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Winet promotes City of Lit, public humanities

By Meg Schmitt

The title “Culture 2.0” sounds like either a futuristic social structure or a newly released app on a smart phone. In fact, it is the description chosen by Jon Winet, Director of the University of Iowa’s Digital Studio for Public Humanities (DSPH), to summarize their goals related to collaborative digitization and research. Winet spoke Tuesday at 4:15 p.m. in JRC 101.

Photo by Christopher Squier.

Winet’s presentation, the first in the series titled “Humanities for Life,” explored the changing roles of audience and author in the humanities as they evolve, specifically through the digitization of art and text.

The DSPH works to understand the expanding role of artists and humanists in the humanities of today as researchers, sources of cultural change and collaborative explorers in society.

“There is a need to rethink the position of the audience, rethink the nature of the artist and the viewer… in scholarly exchange,” Winet said.

The cultural impact of art—whether photography, video or text—is shifting into more of a collaborative matrix affected by adapting technology, changing social attitudes and ever-expanding cultural exchange.

The DSPH characterizes its goal as supporting “art and humanities that matter” on all stages, and improving the interface over which audience and humanist can interact. Part of the challenge in this is encouraging connections between the audience and humanists in the first place.

“We need to encourage the humanities [to have] a public-facing expression as… a way of operating that we’re committed to for the long-haul,” Winet said.

Winet’s Studio demonstrates their commitment to public exchange in the humanities on both the local scale in Iowa City and the international scale in Washington D.C.’s AIDS Memorial Quilt Project. The Studio helped create technology that shapes the humanities in an iPhone application, City of Lit, encouraging users to find local haunts for famous authors and other literary discoveries in Iowa City.

It is today’s era of smartphones and apps that is so radically redefining the traditional artist-viewer roles assumed in the humanities. Apps like City of Lit and the AIDS Memorial Quilt application are providing the public with tools that change the way we can access and respond to art.

The AIDS Memorial app provides first-hand evidence of the new reactions from the public through international reach, which provides an interface for messages and access to the different quilts. These new “digitized” technologies and information are dramatically shaping the growth of the humanities as a knowledge base.

Part of the goal of the DSPH is to predict and support these growing technologies and incorporate them in the study and teaching of the humanities.

“Our studio is operating in the present, but with an eye to the future,” says Winet.

These new technologies, tools and reactions are creating a new conversation, one that is changing the traditional flow of knowledge and information from student to teacher, author to public into a free-flow of mixed exchange.

“The [purpose] of public humanities is to think about the concept of life-long learning… learning outside the classroom, beyond college,” Winet said.

However, this burgeoning adaptation in the liberal arts is not without its hazards. The presentation yielded an extended discussion on the future of written books, the thorny issue of rights and permissions, and the projected path of Grinnell’s own libraries.

Kevin Engel, Science Library, noted the debate within the administration over investment in physical texts versus acquiring rights to digital texts.

The conversation surrounding the humanities has unquestionably expanded, and increasingly, innovation and the arts are coming to play a more important role in the world around us.

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