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Humanities scholars lauded at Stanford Humanities Center's 'Publication Celebration'

At the 21st annual book event, Stanford President John Hennessy commended Stanford authors for their remarkable achievements, while visual interpretations of data about the works illustrated their impressive scope.

Steve Castillo People admiring books at Stanford Humanities Center celebration

University President John Hennessy, second from left, attended the Publication Celebration at the Stanford Humanities Center to thank the authors for their scholarship.

Organized by the Stanford Humanities Center, the annual "Publication Celebration" gives the Stanford community an opportunity to recognize and appreciate the broad scope of humanities scholarship produced on campus.

The expansive display of books and works throughout the center's Levinthal Hall demonstrated not only the quantity of work done by Stanford scholars but the richness and depth of their academic contributions.

In the last year, scholars from 26 different departments and institutes at Stanford produced a total 67 works in the form of books, music and art.

Addressing the crowd, history Professor Caroline Winterer, the director of the Stanford Humanities Center, described the collective achievement as "quite simply the revelation of the immense reach of your imaginations into every realm of the human experience, from ancient Mesopotamia to Mondrian, from poetry to music, and from memoir to novel."

Stanford President John Hennessy, who has presented at the celebration several times in recent years, took to the podium again this year to congratulate the authors.

"What an amazing set of productions. Where else could you find two books by two individuals named Richard Powers?" Hennessy quipped, referring to Waltzing: A Manual for Dancing and Living, co-authored by Richard Powers, a lecturer in the Dance Division, and Orfeo, a novel by English Professor Richard Powers.

Hennessy said he enjoys taking part in the event because it presents him with an opportunity to discover new things.

At this year's celebration, for instance, he noted that he learned about Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre, a harpsichordist and composer who performed at the court of King Louis XIV. The subject of music Professor Emeritus Albert Cohen's latest research, Jacquet de La Guerre is likely not well known outside of music circles, Hennessy said, adding that he was pleased to learn about "an incredible woman and her musical talent at a time when women were probably greatly underrepresented as musicians."

Citing the diversity of languages and subject matter in this year's publications, Hennessy thanked the authors for helping to bring acclaim to the university.

Visualizing achievement

As in so many of the digital humanities research projects at Stanford, digital technology and humanities scholarship merged in fruitful ways at the event.

A historian who has used digital humanities tools for her own research endeavors, Winterer said the celebration was also a chance to celebrate the Humanities Center's new collaboration with CESTA, Stanford's Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis.

In collaboration with the Stanford Humanities Center, CESTA offers opportunities for fellows and affiliates of the Humanities Center to pursue digital humanities projects, to participate in workshops and training sessions, and to publish the results of their work online.

Winterer said that in honor of the bolstered digital humanities efforts at Stanford, the Humanities Center decided to harness the power of digital technology to show the humanities scholars what their "extraordinary achievement looks like in aggregate."

Cameron Blevins, a doctoral candidate in the Department of History, helped to transform the publication details for all 67 works into a variety of visual interpretations, including pie charts, graphs, maps and a word cloud.

The aggregated data revealed a number of noteworthy facts.

Stretched end to end, all of the books and musical works cover 2.5 miles. The average book length is 273 pages. The two largest words in the word cloud of all publication details are "university" and "press," a clear indication of the importance of the university press in humanities scholarship. A pie chart succinctly proved that endnotes are more prevalent than footnotes.

A map of the authors' home departments and institutes showed red "hot spots" of humanities production all over campus. A subsequent slide went a step further, placing a huge red circle representing the humanities over most of the campus. "You can see that downwind from the Stanford Humanities Center there's a wonderful accumulation of scholarship and we just kind of reinterpreted it," Winterer joked.

Winterer concluded her remarks in a more serious tone, noting that the affair was a "remarkable testimony to the strength and productivity of the humanities at Stanford."

"Bringing all this work together under one roof," Winterer added, "is an extraordinary monument to the vitality of the humanities in the university and in American public life."