Interdisciplinary linkages

Spring 2007 Interaction

Stanford's Academic Technology Specialists are scholars, generally Ph.D.s, who lead double lives as techies. Employees of the library system, they reside within academic departments or centers, where their job is to help faculty and staff innovate in their research and teaching through the creative use of technology. As members of both the academic and the information technology communities, the dozen or so specialists are uniquely positioned to bridge different cultures and to facilitate a creative and mutual exchange.

Claudia Engel

Claudia Engel

One such ATS is Claudia Engel, who works with anthropologists, most recently on collaborative learning spaces and the use of spatial technologies like geographic information systems (GIS). She has degrees in anthropology, biology and education.

"Some of us work with programs where scholars come together, like Human Biology, but we also collaborate across disciplines, bringing departments together," Engel said. "We look for opportunities to do that."

They can also create possibilities for scholars to interact with people elsewhere, opening up dialogues. Engel is helping Lynn Meskell, a professor of cultural and social anthropology, set up a wiki devoted to Turkish figurines, and she helped John Rick, an associate professor of anthropological sciences, use advanced digital imaging to display his archaeological data.

"There are faculty members who have never crossed the mountain, who never even consider what the person across the hall is doing," said Carlos Seligo, a former IHUM fellow who is now an ATS with Human Biology. "We are interpreters, and interpreters hear both sides. Sometimes you're translating, other times you're convincing or selling."

In the English Department, ATS Matthew Jockers developed a deep timeline of Shakespeariana to assist David Riggs, who was writing a biography of the playwright. Rather than develop a simple concordance, which in any case exists, Jockers developed a sort of simultaneous concordance that delves into Shakespeare's works as well as into a host of contextual texts.

Matthew Jockers

Matthew Jockers

"I have background in literature, but sometimes I'm bringing another side to the table, like media or computer science," Jockers said. "Sometimes we are the outside discipline." And, he said, "we have to teach some of them how to use a mouse."

Jockers is currently a digital humanities research scholar at the Humanities Center, which has its own ATS, Nicole Coleman, and which has in recent years has shown particular interest in encouraging the digital humanities. Coleman has helped establish three "network projects" that form part of the center's Humanities Research Network, allowing humanists to work together over disciplinary and geographic divides. She also helped organize a series of events this year called "New Directions in Humanities Research" that explored the use of cyberinfrastructure in the humanities.

"In a way, Seligo said, "interdisciplinary people are disabled. They don't have the infrastructure they need, they can't get to the next step. Sometimes there are bureaucratic obstacles, sometimes there are technical ones. You need better tools, but it's not painless. "And working on one thing, you solve problems you'd never have looked at otherwise. That's the gravy."