugural digital humanities symposium.

The two-day symposium coincides with the development of HASS’s new digital humanities minor, slated to launch in May 2019. The digital humanities minor will provide opportunities for SUTD’s engineering and architecture students to apply digital and computational work to the study of literary and historical texts. The minor will also equip students with the computational and analytical skills to contribute to broader initiatives relating to Singapore’s Smart Nation policy proposals, and to new developments in artificial intelligence (AI) in Southeast Asia and beyond.


For more on the digital humanities at SUTD, see the resources below:

“Working with different types of ‘text’ in the digital humanities” symposium program

HASS digital humanities minor