New Media + Sciences program focuses on collaboration

In the ongoing conversation about the value of studying the arts and the humanities, some critics have pointed to the solitary nature of the humanist and the seemingly difficult marketability of a graduate with a humanities major as minuses. As it happens, the Media Arts + Sciences program, launched in October, takes on both of those issues, offering an interdisciplinary space where arts and humanities scholarship collaborates with natural sciences and social sciences to develop big, new ideas.

Led by director Hans J. Van Miegroet, the chair of Duke’s Art, Art History & Visual Studies department, the program is housed in two bays on the second floor of Smith Warehouse that were remodeled to include plenty of windows to emphasize the transparency of the work being done and to include enough room to house myriad disciplines. The academic backgrounds of the faculty include art, art history, visual studies, literature, classical studies, music, and information sciences. Fifteen faculty members relocated to offices within the program’s space.

That space has room for seven ongoing Duke projects such as the Wired! Lab, where faculty and students create digital models and animations of cities, architectural structures, and sculpture, and the Duke Art, Law and Markets Initiative, in which experts in art, economics, and law analyze the international art landscape. Dig@Lab is housed there, too; the archaeological venture uses digital tools to recreate ancient civilizations. There’s also lab space for both undergrads and graduate students. “Teaching is a collective enterprise and project-based, which is why we need this space,” says Van Miegroet. “We want to move away from these fifty-minute classroom slots where students don’t have enough time to learn through teamwork and experimentation.”

That experimentation could be a graduate student tinkering with a drone used to take aerial photographs for digital archaeology or surveillance, or a professor tinkering with a computer rendering of a medieval Venetian church. Students and faculty members working in any of the eight labs will have a four-person team based in the same space. The Visualization and Interactive Systems team includes a data visualization coordinator, a research scientist, a research programmer, and an information technologist giving humanities students easy access to scientific and data expertise. “Our students need to understand the sciences,” Van Miegroet says. “The placement prospects for these people? Anywhere. Everywhere.”

The program is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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