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Emoji, Texting and Social Media: How Do They Impact Language?

In this latest Guest Blog, Alex Loktionov, AHRC International Placement Scheme Fellow at the Library of Congress, talks Emoji’s Texting and Social Media.  Join him in his discussions with Dame Wendy Hall, during her time as Kluge Chair in Technology and Society , and  Jessica Lingel, Kluge Fellow, Assistant Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania .

This Blog Post originally appeared on the Library of Congress Blog on 15th June 2017, and our thanks is given for their kind permission to re-produce.

I’m here with Dame Wendy Hall, Kluge Chair in Technology and Society, Regius Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton and early pioneer in web protocols; with Alexandre Loktionov, AHRC Fellow at the Kluge Center and an expert on hieroglyphic and cuneiform legal texts; and with Jessica Lingel, Kluge Fellow, assistant professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on social media.

We ventured into talking about emoji and social media during a hallway conversation and thought it would be fun to pursue this further via blog.

The text of our Google Docs conversation was edited for length and clarity.

DT: There is much to explore, but it began with emoji, so let’s start there: elevated art form or corruption of language?

AL: For me, they’re essentially hieroglyphs and so a perfectly legitimate extension of language. They’re signs which, without having a phonetic value of their own, can ‘color’ the meaning of the preceding word or phrase. In Egyptology, these are called ‘determinatives’ — as they determine how written words should be understood. The concept has been around for 5,000 years, and it’s remarkably versatile because of its efficiency. You can cut down your character count if you supplement words with pictures — and that’s useful both to Twitter users today and to Ancient Egyptians laboriously carving signs into a rock stela.

DT: How does everyone feel about using emoji to write literature? The Library of Congress acquired an emoji version of none other than “Moby Dick” just a few years ago.

AL: I think you can definitely write literature with emoji — the question is, who will be able to read it? Do we have enough standardization in sign deployment? I think a full emoji dictionary/sign list would be necessary, unless, of course, we want to create a literature with multiple strands of interpretation (in a literal sense — where people see the same signs but interpret them in different ways).

JFL: I think part of it is about a fascination with how technology may be reshaping cultural production. I’m thinking of games around Twitter and literature, for example; the Guardian ran a challenge asking authors to write a story in 140 characters or less. (There’s a long and wonderful history of literature produced through challenges/games like these; I’m thinking of Shelley and Hemingway.) At the root, I think, is an anxiety around what it means to make art and how technology is making art better or worse.

DT: I’m optimistic because I see technological innovations opening up the range of what is possible artistically — Gutenberg, and so forth. On the other hand, certain technological turns have been very specific in their application. Think of Morse code: incredibly useful in certain contexts, but unlikely that we will ever write a novel in Morse.

AL: I think that gets to the heart of it — we have to think of the purpose of the means of communication, and in the case of emoji, we as a culture need to decide what they are: do we want them to be a bona fide script with full capability, or are they just a tool reserved for very specific purposes (alongside conventional means of writing)?

JFL: I don’t know about Morse Code novels, but Morse code poetry is definitely a thing.

AL: It’s also worth thinking about canonicity — can emoji become canonical, in a way in which originally purely utilitarian hieroglyphs could after several millennia? Are we in this for the long run?

DT: Right, will there ever be an emoji dictionary? Perhaps there is already?

WH: There is a crowd-sourced emoji dictionary. It’s not very helpful at the moment, but then, neither was Wikipedia initially.

AL: Yes, exactly — I know there’s a grammar (of sorts), but not sure about a dictionary. And the trouble is, you can write a dictionary or a grammar, but it then has to gain acceptance on a wide level to actually be of any use.

WH: Absolutely, this is all about evolution. If anyone took the trouble to formalize emoji at the moment, the emoji world would have completely changed by the time any formalization was agreed on. I’m not aware of a grammar for emoji. Shows you how little I use them really.

JFL: Well, in a very literal sense there is definitely an emoji dictionary, in that for emoji to function across different devices, they need to exist in unicode, which includes definitions of what each character/image/symbol means. But these definitions have little to say about the different cultural appropriations of symbols. Part of what Wendy and Alexandre are talking about here is the way that the flexibility of emoji has allowed for their popularity.

AL: Very true — maybe computers can standardize them in a way we humans struggle to at the moment. Computers communicating among themselves one day, maybe? With all the talk of artificial intelligence.

DT: It would be constantly updated and crowdsourced, so this would be a very different, rapidly evolving way of canonizing.

AL: Absolutely, and especially because levels of preservation are probably going to be very low. We probably don’t have as many printed emoji as we have hieroglyphs, alphabetic words or whatever else. They get used, and then so often just disappear into the ether. And (traditional) dictionaries rely on being able to collate attestations. So does canon, at least in conventional form.

DT: I’m curious about use. To play into stereotypes, my sense is that men use emoji less than women. This is coming from someone who can barely use a semicolon at the end of a sentence to indicate mirth;

DT: That is about my range of emoji use. What do you think, have men embraced this form of communication, or is it still uncharted territory?

AL: I definitely haven’t. I feel like I can maybe comment on it in an academic sort of way, but personally I’m very attached to our tried-and-tested alphabetic way of doing things.

JFL: Meh. I think this is very culturally dependent. My sense is that emoji use is somewhat bimodally distributed in terms of age. My undergrad students love emoji, but so does my mom. There is definitely a cultural preoccupation with whether or not men can or should use emoji. And then, of course, there’s a longstanding set of generalizations about women being better at communication than men, or perhaps more precisely, the idea that communication is a feminine skill, as opposed to hyper-rational thinking, which is typically (in the West) coded as a feature of masculinity. (Insert skeptical comments regarding women’s preoccupation with feeding families as somehow frivolous and men’s preoccupation with sports as manly, etc.)

DT: Perhaps there is an irony here, in that emoji originated, if I’m not mistaken, out of a corporate context, with a preoccupation with marketing and brand identity. And now, social media companies are seeking to measure emoji use to quantify emotional states and produce commercially useful data.

AL: That’s essentially the notion of the “determinative,” which is a central pillar of Ancient Egyptian. A single sign determines an emotional state, but the difference is that the sign accompanies a word for that state which is spelt out. Here it’s more complex and harder to quantify, I would imagine —  there are fifty types of happy emoji or whatever, with fluid meaning, how exactly do you quantify the intensity or “type” of happiness being felt? We’re back to the challenge of operating without a dictionary or standardization — effectively just power of the crowd. I think they are also very useful to non-native speakers (I’m thinking of members of my family in Russia, who try to express themselves in English, fail, and then convert to emoji-speak to get their message across).

DT: I’ll venture emoji are still looked upon with some suspicion, as in they are best used in frivolous types of conversation. Are they simply a parallel form of language, useful in some social contexts, or with new technological developments, are we moving toward greater standardization and perhaps a more formalized use?

JFL: Arguably, this goes back to the discussion of gender. Are emoji considered frivolous because they’re used to convey emotion, and thus feminized? There are also parallels to Twitter here, where early Twitter users were characterized as pointless and frivolous, even though these records of everyday life are deeply constitutive of who we are as a society.

DT: A great point. And now Twitter drives public opinion, policy and elections.

WH: Dan — here is the reference I sent yesterday that talks about the different ways men and women do and don’t use emoji.

JFL: Also, here’s an academic study (from 2000) about men vs. women using emoticons.

AL: We could end up with parallel scripts, perhaps. That’s historically very common — in my field, Ancient Egypt, there was a period, for example, when there were three scripts in operation simultaneously — one for carving on stone, and mainly to do with death; one for high-order literature, some royal administration and other important tasks done in life (written with a brush on papyrus); and a shorthand for routine tasks, like counting cattle or whatever.

AL: And again here, it’s noteworthy that these multiple scripts are a reflection of the different material forms of writing — on a stone surface with a chisel, or with a brush or reed pen on papyrus. The material on which you write is so important — in that sense I firmly believe that it’s natural for something like a smartphone to give rise to a new script.

AL: I love the emoji grammar. The sign list is basically essential to early Egyptological textbooks developed back in the Thirties, like this one, for instance (obviously it was digitized more recently).

WH: Don’t forget how the Chinese language has developed over the years and how they are using cartoons/pictures now to escape censorship. This is developing (I believe) into quite a sophisticated language that defeats the machines (at the moment).

JFL: Absolutely. Danah Boyd and Alice Marwick have written about how teens use cultural references to hide messages from people (read: parents) who are in their social networks but can’t follow cultural references. For what it’s worth, I’ve written a paper with Aram Sinnreich about different modes of hidden communication used by people who are incarcerated and how that could inspire forms of protest among media activists.

WH: There is ongoing discussion about when machines will actually be able to “understand” the words/pictures/concepts they are manipulating. When will machines be able to understand emoji? Will the evolution of emoji make cognitive AI easier or harder to achieve?

DT: Wendy can you say a bit more about cognitive AI? What do you mean by this?

WH: It has been defined as the fourth wave of AI (the first being Turing and Minsky in the 50s and 60s — can computers think; the second being the rule-based expert systems of the 70s and 80s; the third being the machine learning/deep learning systems that we can build today because there is so much more computing power than there was when AI was first conceived). We will have cognitive AI when machines actually understand the information/concepts they are dealing with. At the moment they appear intelligent (e.g . Siri) but without actually “knowing” what they are talking about. This is years away —  it will take another radical evolution in computers to achieve.

DT: It sounds like we are all optimistic about the creative potential of emoji — and perhaps alternative forms of communication in general. What I am hearing from Alex is that we have historical precedents in ancient language. Wendy and Jessa, you are pointing out their subversive nature — how activists and others are using new forms of language to circumvent traditional authorities.

AL: From a historical perspective, we’re certainly very rich in precedent — and in that sense I always feel a little surprised when people talk about modes of communication like emoji, or text-speak for that matter, as being somehow “new.” No — the technology driving them may be new, but the phenomenon of parallel scripts or using pictures to convey emotion (pictograms/determinatives) has been around for millennia. Society is currently adjusting to a new writing medium — the phone/tablet, or indeed even just the computer. In historical terms, even the computer is incredibly new. When paper first appeared in China, or papyrus in Egypt, there was a floruit of new written expression (it being a much more versatile medium than the stone surface which preceded it). Now we’ve got another medium which is more versatile than paper and, importantly, which has the capacity for instant deletion. In that sense, of course, emoji (or indeed anything typed on a computer) can afford to be more frivolous as its creator can send it back into the ether with one hit of the backspace. You can’t do that with an inscription.

DT: Well said, Alex. Jessa, Wendy, concluding thoughts?

JFL: 💁😃😂😆😐😕😦😪💀👀👌

WH: 👏

DT: Thanks everyone. It’s been super;

The Arts and Humanities Research Council International Placement Scheme  that Alex Loktionov applied for is likely to be open for applications between Mid Nov – Mid Jan 2018.  Check our website and twitter feeds for more information. And if you follow @ahrcpress and #ahrcips on twitter, you can then tweet back, adding an emoji…

We asked Alex about the application process:

‘I’d strongly advise people to apply to this scheme – and especially if initially you think you’re not the ‘right fit’. The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library and as such I’m sure it has something to offer almost any humanities scholar.

As an Egyptologist, I was a little bit unsure whether this opportunity would be right for me, as this place is not usually connected to ancient history. However, this has turned out to be a great benefit – I’ve discovered things in the collection which nobody in my discipline has looked at before, allowing me to situate my own research on Egyptian law within a broader framework of African and Middle Eastern justice.

The setting is extremely interdisciplinary – discussing, collaborating and networking with leading scholars in fields like computing and social media has proved really uplifting. I’d never thought that my subject could actually be this ‘relevant’ to the modern world before!’ Alex Loktionov

 

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A Sestina for the Huntington

In this latest Guest Blog, Thomas Tyrrell talks about his experience of the AHRC International Placement Scheme, and ultimately, his “Sestina for the Huntington”.

On my first day at the Huntington Library, Los Angeles, I was allocated a shelf for my books beneath a bust of Lord Byron. Madly jet-lagged but wide-eyed and vibrating on American coffee, I was here on the AHRC international placement scheme, which gives British PhD students the chance to travel abroad and access collections they couldn’t reach on their own budgets.

A bust of George Gordon, Lord Byron, from the Ahrmanson Reading Room in the Munger Research Centre - Photo Credit Thomas Tyrrell

A bust of George Gordon, Lord Byron, from the Ahrmanson Reading Room in the Munger Research Centre – Photo Credit Thomas Tyrrell

After a previous fellowship at the Chawton House Library, Hampshire, I had thanked my hosts with a country house poem. Suitably inspired by Byron, I set myself the challenge of writing a poem for the Huntington. To make things difficult for myself, I chose a sestina, an unusually difficult poetic form where the same six words are repeated in new orders in every verse. That meant that these six words had to be important—they had to embody my experience. These are the six I chose.

Library. Understandably, this was where I spent most of my time. Henry Huntington, one of the richest millionaires of the Gatsby age, had inherited a railroad fortune and built a property fortune on top of it. Much of this cash had been splashed in buying up wholesale the libraries of impecunious English aristocrats, or of other book collectors. I largely spent my time on early atlases and eighteenth-century poetry, but treasures of the library included Gutenberg bibles, first editions of William Blake and a beautifully illuminated Chaucer manuscript.

The Rothenberg Reading Room in the Huntington Library. Photo Credit - Thomas Tyrrell

The Rothenberg Reading Room in the Huntington Library. Photo Credit – Thomas Tyrrell

Garden. The greatest attraction for the Huntington’s ordinary visitors, however, were the acres of botanical gardens, which showcased a vast variety of flora and landscaping techniques, from the stillness of the Chinese and Japanese gardens to the baroque labyrinth of the cacti garden. It was more than possible to go for a quick stroll after lunch and lose yourself for the rest of the afternoon.

A bridge in the Japanese garden at the Huntingdon Library. Photo Credit - Thomas Tyrrell

A bridge in the Japanese garden at the Huntington Library. Photo Credit – Thomas Tyrrell

Art. Among the various galleries of American and European art in the Huntington grounds, one could find a William Morris stained glass window, a painting by Edward Hopper that used to hang (in reproduction) above the fireplace at my parents house and even a bust of John Milton, the key author of my thesis. When I was stuck, I used to go and gaze into his eyes for insight. He had a remarkably sympathetic expression.

Mountains. Waking up in a brand new place, the peak of Mount Wilson to the north made a great impression on me. They were a constant presence through the trip, towering above the parking lots of the Huntington, a reminder of the greater wilderness in tension with the immense urban sprawl of Los Angeles.

Window. American air-conditioning took some getting used to, but I was grateful for it when the temperature hit thirty degrees in February. As I looked out over the sun-baked gardens from the cool, climate-controlled archive spaces, it felt like looking into another world, and I tried to build that sense of slightly uncanny transition into the poem.

Move. I needed a verb to effect a transition between these elements, and stop the poem from falling into an elegant stasis. Something as simple as possible—I considered ‘walk’, ‘pass’, and ‘go’, but I found ‘move’ to be the most adaptable to my purpose.

The Munger Research Centre, where I conducted my research. Photo Credit - Thomas Tyrrell

The Munger Research Centre, where I conducted my research. Photo Credit – Thomas Tyrrell

Then I sat down and wrote.

Huntington Library Sestina by Thomas Tyrrell

The city sprawls out shoreward from the mountains,
Grids grafted to the plain by strength of art:
The craftsman’s skill that makes and frames the window,
With the persistence that sustains the garden
In times of drought; the eloquence to move
A people with the vision of a library.

It’s cool and still and silent in the library,
Where books inform me of the distant mountains:
How hawks and lizards and coyote move
Over a wilderness no human art
Can tame into a farmstead or a garden.
Beneath my eye the page becomes a window.

The world is beckoning beyond the window.
So from the studious pleasures of the library
I go to seek out nature in the garden.
Sheltered in the wind-shadow of the mountains,
The shoots sprout strongly, methodised by art
Which guides their courses as they grow and move.

When down the garden’s winding paths I move
I see far-distant lands as through a window,
The world’s arboreal and floral art
Arranged to form a vast botanic library.
Raked gravel and old stones encompass mountains
And oceans in the stillness of the garden.

The noon-day sun beats down upon the garden
And sweat rolls down my forehead as I move.
Against the cloudless blue horizon, mountains
Stand stark as cut-outs. Wishing for a window
On cooler air, too restless for the library
I go to walk the galleries of art.

The mind and hand combine in making art,
More than in writing books or tending garden.
There’s nothing that could tell me in the library
Quite how a pigment-loaded brush can move
Over an empty canvas, now a window
On men and women, palaces and mountains.

Here is great art with power to awe and move,
A library with all the world its window,
A garden in the shelter of the mountains.

(c) Thomas Tyrell

Thomas Tyrrell gazing at a bust in the Huntingdon Art Gallery - Photo Credit Thomas' Mum

Thomas Tyrrell gazing at a bust in the Huntington Art Gallery – Photo Credit, Kathryn Tyrrell


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Dance, Manhood and Warfare Amongst the Acholi People of Northern Uganda.

Read this latest Blog Post by Lucy Taylor, an AHRC Kluge Fellow who worked on War and Masculinity in Uganda at the Library of Congress during 2016.

The post is re-published with kind permission from the John Kluge Centre at the Library of Congress.  They are one of the AHRC’s partner organisations who provide placements via the AHRC International Placement Scheme for AHRC fellows around the world.  Its the 4th such Blog from Kluge.

The Library of Congress holds some of the richest material concerning
African dance in the world. One of the most interesting collections−comprising
photographs, sound recordings, motion pictures, fieldwork notes and relevant
articles−was donated by Judith Hanna based on her research in Africa during the
early post-colonial period.
Dance represents a fundamental part of the Acholi people’s cultural
heritage. The Acholi, a Nilotic Lwo-speaking ethnic group, reside predominantly
in the central region of northern Uganda, an area collectively referred to as
Acholiland. Before embarking on my fellowship at the John W. Kluge Center my
efforts to access pre-colonial indigenous Acholi perceptions concerning
manhood and warfare for my doctoral research had largely focused on lingual
cultural forms that facilitate the oral transmission of knowledge, such as songs,
proverbs and folktales. It was only after I began to explore the Judith Hanna
collection at the Library of Congress that I started to truly appreciate the
importance of dance for transferring knowledge between generations within a
number of African cultures and societies.

Photograph courtesy of the Judith Hanna Collection, Library of Congress. Picturing Acholi men dancing the Larakaraka in 1963

Photograph courtesy of the Judith Hanna Collection, Library of Congress. Picturing Acholi
men dancing the Larakaraka in 1963

The Larakaraka was an Acholi courtship dance that granted young men
the opportunity to demonstrate their dancing prowess and physical vigor in the
hope of securing a marriage partner. As Okot p’bitek, a famous Acholi poet,
suggested in his ‘Song of Lawino’, young women used to judge and assess
prospective partners based on their skill and endurance in the dancing arena.1

‘A man’s manliness is seen in the arena’
‘All parts of the body
Are shown in the arena!
Health and liveliness,
Are shown in the arena!’ 2

During the Larakaraka the young men danced in a semi-circle with their legs
interlocked whilst singing short repetitive songs. They adorned ostrich or cock
feathers on their heads and carried calabashes in their left hands. The young
women danced silently facing the men until the moko stage, when each woman
would identify her preferred male of choice, push him out of the semi-circle and
the young couple would retreat to a quiet spot to become better acquainted.3
However dancing the Larakaraka not only provided individuals with a chance to
excel amongst their counterparts, but the scripted moves, costumes and
instruments employed also reproduced and conveyed to the audience
appropriate gendered roles and behaviours.

Dance embodied an important instrument for education within Acholiland and a platform whereby accepted behavioral patterns and socially constructed norms and values were
demonstrated and disseminated. Although important to consider the extent to
which concepts are exaggerated within dance, sometimes for entertainment
purposes, dances such as the Larakaraka can help provide us with a better
understanding of what was admired and celebrated in terms of masculinity and
femininity in pre-colonial Acholi society.

Courtesy of The Nigrizia,1932, (Comboni Missionary Magazine). Picturing dancers preparing for the Otole

Courtesy of The Nigrizia,1932, (Comboni Missionary Magazine). Picturing dancers preparing for the Otole

Before the onset of warfare, or during important occasions organized at the
call of a chief, the Otole, a physically tiring dance involving mock fights, repetitive
jumping and running back and forth around the arena, was often performed.4
Men wore leopard hides, ostrich plumes to decorate their heads, and carried
spears and shields whilst women carried a lukile, a small axe.

The Otole dance, or war dance as it also now known, served a number of
complementary functions. The vigorous and energetic movements helped
physically prepare men for the demands of fighting, whilst the sequences
performed during the mock fights instructed men on formation patterns,
advance and retreat strategies alongside the manner of attacking and defending
with a spear and shield.5

In addition to this, the Otole served to emotionally prepare men for

violent encounters, acting as a mechanism for motivation and encouragement,

and for inciting military courage and confidence. The Otole further enhanced the

men’s combat readiness through eliciting popular support,and sanctioning the use

of violence and normally inappropriate behavior within the context of warfare.6

Thus, although trauma is rarely considered during discussions of pre-colonial African warfare, I would argue mechanisms such as the Otole dance, through freeing men of guilt or regret, helped further emotionally prepare men for war by relieving or reducing the psychological impact of participation in violence.

Thus, although trauma is rarely considered during discussions of pre-colonial African warfare, I would argue mechanisms such as
the Otole dance, through freeing men of guilt or regret, helped further emotionally prepare men for war by relieving or reducing the psychological
impact of participation in violence.

Courtesy of the Hesketh Bell Collection, 1906-1909, (Y3011C), Cambridge University Library

Courtesy of the Hesketh Bell Collection, 1906-1909, (Y3011C), Cambridge University Library

The Judith Hanna collection is remarkable in terms of the variety of
resources it includes and its references to ethnic groups that were relatively
marginalized within other research projects in the early post-colonial period,
notably, the Acholi. The collection provided me with a wealth of knowledge and
theoretical understanding concerning dance in Africa, and challenged me to
further explore specific Acholi dances, such as the Larakaraka and the Otole, in
relation to masculine identities and warfare during my own fieldwork in
northern Uganda.

Those working at the American Folklife Centre, where the Judith Hanna
Collection is housed, could not have been more helpful; if it was not for their
enthusiasm and dedication to disseminating this valuable collection, I would
never have been able to extract such rich data from it. In particular the
photographs and motion picture featuring Acholi dances, of which the staff
kindly provided me copies, are helping me question whether the imagery or
symbolism embedded within these dances was susceptible to individual
interpretation depending on varying life trajectories. Additionally by showing
this material to elderly Acholi people, I have the unique opportunity to gauge
their opinion concerning how dance has evolved and adapted over time. The
importance of the Library of Congress as a repository of cultural history in a
rapidly changing and often poorly documented world has never been more
apparent to me.

My fellowship at the John W. Kluge Center was facilitated and funded by the
AHRC through the International Placement Scheme. This support not only helped
me gain access to unique resources and pursue new areas of interest in relation
to my doctoral research, but importantly the scheme also granted me the
opportunity to forge significant contacts, and explore potential collaboration
opportunities for the future. Notably my forthcoming visit to Columbia
University to work under Associate Professor Rhiannon Stephens came as a
direct consequence of my research at the Kluge Center and the invaluable
conversations I had with other academics working at the Library regarding
innovative methodologies for researching pre-colonial African history.

 

1 Judith Hanna, Dance, Sex and Gender: Signs of Identity, Dominance, Defiance, and
Desire (The university of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1988), pp.4-5.

2 Okot p’bitek, Song of Lawino (East African Publishing House: Nairobi, 1966)
p33-34.
3 Okumu pa’ Lukobo, ‘Acholi Dance and Dance Songs’. Uganda Journal, Vol. 35,
1971, pp.55-61, (p.55).

4 Okumu pa’ Lukobo, ‘Acholi Dance and Dance Songs’. Uganda Journal, Vol. 35,
1971, pp.55-61, (p.55-56).
5 Judith Hanna, ‘African Dance and the Warrior Tradition’. Journal of Asian and
African Studies, XII, 1-4, pp.111-133, (p.114).
6 Judith Hanna, ‘African Dance and the Warrior Tradition’. Journal of Asian and
African Studies, XII, 1-4, pp.111-133, (p.115-119).


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The Sounds of Strange Phenomena: An IPS Fellowship at the International Research Centre for Japanese Studies

The stunning seasonal changes at Nichibunken. Photo Courtesy of Hannah Bayley

The stunning seasonal changes at Nichibunken. Photo Courtesy of Hannah Bayley

In this latest Guest Blog, Hannah Bayley, International Placement Scheme Fellow, reflects on her experiences of the IPS Scheme and time at the International Research Centre for Japanese Studies, (part of the wider NIHU (National Institutions for Humanities) in Kyoto, Japan.

Writing a doctoral thesis often triggers moments of reflection. Sat in a dedicated creative writing session at Keele on a particularly grey foggy Thursday morning I found myself looking out of the window and thinking how the weather and the damp atmosphere provided the perfect conditions in which one might expect to meet a yūrei (The most common Japanese term for ghost, roughly translated as dim spirit). This kind of meeting was something I half expected to experience while sitting in the library of the International Research Centre for Japanese Studies during my AHRC International placement, head bent over publications strewn with images of Japanese spirits and descriptions of ghostly sounds.

The stunning seasonal changes at Nichibunken. Photo Courtesy of Hannah Bayley

The stunning seasonal changes at Nichibunken. Photo Courtesy of Hannah Bayley

I never met a spirit in that library. However, I did leave my five-month fellowship with a wealth of ideas focused on distinctly Japanese representations of sonic haunting that have fruitfully shaped the course of my doctoral thesis. I am currently in the writing up stage of my PhD which offers a reconceptualization of the roles of sound and music in supernatural Japanese horror film, and how that differs from other traditions elsewhere in the world, especially considering the number of American J-horror remakes that have emerged.

I can recall two months into my PhD at Keele University receiving an email from the Music postgraduate mailing list and my efforts to carefully assess which of the six inter-university institutes that make up the National Institutes for the Humanities in Japan would be right for me. As an institute with an emphasis on comparative studies and cultural exchange the International Research Centre for Japanese Studies, or Nichibunken (日文研) was well suited to my project. Further research on the host website confirmed this, as I would have direct contact with a wealth of relevant resources on filmic, literary and theatrical traditions. Pre-fellowship I had read and accessed some of their special digital databases online. Once at Nichibunken the library staff were incredibly helpful, providing guidance on how to access a number of items in print form. I was able to view unique visual materials from the collections of Paintings of Strange Phenomena and Yōkai (Ghosts, Monsters, Spirits) and the Database for Folktales of Strange Phenomena and Yōkai (Ghosts, Monsters, Spirits). The library also had a number of microfiche collections and I retrieved cuttings from the Prange collection, publications (books, periodicals, pamphlets, newspapers), documents, posters, etc. that were censored during the Allied occupation of Japan between 1945 and 1952. Articles retrieved were all reports on cinema and film music, mainly screen guides from this period of restriction in journalism. Most of the documents were in Japanese but I was granted permission to take away photocopies for future translation work.

Admittedly, I had one concern when I applied to the fellowship and that was the Japanese language level requirement. As someone who has obtained a certificate of Japanese language competency it still did not inspire a lot of confidence in me, but there was no Japanese language skills requirement for Nichibunken, and it never posed that big an obstacle as there was always help on hand and a large proportion of the library resources are in English. Support was provided by the Research Centre’s staff, visiting researchers, and students, and especially by my host supervisor, Professor Hosokawa Shuhei, who introduced me to a number of research contacts. I was encouraged to develop both my research and language skills by attending monthly seminars in English and Japanese, as well as the International Research Symposium hosted at Nichibunken, and the Sokendai (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, Osaka) Cultural 2014 Forum. I presented an early version of my analysis of transnational adaptation in the music and sound design of Ju-on: The Grudge and its remake The Grudge at the Kyoto-Nara EU Association English club.

Yutate Kagura ritual dance and purification ceremony, Jōnangū shrine, Kyoto.

Yutate Kagura ritual dance and purification ceremony, Jōnangū shrine, Kyoto.                             Photo Courtesy of Hannah Bayley

My first-hand experiences of several Japanese performing art forms from ancient court music and dance (Gagaku) to traditional puppet theatre (Bunraku), and traditional theatre forms such as Noh and Kabuki, would not have been possible without being awarded my fellowship. One of the most illuminating moments was actually being able to take part in a workshop on butoh, an avant-garde dance form that originated after World War II. The class was led by acclaimed choreographer and dancer Ima Tenko, whose performances I had attended earlier in my placement. Never underestimate the power of networking, anywhere! I began attending services at St. Agnes church in Kyoto, where I played the organ for a few services. There, I met a conservator of Japanese paintings who introduced me directly to a research contact at the International Noh Institute (INI). I was advised on performances and arranged to sit in on a rehearsal led by the Kongō School Master-Actor Udaka Michishige, leader of the INI.

 

These immersive opportunities have transformed my understanding of the unique sonic practice of Japanese performing arts. To be able to examine culturally specific traditions of supernatural and horrific representations in the Japanese arts and how they have shaped examples of sonic practice in Japanese film within the ‘field’ has enriched my understanding beyond the scope of anything I expected. My time at Nichibunken has equipped me with the original scholarly foundations required for my doctoral thesis and helped me to shape the various cultural, social and artistic contexts for a research paper I had begun working on, which will be published in 2017. Thanks to the support of staff at Nichibunken I was also able to contact figures in the Japanese film industry ‘in country’ and travelled to interview three prominent film and video game composers; Shimizu Hiromi, Kawai Kenji (pictured) and Ashiya Gary.

Meeting Kawai Kenji at his studio in Tokyo. Photo Courtesy of Hannah Bayley

Meeting Kawai Kenji at his studio in Tokyo. Photo Courtesy of Hannah Bayley

During my placement, I liked the fact that I had the option to live alongside other researchers at the centre in a self-contained apartment in Nichibunken House. A nearby supermarket, post office, bank and on-site restaurant at the institute were all conveniently located. A short walk away was what quickly became one of my favourite ramen restaurants. Transportation was very reliable and frequent, especially the bus services, as Kyoto city itself is roughly a 30-minute drive away from the western edge of the city, where Nichibunken is situated. Arashiyama, Osaka and Nara are also easy to reach and of course the famous shinkansen (bullet train) was convenient for travel to places such as Nagoya and Tokyo, especially with a Japan rail pass. Being a big foodie, I was more than happy to sample some of the famous Kyo-wagashi (Kyoto sweets), Yatsuhashi (red bean paste confectionary), and of course experience the Japanese tea ceremony, which I attended frequently. I was even trained in the Way of Tea (Chadō, Sadō or Chanoyu, literally “Hot Water for Tea”).

Aspects of Japanese culture: match tea ceremony lesson, Tō-ji Temple’s five-storey pagoda- the tallest wooden tower in Japan, and the Noh theatre stage. Photos Courtesy of Hannah Bayley

Aspects of Japanese culture: Match tea ceremony lesson, Tō-ji Temple’s five-storey pagoda- Tallest wooden tower in Japan, and the Noh theatre stage.                                                                                                                      Photos Courtesy of Hannah Bayley

Kyoto inspired me with its wealth of beautifully preserved temples, shrines, rock gardens, the former imperial palace grounds, and I didn’t miss any chances to attend the city’s festivals and illumination events. I will treasure my many walks around Kyoto reflecting on the connections of nature, animism and the supernatural in film music, whilst appreciating the beauty of viewing both the colourful maple leaves of autumn (koyo/momiji) and the first buds of the cherry blossom (sakura) season, which were often accompanied by the telling of a tale from Japanese folkore.

I am so thankful that I spied an opportunity in an AHRC email, and applied for the IPS. The fellowship has enhanced my knowledge of Japanese ghost and horror traditions through the ages in ways that have enabled me to develop fresh approaches to the criticism of films, scores and soundtracks. The impact of my placement has allowed me to develop the leading-edge expertise that I hope will open many doors as I seek post-PhD academic employment.

And who knows? Maybe I will return to Nichibunken one day and encounter a spirit or two.

 

 


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International Funding Opportunities Closing Soon


Happy new year, and just a quick reminder that there are lots of international funding calls closing in the next month……

AHRC international development call

As part of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), the AHRC have a call for Area Based Network Plus awards for Arts and Humanities based approaches to addressing global development challenges. It is expected that applications will have a strong collaborative element with ODA (Overseas Development Assistance) countries. The awards will be £1.5-2 Million and over 4 years, and offer a flexible model of scoping, partnership building and running funding calls. Closing date: 18 January 2017

European Commission Funding

The topics to be funded under European Commission Challenge ‘Europe in a changing World – inclusive, innovative and reflective societies’ work programme close soon. These topics are more closely defined than a research council theme, but are still more open than commissioned research. In 2017 there is particular arts and humanities interest under the theme ‘Understanding Europe – Promoting the European Public and Cultural Space’ For example topics include:

  • Contemporary histories of Europe in artistic and creative practices
  • Religious diversity in Europe – past, present and future
  • Participatory approaches and social innovation in culture

Most close 2 or 4 February 2017 (note some of these are now 2 stage processes so involve an outline proposal). If you need assistance with applying, the UK contact point for this challenge is Ben Sharman challenge6ncp@esrc.ac.uk

Hello Shenzen: Researching the Ethics of Makerspaces

The AHRC and British Council have a UK/China opportunity for research into the China Maker movement that closes 29 January 2017. Note: applications need to comply with Overseas Development Assistance (ODA)

International Placement Scheme

The AHRC International Placement Scheme offers the opportunity for doctoral and Early Career researchers to visit seven world leading institutions in the USA, Japan and China. Closes 19 January  2017 

 


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How a Scholar Uses Her Ph.D. to Combat Global Corruption

This is the 2nd posting from the The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress.  With kind thanks and permission of Jason Steinhauer and ESRC.

In 2012 and 2013, Nieves Zúñiga was an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Fellow at The John W. Kluge Center, researching a project titledIndigenous Struggles over Recognition in Bolivia: Contesting Evo Morales’s Discourse of Internal Decolonization.” Today, she is putting her knowledge of Bolivian society to use as part of the EU-funded project Anticorruption Policies Revisited. Global Trends and European Responses to the Challenge of Corruption (ANTICORRP), examining anti-corruption policies in Bolivia and Rwanda. She talks with Jason Steinhauer about how her scholarship has informed her current work.

Hi Nieves. Welcome back to the Kluge Center. Refresh our memory: what was the subject of your research when you were here years ago?

When I came to the Kluge Center as an ESRC Fellow, I was a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Government at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom. My thesis was about the recognition of indigenous peoples in Bolivia. I was analyzing the discourse that the government of President Evo Morales was using to recognize indigenous peoples and how indigenous peoples were responding to that recognition.

What had been the status of indigenous people in Bolivia prior to his administration?

Indigenous peoples in Bolivia, as well as in other countries in Latin America and in the world, have struggled to get their rights recognized. President Morales recognized them at different levels. Foremost, he recognized their right of self-determination. This is a key right that indigenous people claim but states are reluctant to grant because it involves potential conflicts surrounding land and natural resources. As well, he turned the nation state into a multi-national state, meaning that indigenous autonomies are constitutionally acknowledged as legal political forms of organization, indigenous languages enjoy the same official status as Spanish, and an indigenous flag is now a national symbol.

However, despite the answer that these acknowledgements represent to historical indigenous demands, several indigenous leaders remain dissatisfied with these changes. My thesis provides a political explanation of why the recognition of cultural diversity in Bolivia has fallen short. My argument is that the indigenous dissatisfaction can be explained by the divergence between the discourses of the state and of indigenous struggles. The cultural recognition granted by Morales is based on an essentialist idealization of indigenous identity that does not correspond with reality. One of the indigenous leaders that I interviewed told me that before indigenous people could not participate in politics because they were thought to be inferior, and now they are considered pure and they are forced to maintain that pure image, which is another form of control. I suggest that this tension reveals a different understanding of what decolonization and recognition mean, not only between the Bolivian government and the indigenous peoples, but also among indigenous peoples in the highlands and the lowlands.

What did you find at the Library that helped you understand these issues?

I found lots of literature of Bolivia before Morales and during Morales’s time. And something really interesting is that I found many pamphlets from Bolivian social movements and local authorities—materials that are quite difficult to find in the field because you have to gather them from across different regions. However, I found them here concentrated all in one place, which was very helpful.

Nieves Zuniga

ESRC Fellow Nieves Zuniga conducting fieldwork in Rwanda, July 2016. Photo provided by the scholar, used with permission.

So following completion of your thesis, where did you go?

After my PhD I continued working in Bolivia. My project now is on anti-corruption policies. Since 2014 I am research fellow at the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham for the project ANTICORRP funded by the European Union. The main objective of the project is to examine why some anti-corruption policies work, and others don’t. We are twenty multidisciplinary research groups in fifteen EU countries working on identifying factors that promote or hinder the implementation of effective anti-corruption policies.

At the University of Nottingham, together with the Developmental Leadership Program at the University of Birmingham, we are doing a comparative analysis between the anti-corruption policies in Bolivia and Rwanda. Even though Bolivia and Rwanda appear to be very different, they have interesting similarities in the way they understand corruption. For both of them the problem of corruption stems from colonialism. The solution, therefore, is to reconnect with indigenous and pre-colonial values and institutions. Our approach is to see how the promotion of integrity and values can play a role in anti-corruption in combination with a compliance approach, and both countries place an emphasis on values and ethics as key tools to fight corruption.

However, it’s very interesting to see how they are getting different results. Anti-corruption is one of the most celebrated achievements of Rwanda in the last years, whereas in Bolivia the negative perception on the levels of corruption has hardly improved. In Rwanda, the education in values is a continual activity and they use diverse formal and informal mechanisms to reach the different groups of the society, which explains, among other political and historical factors, a change in attitudes toward corruption. In Bolivia, activities regarding educating citizens against corruption are sporadic and isolated and, in reality, there is a prioritization of regulatory codes and compliance over values that prevents to change a mindset that condemns corruption in theory but tolerates it in practice.

How does your Ph.D. thesis, and your research at the Kluge Center, provide insight for your current project?

For me it was really good to have the background on Bolivia coming from my Ph.D. It helped me to contextualize the anti-corruption policy that Morales’s government is trying to implement and to better understand the response of the society. For example, one of the pillars of the anti-corruption policy is to increase the participation of civil society in monitoring the government. My previous knowledge about the tensions among social movements and their relationship with the government has helped me to understand some of the struggles and limitations of the policy, in particular, regarding the value and challenges for an effective social accountability

What will be the end result of your current work?

The main product will be a report on the promotion of integrity in fighting corruption. We propose to move the debate from fighting corruption to promoting integrity in public management. Everybody believes that integrity is good and necessary, but very few know how to define it, and even less how to implement it. With this report we try to provide an operational definition of integrity and ideas for its practical implementation in public institutions. This report will be presented to policy-makers, public officials and practitioners in the EU and other international contexts.

Another main product will be the comparative analysis of the anti-corruption policies in Bolivia and Rwanda, and more in-depth papers on each case. I recently presented a preliminary analysis in the OpenGov Hub in Washington, D.C. on what is working in anti-corruption with successful examples from Rwanda and the municipal government of Juan del Granado in La Paz, an exception in Bolivia. It was nice to see in the audience Ronald MacLean Abaroa, former mayor of La Paz who has done a lot of work on anti-corruption, meet him personally, and talk further over coffee.

What does the future hold for you—what role do you see for yourself moving forward?

My future will hopefully involve doing something that is a bridge between the intellectual world and pragmatic results. I want to do research, coordinate projects and work in teams to make a positive impact in society. This is what I really want to do.

Nieves also added a final comment on the International Placement Scheme:

To have the Economic and Social Research Council ESRC/AHRC fellowship to do research at the Kluge Centre in the Library of Congress was fantastic for many different reasons.

During my PhD I had to divide my time between working on my dissertation and doing other jobs to help myself financially, like being Graduate Teacher Assistant and note-taker for students with disabilities. Both of them were great personal and professional experiences and they also meant extra effort on my PhD thesis. To have three months during the summer fully funded by the ESRC/AHRC to focus only on my research meant the paradise to me. Moreover, it gave me the opportunity to be part of one of the most fascinating places for the intellectual brain. The Library of Congress, and the Kluge Centre in particular, is fantastic not only because of the resources they have –imagine being the biggest library in the world!-, but because of the possibility that offers to interact with scholars from different countries and fields. To be part of such intellectually stimulating environment allowed me to learn from different topics such as graffitis in Pompeya, medieval maps, Mongolia, the history of money or social movements in a digital era, and also to look at my own research with fresher eyes. I have to add that Washington DC is a fantastic and beautiful city. Full of cultural opportunities, friendly people, and sun! I loved living there, and as Spaniard I can deal pretty good with the hot weather.

I brought many things from my time at the Kluge. It opened to me professional opportunities otherwise impossible to have. And to meet the staff at the Kluge and the LOC was great. They are really welcoming and helpful, and the contact with some of them have developed in friendships that last until today. I go back to the Kluge whenever I am in DC and it stills feels like home.

I really recommend applying to this fellowship. If I could, I would do it again!

 

More information on the 2017 Scheme can be found via the website.

 


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Transnational Italies Exhibition

Having opened at the British School in Rome on 26th October during the conference on Transnational Italies: Mobility, Subjectivities and Modern Italian Cultures, the exhibition “Beyond Borders. Transnational Italy” is now travelling to Italian Cultural Institute in London at the beginning of December (through until 14th January 2017) and then, in the course of 2017, to various places within the world.

It aims to follow the itinerary traced by researchers within the project (New York, Melbourne, Turin, and possibly Addis Ababa and Buenos Aires).

The conference and exhibition are part of the AHRC funded project, ‘Transnationalizing Modern Languages: Mobility, Identity and Translation in Modern Italian Cultures’.

More information on the ongoing projects tour can be found on the above website.