UCLA IS professor actively approaches data from a humanist viewpoint.
In 2004, Drucker began Artists’ Books Online, which presents a collection of artists’ books in digital format along with descriptive metadata. While she remains director of that project, which is based at the University of Virginia, she felt it had become too narrow in scope for her by the time she joined UCLA’s faculty in 2008.
“I know a lot about artist’s books and I wasn’t learning that much because I already know what I know,” she said. “I wanted a project that would be useful pedagogically in a long sense and in an inexhaustible way.”
Thus began the History of the Book Online. The project functions as an online coursebook, a kind of academic Wikipedia for the history of the book, with entries produced by students in Drucker’s classes — a approach in line with Drucker’s belief that active pedagogy is better than passive pedagogy. Making use of materials from the UCLA Library’s Special Collections, students produce short research papers and, from these, construct coursebook entries in HTML, a markup language, along with XML, that is used for creating web documents. It is important for humanists today to have an understanding of HTML as well as its sister markup language, XML, to help grasp the concept of data as something that is “made” in order to make claims, rather than something that is “given.”
“Data as a concept is so prevalent in the culture, it’s part of literacy to be able to unpack what that means, and how it’s made, and how it’s structured,” Drucker said. “I don’t need to know the technical details of my fridge, but I do need to know what to plug and unplug so I don’t get electrocuted. The metaphor is we are kind of getting electrocuted by our lack of knowledge about data.”
Drucker is also currently researching alphabet historiography and working on ALL, a database memoir that combines her previously unpublished writing — some, including her first attempt at writing a novel, dating back to the 1960s — with commentary about what she thought she was doing and what she thought writing was at a given point in the past.
Reprinted from UCLA Newsroom