Sussex Humanities Lab

About the lab

The Sussex Humanities Lab is dedicated to developing and expanding research into how digital technologies are shaping our culture and society, as well as the way we go about our research. The lab draws on expertise from diverse fields including philosophy and information technology, history and archaeology, media and communications, music and performance technology, and sociology, to ask questions which have always been at the heart of the humanities.

Supported by £3 million of funding, the University of Sussex is creating a substantial research infrastructure to support work to develop new forms of digital humanities over the next four years. Our vision is to ensure that information scientists and literary theorists, media scholars, designers, and practitioners, social scientists and historians, collaborate to serve the fundamental roles of humanities research - to explore the human condition and its evolution, and the social and material worlds we make. We wish to make the humanities fit for purpose in a digital age.

Led by researchers from the Schools of Media, Film and Music (MFM); History, Art History and Philosophy (HAHP); and Education and Social Work (ESW), with direct contributions from the School of Engineering and Informatics and The Library, and housed in MFM, SHL supports associated faculty and other research staff in all areas of the University where the humanities are taught and researched – and well beyond them.

SHL has a dedicated space, the Digital Humanities Lab, designed to facilitate innovative work in the digital humanities.

The three key goals of the programme are:

(i) enabling innovative work in the digital humanities, 
(ii) capturing major funding to expand research capacity, and 
(iii) ensuring that these gains become sustainably rooted in the University.

Work is initially organized into four named strands of activity – but our intention is to make sure that our research crosses and links these strands.

Digital History/Digital Archives

This strand seeks to move beyond the provision of digital archives to the re-analysis and presentation of inherited materials.  ‘Big Data’, distant and close reading of digital materials (text, place and objects), re-configuring search and archival structures, and exploring new ways of presenting history online, will form the core activities of staff in this strand.  Drawing on the extensive experience of digital creation in the School of History, Art History and Philosophy, this strand is led by Prof Tim Hitchcock.

Digital Media/Computational Culture

This strand is concerned with the transformative moment in humanities and social science research when computation becomes not only an everyday part of the research process, but also the condition for the research to be undertaken. Adopting a critical approach to the development and dissemination of digital media in all forms, the strand will interrogate: the materiality of computational technology; the relationship between symbol and signal; computation and epistemic change; and finally power and activism in relation to digital technologies. The strand is led by Prof David Berry, and will develop a number of projects, including: BBC and the Digital Public Sphere; the Digital Economy of Vertically Organised Ecologies of Data (Stacks); Opacity, Presence and Digital Culture; and Sonic Interfaces and Cultures.

Digital Technologies/Digital Performance

This strand, led by Prof Sally Jane Norman, addresses digital technologies in the arts, and prioritizes practice-led research geared towards artistic processes and productions. It explores live performance, and the use of interactive, online, and locative media. Real-time sensors and algorithmic processes, motion capture and live coding, artificial intelligence and artificial life techniques will be investigated through creative digital renderings of motion and gesture in sonic and visual arts, extending to haptics and multimodal forms. Research will address digital performance archives and datasets pertaining to other forms of “live” cultural heritage, and the novel kinds of performance / performativity emerging via locative and distributed media, and aggregated big data.

Digital Lives/ Digital Memories

This strand, led by Prof Rachel Thomson, explores how digital technologies and their affordances form part of the fabric of everyday lives, creating new logics of practice that may be realised in different and unexpected ways. A core element of this Strand will be the theme of ‘digital childhoods’, involving documenting and analyzing contemporary childhoods and exploring the interplay between dynamic processes of technical and biosocial maturation. Digital temporalities are also an analytic focus, and the use of longitudinal, cross generational and archive based methodologies will enable exploration of cultural transitions between analogue and digital environments. A third focus will be on forms of ‘context collapse’ (Boyd) afforded by digital technologies, which disrupt many of the cultural boundaries of modernity and associated forms of expertise - e.g. those between public and private, home and the school, professional and the client, the developed and underdeveloped world, and the old and the young.

The Sussex Humanities Lab is lead by a Core team including Prof Caroline Bassett (Lab Director), Prof David BerryProf Tim HitchcockProf Sally Jane Norman, and Prof Rachel Thomson and is project managed by Amelia WakefordProfessor David Weir leads the Informatics team and Jane Harvell leads Sussex Humanities Lab work in the Library.