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New U-M Digital Studies Institute explores impact of technology on art, identity, inequality, ethics

By Brittany Smith

Marisa Jahn
ANN ARBOR—From data breaches to deep fakes to self-driving cars to anti-loot box legislation, digital cultures dominate the news cycle, making it more important than ever to understand the new opportunities and dangers presented by technological disruption and digital cultures.

This societal need is at the heart of University of Michigan’s new Digital Studies Institute. The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts is collaborating with partners, units and faculty from across campus to produce cutting-edge research to understand and orient digital citizens and to help students better face these challenges themselves.

LSA created the Digital Studies Institute to bring a humanities-centered approach to the power and problems of the digital worlds billions of people visit and inhabit each day. The compelling, integrated coursework allows students to attain a degree with a more holistic and tech-savvy viewpoint on social and cultural issues.

The institute supports research with a sharp focus on the human impact of transformations in personal identity, new opportunities for marginalization and unequal access, and the proliferating ethical challenges of digital spaces.

DSI faculty include more than two dozen professors from across LSA and the university, and offers an undergraduate minor, graduate student certificate and range of classes including courses on digital media and race, gender and identity; digital pedagogy; and digital art. The institute is an expansion of LSA’s Digital Studies Program, which started in the Department of American Culture in 2014.

“We’re excited about building on decades of our faculty’s groundbreaking research and thought leadership to create the Digital Studies Institute,” said Lisa Nakamura, the Gwendolyn Calvert Baker Collegiate Professor in the Department of American Culture.

“In the age of the nonstop consumption of digital media, we must explore how all of these things are influencing our world, and, specifically, the impact they have on the communities who use them. DSI serves as the training ground for scholars to research how digital cultures interconnect with today’s social issues.”

The institute is a large-scale investment in documenting technological change that will double down on the value of humanities education and research to help students understand the digital worlds they experience and to operate ethically within them.

“This is just another example of how the university is invested, not just in the digital space, but in the humanities and all it has to offer our students and society in the 21st century,” said Anne Curzan, associate dean for the humanities and the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English Language and Literature.

DSI was approved by the U-M Board of Regents in December 2018 and is now serving students. It will sponsor its first summer institute in 2020, where LSA faculty and students can share their expertise with scholars from across the country, who will receive training in the most current scholarly methods.

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