Since its induction in fall 2013, the Digital and Computational Studies Initiative (DCS) has grown increasingly popular among students. Students will have the opportunity to explore the nexus between technology and the arts in the DCS-Visual Arts Department cross-listed course next semester.

Visiting Artist Erin Johnson will be teaching a 3000-level class called Site-Specifics: Production of Socially Engaged Media. The class will require students to go into the world and explore the way in which sites—like parks or dams—represent the histories of their locations.

Some of the sites that Johnson has in mind include Bowdoin’s Coastal Studies Center, Fort Andross and Brunswick Landing. Students will be asked to interview community members who work at or live near those sites to learn about them and the impacts they have on the town. Next, they will be asked to turn what they learned into a digital representation to be displayed at that site.

“By exploring all the different histories and squeezing those out they can choose how they want to connect something that’s happening in the contemporary world to something that’s happened in the past,” said Johnson.

The goal with these projects will be both to enhance the impact of the sites and help educate site newcomers. Johnson added that another goal is to “draw out this history that’s maybe not on the surface of the site and connect that with the questions that we are asking right now.” The issues explored through the histories of the sites could include issues like that of race, class, labor, gender and sexuality.

This semester, Johnson is teaching her first class at Bowdoin: Introduction to Digital Media. She explained that the class she will be teaching next semester will require more thorough exploration and investigation. However, an important aspect of the class still focuses on ensuring that students will gain a basic understanding of tools like a digital video camera and video-editing software.

One aspect that Johnson said she is most excited about is the fact that students will be creating art that will “live outside the walls of a gallery.” This way, she explained, those who haven’t typically appreciated art when they have seen it in museums will have an opportunity to view art in a new way.

Crystal Hall, an associate professor of digital humanities, is excited to be collaborating with the Visual Arts Department for Johnson’s cross-listed class. 

“I think that there’s been a sense that DCS has really been digital humanities, in part because those first few cross-listed courses were coming from English and Cinema Studies, and so this is a way to give a space for another aspect of DCS beyond the humanities,” said Hall.
In contrast to perceptions of DCS as digital humanities, Hall described it as an “equal opportunity collaborator.” 

“We are really trying to understand where the overlap exists, where we can find questions or issues that many disciplines would like to investigate,” she said.

Johnson’s class, in which students will use digital tools to explore and represent artistic and historical ideas, provides a strong gateway to redefining the DCS department.

“Even though we’re looking at history, we’re thinking about sociological theory. We are also addressing present day problems, issues and questions, and so I think Site Specifics also gets into that ultra-contemporary moment, which I think can be really powerful,” added Hall.
Johnson said that she has thoroughly enjoyed planning the class.

“What my goal is for this class is that students will walk away with another kind of experience in which hopefully they’ve learned more about how to just look at the world and think about all of the creative possibilities that every place has,” said Johnson.