Profile: Lai-Tze Fan

Lai-Tze Fan

In an attempt to meet more of the people involved in DH in Canada and to help connect the community, we are going to run a series of blog interviews with members. Our first interviewee is Lai-Tze Fan. Lai-Tze is the CSDH/SCHN recipient of the 2015 Lisa Lena Opas-Hänninen Young Scholar Prize, an award sponsored by the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO). Below are the questions we’ve asked of participants with Lai-Tze’s answers. You can find Lai-Tze on her website or on twitter.

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you come to find yourself working within Digital Humanities?

My name is Lai-Tze Fan and I’m a PhD Candidate (ABD) in the joint Communication & Culture Program at York University and Ryerson University. My dissertation negotiates the ontology, representation, and orthography of digital media with that of other media forms, specifically the contemporary print novel, in the context of a non-linear media history. For the 2015/2016 academic year, I’m a visiting Instructor and Researcher at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany.

I began to work in the digital humanities when I started my PhD. There’s only so much research one can contain in a dissertation before related side projects spring up: I became fixated on an old passage by Lev Manovich in which he expresses “surprise” that narratives still exist in a cultural age dominated by the database, and I compared this idea to text analysis by Matthew Jockers and Franco Moretti, for instance, that uses computers to analyze narrativity. In effect, I sought to examine where we can locate and benefit from narratives—indeed, where their reflexive frameworks are necessary—in DH literary research. My foundational work in this area produced the paper for which I was honoured to receive the ADHO’s Lisa Lena Young Scholar Prize, and which I’m now developing into a postdoctoral project.

How do you define Digital Humanities?

When considering the broad spectrum of analyses, projects, and disciplines that the digital humanities could encompass, DH is more inclusive and community-based than a traditional humanities made up of independent scholars, and it also more readily anticipates the critical contextualization of media technologies within sociocultural environments than some technological research. I tend to favour Alan Liu’s description of himself as participating in a critical digital humanities, by which I believe he means a DH that most responsibly approaches the exciting pragmatics of developing technologies and their larger shifts through the humanistic hermeneutics and reflexivity of the humanities. That’s the kind of DH I too wish to participate in.

What are you working on at the moment?

Currently, I am developing a postdoctoral research project that takes the research questions of my dissertation in a different direction by experimenting with digital mediations (qualitative, quantitative, and encoded) of narrative ontologies. It proposes narrativity—through elements of storytelling, figurative language, modes and materialities, and so forth—as a theoretical framework for micro-level analysis in literary texts and as a complement to macro-level text analysis.

A third project that I’m working on examines the use of digital tools for research on spatial practices in urban spaces. I’m examining the ways in which locative media applications and platforms complicate how we understand material space and media materialities relative to digital media. For instance, I argue that mobile and locative media use the interface to foreground the user’s physical surroundings, such that they feel more rather than less connected to the material spaces that they explore and through which they move.

Is there anything else you would like to say about DH?

I attended a great conference in October 2015 that could have answered the question, “How many digital humanities pioneers can you gather in one room?” This international group offered insight into the long history of humanities computing, from Father Roberto Busa to recent WikiLeaks reveals, showing me that DH has been around for a long time—and that it is also still figuring out what it is.

It has been exciting to hear about the exponential rise in attendance at global DHSIs each year, and to witness firsthand the respective development in DH communities in North America and parts of Western Europe. While more scholarly involvement sometimes means less individual attention, I don’t think this needs to be the case for DH: its multi-faceted environment in fact distinguishes it as a collaborative and, ideally, inclusive field for conversation. The efforts of this growing collective will hopefully contribute to the DH developing and re-developing robust objectives and practices of responsible work.

Thanks so much to Lai-Tze for responding to our questions and for getting the conversation started. Remember that you can find Lai-Tze on her website or on twitter

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