What is Digital Matters?
At the University of Utah’s Digital Matters, we are building an interdisciplinary research agenda, drawing in fields from History to Computer Science to Fine Arts, so that different parts of campus not only to think together but to work together to build artifacts, create new tools and archives. Located in the Marriott Library, Digital Matters is a mixed-use space for collaboration, digital art installations, workshops, events, and experimentation.
Why Digital Matters
Digital Matters houses various research projects whose aim is to create a different perspective on a particular question or topic using computation and technology, through partnerships and grants, with the ultimate goal of furthering critical discourse.
Digital Matters is a flexible, multi-purpose space with a number of offices for permanent and visiting scholars, secluded group study spaces for collaboration and meetings, and a large open area for presentations and training. The open space and meeting rooms have flexible furniture and fixtures that can be adjusted based on needs, including workshops, events, and presentations. Eventually, Digital Matters will connect existing library resources such as GIS services, VR/AR, and A/V studios.
Ultimately, we are interested in countering much of the existing discourse regarding humanistic digital studies. Digital Matters aims to foreground the materiality and importance of the digital, rather than subscribing to the idea that it is ephemeral and a neutral, without a value system. Digital matters.
Every four years, Digital Matters selects a different theme to guide our work. We view the theme not so much as a topic that dictates what kinds of activities and projects we choose at Digital Matters, but as a challenge. It is designed to prompt us to think about aspects of digital scholarship that we might not otherwise consider.
From 2018-2022, we will challenge ourselves to think alongside “sustainability,” which compels us to pause and reconsider several common tropes about digital production.
One of the advantages of digital arts & humanities is that it makes materials accessible to the wider public. When materials live online in an open and accessible way, physical location is no longer a barrier. Although digital projects do enable access across space, when viewed temporally, digital materials are some of the most valuable resources we have. If we want to be able to access our cultural and scholarly production in the future, we need to think of long-term sustainability now. At the same time, it is necessary to acknowledge that many digital arts & humanities projects are never intended to be “finished,” but are designed to be continually updated and expanded. The question of sustaining perpetually in-progress artifacts is another unique challenge in digital arts & humanities.
The challenge of sustaining digital projects through time points to the next trope: the immateriality of the digital. On the contrary, digital objects are not immaterial at all; they are actually the most complex and material of media. Therefore, sustainability asks us to reconsider digital materiality, to think about its intersections with the environment, people, and other organisms. For example, “The cloud” requires a vast amount of energy, and the computers on which we do our work require rare earth elements, labor, and time to produce. Sustainability asks us to think differently about the timescale on which we think about our technologies; instead of conceptualizing computing in microseconds and nanoseconds, we might consider the millennia that it takes for e-waste to degrade.
Finally, sustainability challenges us to ask: what do digital arts & humanities sustain? One answer might be that it sustains our cultural heritage, another might be that it sustains open and accessible modes of communication, guarding against the risks of privatizing and limiting access to knowledge. But we also might want to interrogate what we do not wish digital arts & humanities to sustain. Do digital arts & humanities reinforce an understanding of ownership and authorship that are challenged by indigenous forms of knowledge? Does it support traditional power differentials? These are just some of the possible subjects to discuss as we think through sustainability in the digital arts & humanities.
We invite you to participate and take part in the discussion through our workshops, talks, showcases, research, and projects.