DAsH Dives Deep: Spring Courses Offer Tour of Venice and More

by Shannon GlebaStaff Writer

Manhattan College is constantly looking for ways to create a well-rounded education for all of its students, no matter their area of study. In order to find an effective way to link both the study of humanities, as well as the more technical studies, the Digital Arts and Humanities program was created.

Beginning in 2014, professor of religious studies Robert Geraci, Ph.D, developed an idea for the DAsH program, and created a board of faculty to create the curriculum.

Maeve Adams, assistant professor of English, Ph.D., was part of that original faculty board and credits Geraci with bringing interested faculty together. After the board was formed, the main objectives of the program were decided, and the work to achieve them was starting to be completed.

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Savoy’s class is connected to the study abroad trip that went to Venice over winter break.

After a number of years, Adams became the Director of the program during the 2018-2019 academic year and helped to further these objectives.

“It is both a minor program, and it’s also a cross-college curricular initiative. So, the objective is to bring harmony within the kind of inquiries that we do in humanities and social sciences and asking kind of big philosophical questions about the world and the way things operate,” said Adams.

Many of the philosophical questions Adams references include those such as, what does it mean to be human? And how do we avoid social crises like war and police brutality?

Adams continued, “So those big questions that we ask and think about and contemplate and sometimes try to answer in the humanities and social sciences. So, trying to bring those into practices and methodologies that we tend to associate with the technical disciplines, so sciences or engineering or math, for example.”

While it may seem difficult for professors to integrate such seemingly competing objectives of technical analysis and humanist questions into each subject, Adams considers herself a digital humanist and encourages many other professors to think the same way. In addition to the courses Adams teaches under the DAsH attribute, she has always integrated technology into many of her classes.

“I’m writing essays online that are visual and verbal pictures and you know, and descriptions and explanations. Sometimes I’ve had students create digital archives online using Omeka, which is a tool that we use on campus. So I’ve always had digital components in my classes,” said Adams.

During the Spring 2020 semester, there are 37 separate courses being taught within the DAsH program, many of which have several class sections. One of these courses is named Gender and Literature and is taught by Adams herself. In this course, Adams and her students are utilizing online resources to complete linguistic analysis.

Addams said, “So you can read those fairy tales, you can read individual fairy tales, but you can also think about them from a larger, take a larger view and think about the way that gendered language and gender tropes, gendered metaphors pervade all of the fairy tales that you could possibly read. You can take a broader approach to the question using a couple of tools that are easily accessible on the internet. So for example, there’s one called Voyant, which is a linguistic analysis tool that’s on the internet and is totally free. And you basically just copy and paste or upload large texts into Voyant. And it spits out of you a data analysis of whatever language you put into it. You can put any kind of language at all or any linguistic context at all.”

Another course being taught this semester with a focus on technology is an art course called Virtual Venice, taught by Professor Daniel Savoy, P.h.D. This course is a continuation of the study abroad course from the winter intersession of 2019 called Venice from the Water.

During the winter intersession, Savoy traveled to Venice. While in Italy with eight students, he lectured about the architecture of the city, as well as the fact that it was meant to be appreciated from the canals. Savoy explained that due to modern inventions, the intention of viewing the architecture of Venice from canals has been lost.

“This fundamental part of the historical experience that this city has been lost because of these modern artistic interventions, like the railroad bridge. So the idea is to get students on water, get them to gondolas, get them in boats, and have them experience how the city was intended to be seen how the architecture was built to be seen. And you know, all the cinematography, the aesthetics from the water, how the architecture is built in dialogue with the digital properties of the water, spatial properties, the experiential conditions of the water, how you’re always moving things,” said Savoy.

In 2012, Savoy wrote a book titled “Venice from the Water” which discussed the architecture of the city and explained that the people of the Renaissance and Middle Ages  built the city with the canals in mind. When he wrote this book he included many static images of the city and its architecture, however he wanted to take a more dynamic approach to capturing Venice’s beauty in a new way. His solution was teaching students to use 360 degree cameras.

“So that static images you can see you’re kind of cumbersome, it doesn’t do much justice. So what I wanted to do is get a 360 video camera and get in gondola and actually take students on the waterways and have them experience those views, and then capture them. And then, so that was the what the class was all about a week, it was kind of half lecture, half digital or half art history, half digital era, where I would lecture about the historical context of all of that, and like what the urbanistic practices, architectural practices that the architects were thinking about and implementing. And then teaching them how to use a 360 video camera, how to do the data collection, and then eventually, the VR headset. Yeah, so they have so we have the videos now in the VR headset. And you can essentially just transport yourself to the canals of Venice,” said Savoy.

After the data was collected in Venice during the winter intersession, the 360 degree videos were brought back to campus where they were started to be used in the Virtual Venice course.

In this DAsH course, students are tasked with editing the videos from Venice and creating virtual tours by inserting “hotspots” into the videos that can be viewed in a virtual reality headset.

“So what [the students are] doing is they’re doing research on houses and churches that they see in their videos to build the information that they’re going to put it. So, it’s a really nice marriage of art history, and digital media arts,” said Savoy.

He continued, “Students are editing the videos that the other students took. And how they’re editing the videos is fascinating. What we’re doing is using virtual tour software. And what we’re doing, is inserting hotspots onto the videos. But in this program, it allows you to insert little hotspots into the environment. So we’re going to put them on buildings and bridges and canal, anything that you want to explain. And then you can input information texts or images from the Renaissance or things like that into these things.”

Through this technology, the students in the class will be able to create virtual tours of the city, and may even lead viewers through the footsteps of historical figures.

Another one of the courses being offered this semester is the History of Sound Recording & Editing, taught by professor Dennis Sullivan, Ph.D.

Sullivan described this course and said, “It’s a very, very different kind of history course in the way that it’s not purely, like a timeline account of we started here, we ended here, these technologies appeared, they had this effect, this led to this, this led to that.”

He continued, “And it’s not purely a lecture either. And so we’re trying to not only examine the appearance of different sound reproducing technologies, and audio technologies, but also to take a look at their economic effects and the influence on the socio-economics, the outside forces between like access, and economic class.”

In addition to lectures, the course has many labs that allow the students to be hands-on.

Sullivan said, “One of our labs we just recently had was we experimented with using a  record player with different kinds of needles. So we used a knitting needle or we used a safety pin. And then because the original you know, the original gramophone had a small resonant membrane. So the needle sent the audio signal to this membrane it vibrated in the membrane and then it came out of steel horn. And so, essentially, you have resonant membrane and amplifier and so we tried different membranes. We took a safety pin and attached a piece of styrofoam to it a plastic bottle to it a tin can water bottle and tried to start to actually feel and understand why different objects have different resonant properties.”

These courses are three of the many offered among the Schools of Liberal Arts, Business, and Science. The DAsH program has many plans to expand within the upcoming number of years in order to reach a wider range of students and to keep connecting the philosophical questions of the humanities with the technological analysis of the sciences.