Big data is now ubiquitous across myriad domains: politics, war, security, environment, health, media, art, culture and finance. New frontiers in information sciences have expanded our understanding of the human through advances in genetics and artificial intelligence (AI). Google and Facebook are at the forefront of research on AI. Historically linked to the rise of cybernetics in the 1950s, the penetration of big data and machine learning in our lives through advances in social media, cloud computing, robotics, epigenetics and cyber surveillance, have transformed our understanding of social belonging, political agency, knowledge production, privacy and autonomy.

Humanities Informatics is emerging as a new field in response to these developments. There are clear connections here to the work done in digital humanities, including the manipulation and visualization of data. But humanities informatics is less concerned with the actual computation of data than it is with the ways in which data structures and algorithms inform political economy, humanistic cultural production, human scientific endeavors, and studies of the evolution of human life itself.

Is new media technology making democratic politics impossible? What are the implications for the university of knowledge and information explosion unleashed by large corporations such as Google? How has social life been transformed by new media technologies? What transformations have emerged in art and performative cultures with the impact of interactive media technologies? Should we view the digital as a step-change in the technologies of communication and in epistemology? As the equivalent of the invention of the printing press? When algorithms make decisions, is there any room for discretion? How has our understanding of the ‘human’ been transformed by advances in genetic engineering and artificial intelligence?

A CHCI conference on Humanities Informatics showcased the power of the humanities to address these urgent questions about the ‘human’ in our information age.

A special panel entitled, ‘#Charlottesville: August 11 & 12’ focused on the eruption of neo-fascist violence in contemporary America. Charlottesville, the location of the conference, is also the site of neo-Nazi and white supremacist violence that shook the United States in the summer of 2017 and garnered global media attention. The panel revisited the legacies of slavery, the civil war, the history of confederate monuments, and white supremacist movements in Virginia, a historic region that exists on the fault-line of a deep racial division that was foundational to the establishment of the United States as a nation. Speakers included Kirt Von Daacke, Chair of the UVA Presidential Commission on Slavery, and Deborah McDowell, Director, The Carter Woodson Institute of African and African-American Studies.



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