Leading Digital-Humanities Researcher Is Drawn From California to New York

U. of California at San Diego

Lev Manovich
December 03, 2012

A leading digital-humanities researcher known for his sweeping digital visualizations will leave his long-held professorship in January for a new position at the City University of New York's Graduate Center.

Lev Manovich, who has been a professor in the University of California at San Diego's visual-arts department since 1996, uses computing to analyze large sets of data from the humanities like photographs and art. Some of his past projects have included examining millions of pages of Japanese manga comics and creating giant visualizations of every Time magazine cover to see trends play out over time.

Big-data visualizations present "an opportunity to challenge our existing knowledge of the humanities and ask questions which we never had before," he says.

The Graduate Center's New York location was a major factor in his decision to go there, Mr. Manovich says. He hopes to work with prominent museums and cultural institutions on visualizing their collections, and the Museum of Modern Art has expressed interest in working with him. The city also has both technology companies working with data and people with an interest in graphic art and visualization.

The Graduate Center's increased focus on the digital is also a draw for Mr. Manovich. The campus has started a fellowship and grants program that finances projects like applying big data to diplomatic history and creating a mapping tool focused on urban sociology.

"We were deeply impressed by his work on new media, a fruitful set of investigations which are beginning to interrogate photographs, movies, video games, and culture with the study of big data," says Chase F. Robinson, provost of the campus. "What better place to do such research than in New York City?"

About 30 to 40 graduate students at CUNY are involved with digital-humanities research, Mr. Robinson says. He hopes Mr. Manovich will "provide a catalyzing effect" to propel the campus to the forefront of such research. Mr. Manovich's three-year research grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will follow him to his new position.

Mr. Manovich will teach a course on big data, visualization, and the digital humanities in the spring with the goal of introducing students in the digital-humanities master's program and Ph.D. students from all backgrounds to the field and exposing them to different visualization tools. He hopes to make computer-science students more aware of the cultural science of computing and introduce humanities students to computer-science theory.

He will also expand the Software Studies Initiative he founded in 2007 within the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology at the San Diego campus by adding offices at the Graduate Center, and he will continue working with San Diego researchers who are creating next-generation digital-visualization systems at the lab. His new book, a history of the development of software called Software Takes Command, will be published by Bloomsbury Academic in July 2013.

Mr. Manovich plans to continue expanding the scope of his research and has an interest in examining how digital design changes over time. "We can extend the scale of study from a single artifact to multiple" ones, like studying the entire history of video games rather than a single video game over time. "We're just getting started," he says.