HTNM Lecture — Virginia Kuhn, “Video Analytics: From Keywords to Keyframes”



Fantastic to be able to share the stunning talk at the History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series by Virginia Kuhn this past November 3rd on “The VAT: Large Scale Video Analytics.” The tool offered great applications for digital humanities tasks on moving images. Check it out!


Miyoko Conley, a BCNM Designated Emphasis candidate in Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, recaps Virginia Kuhn’s History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series presentation on “Video Analytics From Keywords to Keyframes”, which took place on November 3, 2016.

November 3rd marked the last History and Theory of New Media lecture for the fall 2015 semester, with a stimulating lecture from Dr. Virginia Kuhn from University of Southern California. Entitled “Video Analytics From Keywords to Keyframes,” the lecture covered Dr. Kuhn’s platform Video Analysis Tableau (VAT) and the ethos behind its inception. The VAT applies computational methods to the study of vast video archives.

Before explaining the tool itself, Dr. Kuhn emphasized the larger theoretical concerns driving the project. If we recognize that digital processes are just as important as words and images, and that contemporary literacy does not only include textual literacy, but also digital literacy (and other forms of cultural production), then it is imperative that critical theorists weigh in on these large matters of public concern. It is also important for theorists to recognize that in this digital age, scholarship can take many forms besides the traditional essay format, as Dr. Kuhn’s digital dissertation (one of the first in the United States) and her classes at USC on creating video arguments show.

Dr. Kuhn’s focus on video sheds light on another important aspect of studying new media: the prevalence of moving images in particular. With more footage than one could watch in a lifetime uploaded to YouTube in an hour, and projections that by 2020, 82 percent of all consumer internet traffic will comprise of video, Dr. Kuhn’s argument that without having specific tools to study this media, it will remain invisible to us, easily follows. However, the question of how to study vast amounts of video over a sustained period of time continues to be a problem. Not only are moving images complex on a theoretical level in that they intertwine subjectivity and objectivity, but also there are practical concerns of how much time it takes to break down one video, let alone a whole archive. Added to this mix are the ongoing issues of how make video available for study and educational purposes when current copyright law is still struggling to catch up to the proliferation of material uploaded to privately-owned sites like YouTube. One solution Dr. Kuhn has developed is the VAT, which tackles the question of “how to study?” head-on.

While not all the code has been streamlined as of this writing, the intention of the VAT is to provide educators with a tool for large-scale video analysis that takes out some of the labor usually involved with this type of work. More than that, however, the VAT seeks to combine what Dr. Kuhn calls “human vision” with “computer vision,” meaning, to combine the strength of human vision to focus on a detail, and the strength of computer vision to draw attention to aspects unnoticed. At the moment, this mainly manifests in the different ways the VAT can visualize the digital data, in order to give educators a multilayered approach to studying motion pictures that extends beyond looking frame-by- frame. Please be sure to check out our 2016 spring lectures with Kavita Philip and Eden Medina!

2016 HTNM: Kuhn


Cultural analytics, a newer branch of the digital humanities, deploys computer technologies to analyze the formal features of art and culture, making them available to interpretive methods. Moving image media is particularly ripe for this sort of computational analysis given its increasing ubiquity in contemporary culture. Indeed, digital video—whether recorded digitally or digitized from film—is a rapidly expanding form of contemporary cultural production, one made possible by the proliferation of personal recording devices and hosting platforms like YouTube, Vimeo and the Internet Archive. In short, video is one of the most compelling “big data,” issues of the current cultural moment; its formats are diverse, rapidly transmitted, and boundlessly large in number.

Yet despite its scale and importance, video remains a daunting object for sustained research, for obstacles that are technological, institutional and conceptual in nature. In this talk, Virginia Kuhn will describe her Video Analysis Tableau (VAT) project which is supported by the NSF’s XSEDE program (Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment) and her team’s efforts at establishing a software workbench for video analysis, annotation, and visualization, using both current and experimental discovery methods.

thumbnailVirginia Kuhn is an Associate Professor in the Division of Media Arts + Practice and Associate Director of the Institute for Multimedia Literacy in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. Her work centers on visual and digital rhetoric, feminist theory and algorithmic research methods. Kuhn’s current research projects include the VAT (video analysis tableau), which applies computational methods to the study of vast filmic archives, and The Library Machine, a gesture-based visual interface for searching library collections. She recently published (with Vicki Callahan) a collection titled Future Texts: Subversive Performance and Feminist Bodies (Parlor Press, 2016) and has edited two peer-reviewed digital anthologies (with Victor Vitanza), MoMLA: From Panel to Gallery (Kairos, 2013) and From Gallery to Webtext: A Multimodal Anthology (Kairos, 2008).

In 2005, Kuhn successfully defended one of the first born-digital dissertations in the United States, challenging archiving and copyright conventions. Committed to helping shape open source tools for scholarship, she also published the first article created in the authoring platform, Scalar titled “Filmic Texts and the Rise of the Fifth Estate,” (IJLM, 2010) and she serves on the editorial boards of several peer reviewed digital and print-based journals. Kuhn was the 2009 recipient of the USC Provost’s award for Teaching with Technology. She directs the undergraduate Honors in Multimedia Scholarship program, as well as the graduate certificate in Digital Media and Culture, and teaches a variety of graduate and undergraduate classes in new media, all of which marry theory and practice.

The History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series brings to campus leading humanities scholars working on issues of media transition and technological emergence. The series promotes new, interdisciplinary approaches to questions about the uses, meanings, causes, and effects of rapid or dramatic shifts in techno-infrastructure, information management, and forms of mediated expression. Presented by the Berkeley Center for New Media, these events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit: