January 7, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 7

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    [margot browning, paul hunter, and karen landahl], by jason smith  
    Margot Browning, Paul Hunter, and Karen Landahl

    Mellon grant to fund yearlong seminar on computer technology’s impact

    By Theresa Carson
    News Office

    Karen Landahl, Associate Professor in Linguistics and Chair of the Sawyer Seminar Steering Committee, and her colleagues bring together wide-ranging studies of human/computer interaction from varied disciplines. During the 1999-2000 academic year, they will advance their work in a yearlong Sawyer Seminar funded by a $100,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. A previous Mellon Foundation grant of $350,000 was awarded to the University for 1995 to 1998, supporting three different Sawyer Seminars during that period. This new award will finance quarterly conferences, biweekly workshops, fellowships and visiting international scholarships for the 1999-2000 program.

    The new seminar, Computer Science as a Human Science: The Cultural Impact of Computerization, will further interdisciplinary work about the impact of computerization on people’s lives in relation to earlier and ongoing print culture traditions. It will bring together faculty and student participants from several University divisions and from other Chicago-area universities.

    “This is our chance to sit back and consider how things have changed,” Landahl said. “It’s a good time to think about how we interact with technology and computers.”

    For this latest Sawyer Seminar, the University’s Franke Institute for the Humanities is coordinating the yearlong program that will cover three quarterly themes. During Fall Quarter, the seminar’s focus will be “Synesthetic Education and the Cultural Organization of the Senses;” during Winter Quarter 2000, the theme will be “Human/Computer Creoles and Culture;” and in Spring Quarter 2000, the emphasis will be on “Moral and Political Economies of Computer Cultures.”

    Biweekly workshops and quarterly conferences will explore questions about how individuals interact with computers and how they affect people’s daily lives. How does computer usage redefine what people value as experience and knowledge in a given culture? What are cross-cultural differences between print culture and computer culture? What new capabilities for cultural expression do computers make possible?

    “Humanists are in a good position to reflect critically upon the integration of computers into their work because of the more recent and slowly centralizing use of computers in humanistic disciplines,” Landahl said.

    “We’re interested in the impact of computers on varied aspects of human life. This is a strongly humanistic project,” said Paul Hunter, the Barbara E. and Richard J. Franke Professor in English Language & Literature and Director of the Franke Institute for the Humanities. “We’re positioned to think about the impact on individuals, institutions and quality of life.”

    The seminar committee is specifically inviting participants from Scandinavia, Russia, Brazil and Japan because of the differing degrees to which their cultures are immersed in the use of computers.

    “In Scandinavia, the presence of computers is widespread,” Landahl said, “in societies that are both traditional and technologically savvy.” The Swedish government has adopted a loan program to help make home computers available to all Swedish citizens.

    In Russia, a large disparity exists between the “haves” and the “have-nots” with respect to computer access. In Brazil, computer technology is spreading quickly, while Japan’s advanced technology permits a look at non-Western implementation of computerization.

    “One goal is to find out how computers enrich us as opposed to only serving us. My hope for this Sawyer Seminar is that it will impact the life of the campus in an ongoing way, through research or teaching or both,” Hunter said.

    The Sawyer Seminar Program invites applications for a postdoctoral fellowship, visiting international scholarships and conference papers. In addition, two graduate fellowships are available for University students. For more information, see the seminar Web site at http://humanities.uchicago.edu/sawyer/csashs or write sawyer-seminar@uchicago.edu.

    Postdoctoral fellowship applications must be received by Feb. 15. Scholars from Scandinavia, Russia, Brazil and Japan are invited to submit applications by March 1 for five-day visits during one of the quarterly conferences (Oct. 22-24; Jan. 14-16, 2000; or April 7-9, 2000). The call for conference papers deadline is March 15, and qualified University graduate students should apply for graduate fellowships by March 31.

    Application materials should be sent to the Sawyer Seminar Program, Franke Institute for the Humanities, University of Chicago, 1100 E. 57th St., Chicago, Ill. 60637, USA.