Inaugural Digital Humanities Fellows Study Art, Urban History, and Media

For senior Konhee Chang, Kandinsky’s “Circles in a Circle” painting sings. Or at least it will soon.

Chang is about halfway through a project to turn the famous painter’s work into a musical score. Each of the 50 or so circles and lines will be assigned a musical note according to Kandinsky’s theories on sound and image, and the ultimate tune will depend on which order the viewer chooses to “play” those notes, similarly to how a painter selects the sequence to paint.

“I’m interested in this relationship between seeing and hearing,” Chang says. “I wanted to look at paintings and imagine a sound that could be a musical representation.”

Chang, a double major in visual studies and economics, began the work during a summer fellowship with the Price Lab for Digital Humanities, one of three such students. The other two, Rebecca Heilweil and Izzy Korostoff, studied media coverage of free speech and the design of Philadelphia streets in the 20th century, respectively. The trio made up the inaugural class of undergraduate Price Lab fellows.

“The independent projects this summer went encouragingly well,” says James English, the John Welsh Centennial Professor of English in Penn Arts and Sciences and the Price Lab’s faculty director. “The fellowship program is a success so far, but it’s still early days.”

Unlike the research support through the center, which matches undergraduates with faculty already doing digital humanities work, these summer fellowships provide more autonomy for students with their own project ideas in mind. Price paired Heilweil, Korostoff and Chang each with an advisor and offered financial support, then set them up with a team from the Penn Libraries and Penn Arts and Sciences computing.

“We start them off with a meeting … to go through the system they’re going to use to gather data and organize it, where they’re going to store it, what kind of encoding, how they will ensure the work they do doesn’t disappear behind a forgotten password,” English says. “There are certain basic practices that people need to follow if they’re going to get involved in a data-gathering digital project.”

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