digital historiography and performance: part 1

For the past 18 months or so, I’ve been actively engaged in two new administrative undertakings: starting up the Techne Institute for Arts and Emerging Technologies and launching new graduate programs: MA and PhD in Theatre & Performance at the University at Buffalo. Both have been great new challenges and have certainly kept me busy, but as I conclude the end of the fall semester, I want to turn my attention more fully to my emerging research project: the intersection of digital technology, history and historiography, and performance studies.

One of my favorite blogs on the subject of the digital humanities and history is Tom Scheinfeldt (www.foundhistory.org). In his most recent post (Dec. 9), he observes that,

As I see it, looking and acting like the Internet—adopting and adapting its network architecture to structure our own work—gives us the best chance of succeeding as digital humanists and librarians. What does this mean for the future? Well, I’m at once hopeful and fearful for the future.

While I share some of his stated apprehensions (e.g., that new technologies and advances seek to centralize and aggregate resources rather than foster distributed knowledge, etc.), I’m encouraged and intrigued by this idea that historical resources can perform differently. I love that things–people, projects, technologies–can act like the Internet.

Elsewhere, there’s evidence too that notions of re-enactment and re-performance are no longer exclusively discussed in the domains of art galleries and academic conferences, and increasingly what’s motivating this public interest in  In a November 17 article for The New York Times, Noam Cohen wrote about a kind of online reenactment of Kristallnacht on twitter. Events were tweeted as if they were occurring in real time.

I was recently giving a talk on digital history and performance history at Cornell and one of the faculty there pressed me very usefully on my periodization. What’s the difference, he asked, between digital representations of history and previous cinematic ones? It’s a great question, but for me, the ability for different people to interact with and produce historical content as well as ways of re-writing history on platforms like twitter certainly seems to be a new mode of inquiry and one that deserves greater attention from theatre and performance historians.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to start to lay out some of the inquiries for this project on digital history and performance and how theatre history and digital methodologies can meaningfully connect. After many months of administrative program building, I’m excited to finally to refocus on some of these questions.

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