Miguel Escobar Varela

Emic interfaces: UX design for cultural specificity

See this website with all the links mentioned in the talk in an accessible format, as well as a link to the Google Form where users are asked to submit other emic interfaces: http://miguelescobar.com/emic/

An emic theory – as opposed to an etic one – is a framework that comes from within a cultural community, rather than from an external scheme. An emic theory aims to interpret the world according to a community’s own conceptual frame of reference. By extension, I suggest that an emic interface is one that seeks to articulate a community’s preferences and cultural histories through its properties and affordances. Emic user experience (UX) design derives metaphors and interaction rules from the visual, aural, spatial, narrative and social conventions of a specific cultural group. This talk suggests that emic interfaces are of particular importance to Digital Humanities projects that deal with materials from under-represented cultural communities. Researchers in DH are well aware that no interface – as no concept – is neutral, but I will argue that more work can be done in the creative redefinition of the shapes and boundaries of the digital interfaces that we deploy when sharing data and digital archival materials from around the world. Most of my examples come from work that my colleagues and I have done on the digital analysis of Javanese theater, but I will also describe projects carried out elsewhere. My examples will include Tangible User Interfaces (TUIs) that reuse culturally-significant artifacts, UX pathways that reflect cultural rules and prohibitions, and data visualizations inspired in culturally-specific visual tropes.

Miguel Escobar Varela is a theater researcher, web developer and translator, who has lived and worked in Mexico, The Netherlands, Singapore and Indonesia. In his research, he combines ethnographic and computational methods to study Indonesian theatre and develops websites and interactive artworks to share his results with the wider public. He is Assistant Professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS), where he teaches courses on intercultural communication, Asian theater and data visualization. He also serves as Academic Adviser on Digital Scholarship to the NUS Libraries, director of the Contemporary Wayang Archive (http://cwa-web.org) and convener of the informal Digital Humanities Singapore group (http://digitalhumanities.sg). Data, code, and a list of his writings and digital projects are available at http://miguelescobar.com.


Carrie Heitman

Narrative and Nomenclature: Research Dialogues on Place-Based Knowledge in the Age of Digital Distance

Disciplinary nomenclatures are our lingua franca, our shared ground, our terms of engagement. And so it is that the digital resources we build often share in these nomenclatures, further instantiating them at the scale of the internet. But what happens when the scaffolding built upon these shared terms starts to give way under the weight of their brute facticity – or divergent narratives? What happens when “the digital” intervenes to distance apprehension and confound affective engagement with narratives in and of place? In this paper, I discuss how these tensions have surfaced in various digital projects I’ve been involved with and offer thoughts on how we might imagine alternative futures.

Dr. Carrie Heitman is an Associate Professor of anthropology and the Associate Director of the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Prior to starting at UNL, she was an American Council of Learned Societies New Faculty Fellow at Northwestern University.  She holds a PhD in anthropology from the University of Virginia (2011). Since 2004, Carrie has helped oversee the building of the Chaco Research Archive (funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, www.chacoarchive.org), the Salmon Pueblo Archaeological Research Collection (funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, salmonpueblo.org), and Ohio Hopewell: Ancient Crossroads of the American Midwest (funded by Humanities Without Walls, hopewell.unl.edu). Her research explores how new technologies can support scholarly communication, facilitate responsible digital access to cultural heritage information, and promote a fuller understanding of large-scale social transformations of the past. Some of her other recent collaborative projects include The Greater Chaco Landscape: Ancestors, Scholarship, and Advocacy (University Press of Colorado, forthcoming September 2020, preview available here), and Being Present with the Past (funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation).