Welcome Claudia Von Vacano

23 May, 2018

Welcome Claudia Von Vacano

For several years, the Berkeley Center for New Media has worked closely with Claudia von Vacano, Executive Director of Digital Humanities at Berkeley and the D-Lab. We’re thrilled to have her now officially join our Executive Committee. Welcome, Claudia!

Article written by Nicolas Chang and Laura Huynh.

Claudia Von Vacano is the Executive Director of both the Digital Humanities at UC Berkeley, an umbrella organization that supports the thoughtful application of digital tools and methodologies to humanistic inquiry, and the D-Lab, an organization that helps Berkeley faculty, staff, and students move forward with world-class research in data intensive social science.

Claudia first came into contact with BCNM through Abigail DeKosnik’s Color of New Media working group. Touched by the group’s work on and vision of inclusivity, Claudia recognized how the BCNM’s aims aligned with her own goals for her program: encouraging engagement with the digital humanities in a way that’s accessible to all, through a particular focus on building an inclusive space that thinks critically about racial and gender parity.

“In both the Digital Humanities and at the D-Lab, we prioritize marginalized communities, [those] historically underrepresented in the STEM fields and digitally inflected work,” Claudia explains, pointing to their incredible “It’s okay not to know” series and their Data Scholars program.

Soon afterwards, Digital Humanities and the BCNM began formally partnering on the Digital Humanities Summer Institute. This relationship proved fruitful, institutionalizing the ways in which these organizations have supported and built on each others’ expertise. While BCNM focuses on the analysis and critical assessment of new media, Digital Humanities concentrates on the methodological uses of computation and digitally inflected methods of research. The D-Lab, meanwhile, provides cross-disciplinary resources for in-depth consulting and advising, access to staff support, and training and provisioning for software and other infrastructure needs.

Following the immense success of the Summer Institute, Digital Humanities has just announced a summer minor/certificate program. Grounded in a pair of core classes on theory and methods, electives cover a range of topics, including archives, visual and spatial analysis, textual and language analysis, and critical digital humanities. The difference between this summer program and the many others on campus? Those who complete the five course program will be reimbursed $2000. “We’re always asking, how can we offset costs for students?” Claudia notes.

And DH is well positioned to do just that, as under Claudia’s guidance, they have secured multi-million dollar grants and outside funding to increase their reach and capacity. Recently, they were awarded a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for research on the Louisiana Slave Conspiracy. It’s research such as this, along with the Hate Speech Index with the Anti-Defamation League, and the Digital Life project that epitomize how Digital Humanities at Berkeley seeks both to work with marginalized communities and to dedicate resources to promoting research that has social impact.

But Claudia not only seeks to catalyze scholarship for social good through her team’s research, in her role at the D-Lab, she offers these tools to everyone. In partnership with Sage Publications, the D-Lab is launching a new, free, online course “Introduction to Applied Data Science” for UC Berkeley faculty, students and staff. The series features seventy-two videos, tutorials and Jupyter notebooks that cover tools and methods in this emerging field, while also looking at the effect of data science on research practices. This is achieved by practical introductions to basic topics like data cleaning, in addition to running machine learning, network analysis, and text analysis.

Over the past four years, Digital Humanities and the D-Lab have become vitally important Centers of learning and research, serving the campus and beyond. “Four years ago,” Claudia notes, “not all the humanities departments would receive [us] warmly, I can now with great confidence say that every department in the arts and humanities has participated in the Digital Humanities programming.”

The level of engagement in these programs and the cutting-edge work they produce are testimonials to Claudia’s impressive leadership.