Lippman and Rich: Some thoughts on the future of the academy

When Andy Lippman and Travis Rich came to Rice (a while ago, I know), they discussed PubPub, an innovative digital publishing platform developed at MIT's Media Lab. This was ostensibly the two presenters' central subject for their talk, but afterward, I felt that they had actually opened two complementary discussions, one about technology and the other about the role of the university and knowledge in broader society. PubPub is an interesting platform, mostly designed to provide a place for the publishing of works that don't fit squarely in one field.

Schaad on Why Rules Rule

Genevieve Schaad's presentation on February 11 was an interesting look into the operations of Google. Schaad is a program manager for Google Maps and she gave a broad overview of how policy decisions are made. The guiding vision for Google is "Make the world's information free." With Maps, this means organizing everything important to users onto an easily readable geographical representation.  As an overall idea of how Google should be, this seems simple enough, but Schaad showed how much of a grind actually doing this work is.

Nathan Matias and Digital Activism

Nathan Matias raised the question during his presentation on January 28, "How can the average person retake control of technology and mitigate some of its more harmful effects, considering increasing domination by corporate and government interests?" The previous Sawyer talks have all contained, at the very least, undertones of this anxiety, but Matias brought it to the forefront and addressed it in pragmatic terms.

Jeremy Dean's Annotation Education

If the Sawyer Seminar has had a central theme so far, it has taught that, paraphrasing Jeremy Dean, our latest speaker, "humanities need tech, but tech needs humanities." Dean, who works as the Director of Education at, visited Rice on January 14th, to share his vision of annotations attached to all information. He prefaced his presentation with a brief history of his work as a high school teacher, where he instructed his students to use Rap Genius – now Genius ­– to annotate works like The Great Gatsby.

Tara McPherson and Digital Design

With apologies for the delay, this post will discuss Tara McPherson's Sawyer presentation, which took place on December 3. Her lecture focused on the use of novel technologies as a way to teach and work in the humanities. Covering the roots of the Digital Humanities, she showed images of projects like the Eames Office, an example of innovative use of architectural space as a new approach to presenting information. Her history contextualized her own digital platforms, Vector and Scalar.

Jon Voss, Historypin, and Social Change

On November 5th, we had the wonderful opportunity to hear Jon Voss present on Historypin, which is part geospatial DH tool and part social media. Some researchers may criticize Historypin - it may not provide historical information that is reliable, rigorous, or tailored to faculty research interests - but that's not the point, Voss insisted.

Jon Voss: A Fresh and Inspiring Outlook on DH

The most recent speaker for the Sawyer Seminar definitely deviated from his predecessors. Jon Voss, the Strategic Partnership Director of Historypin and Shift, delivered an engaging and interactive talk that bridged together the best aspects of a TED Talk and a lecture. Exceptionally knowledgeable and unapologetically real, Voss started his talk off by saying he was probably the lease educated person to be invited to speak in this series citing his BA in Religion.

Jon Voss: History and Historypin

            Jon Voss's talk for the Sawyer was something of an outlier among the others so far. Voss isn't an academic and Historypin is not a university-based research project. He started his presentation by playing "Everything in its Right Place" by Radiohead and interspersed with images and video clips, including one from V for Vendetta. The contrast between Voss's background and the audience's made for the most productive part of the discussion.

Jaffe on DH, IT, EDU, and Others

The second speaker in the Sawyer Seminar series was Aaron Jaffe, Professor of English and Director of the Commonwealth Center on Humanities and Society at the University of Louisville (UL). His talk, “Being, Online and –Off: The Work of H in the Age of D*,” addressed the ways in which the humanities and technology interact as one—the digital humanities—in order to propagate or stifle research in the humanities. Although Dr.