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About the Project


    Overviews of Project:

  1. Concept
  2. Curriculum
  3. Research
  4. Technology
  5. Resources
  6. Events
  7. Related Projects
About Transcriptions

About Transcriptions

1. Concept

Transcriptions is a NEH-funded curricular development and research initiative started in 1998 by the English Dept. at UC Santa Barbara to focus on literary study and information society. (See our history.) The goal of is to demonstrate a paradigm—at once theoretical, instructional, and technical—for integrating new information media and technology within the core work of a traditional humanities discipline. Transcriptions seeks to "transcribe" between past and present understandings of what it means to be a literate, educated, and humane person.

Put in the form of a question: what is the relation between being "well-read" and "well-informed"? How, in other words, can contemporary culture sensibly create a bridge between its past norms of cultural literacy and its present sense of the immense power of information culture?

To address this question, Transcriptions has developed an integrated combination of the following:

The idea is to build a working paradigm of a humanities department of the future that takes the information revolution to its heart as something to be seriously learned from, wrestled with, and otherwise placed in engagement with the lore of past or other societies with their own undergirding technologies and media. Transcriptions also collaborates with related digital humanities, arts, and society projects at UCSB and elsewhere.

See full project rationale contained in NEH Proposal and other funding proposals

2. Curriculum

Transcriptions designs and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses at UCSB within the English Department that ask students to grapple with information culture both intellectually and practically.

  • Intellectually, the Transcriptions curriculum hybridizes two broad themes that—the project hypothesizes—are stronger in their composite than in isolation. One theme consists of the social and cultural contexts that presently make information so overwhelmingly powerful. For example, Transcriptions includes courses that give humanities majors a look at why large corporations in the U.S. now call themselves "learning organizations," "knowledge industries," or "information industries." (See Culture of Information, Business Culture) Or again, project courses address the status of media and literature in the present era. (See Theory and Culture of 20th-Century Media, Literature and Graphic Design, 1900-2000, Hypertext Fiction and Poetry.)

    The other theme centers on the historical contexts that allow contemporary culture to think about past culture (and specifically, literature) as itself an evolving technology of information. Thus the project includes courses on the immense changes that occurred in the notion of literature when oral and manuscript cultures evolved into early-print culture, when modern ideas of authorship and copyright arose in tandem with modern publishing and archival practices, etc. A course titled Scroll to Screen, for example, follows the evolution of literature from the age of scrolls to that of the World Wide Web page in order to examine the deep philosophical, cultural, and aesthetic assumptions that underlie the notion of reading a "page."

    By "transcribing" in this way between information culture and literary history, the project forges a middle ground between the present and the past where literature—and those who love it—can learn how to engage thoughtfully with information culture. The goal of the project's curriculum, in other words, is to argue against the reductive , often-heard notion that the age of the book is past and that the future belongs to information technology and digital media. Instead, the project is dedicated to the proposition that both the "well-read" and the "well-informed" can benefit from serious intellectual engagement with each other. Students of literature who participate in the project learn some of the contexts needed to participate professionally in information culture; and what they bring to such culture in return is the reservoir of values that a knowledge of the humanities imparts.

    The overall intellectual goal of the project's curriculum, in other words, is to train students who will be able to enter society with a larger, more humane notion of information. Along the way, faculty and students will also be learning to collaborate in new ways to explain the values of the humanities to general culture.

    Transcriptions runs the Literature and Culture of Information (LCI) specialization for UCSB undergraduate English majors.

    Full Curriculum page with catalogue of courses

  • Practically, the Transcriptions curriculum is designed to foster in humanities students the skills and experience needed to use actively—as producers, collaborators, editors, and critics, rather than just as consumers—the information technology that many will engage with professionally and personally all their lives. Transcriptions (and LCI) courses require students to use a mix of technology both to conduct research and to produce assigned writing, Web projects, etc. (Examples of student projects: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4)

    See full statement on Transcriptions Technology Model as well as Guides to Transcriptions Course Technology

3. Research

One of the main missions of Transcriptions is to demonstrate how humanities departments can use information technology in an integral—rather than just supplementary fashion—to facilitate research.

Transcriptions is about research in new fields germane to technology itself—e.g., digital culture, electronic literature, new media.

But Transcriptions is also about the way information technology remolds the interrelationships and methods of existing research fields through the following means:

  • Collaboration across fields. Faculty in the Transcriptions project, for example, include medievalist, 18th-century British, 19th-century British and American, and 20th-century scholars. In almost no other context in a contemporary research-level humanities department could such a cross-period and cross-field group work closely together in research and teaching. The themes and practices of information technology create a shared medium between fields.
  • Collaboration across academic levels. In the typical humanities department, faculty and students work together in research only in tightly constrained ways. Individual graduate students, for example, may serve as research assistants for individual faculty; while undergraduate students almost never have a chance to participate in research with instructors. Transcriptions, by contrast, creates a much thicker zone of interaction across academic levels. Multiple faculty work with multiple graduate-student research assistants in a variety of research activities, including the organizing Transcriptions Colloquia, creating Transcriptions Topics pages, and writing reviews for the Transcriptions Bookshelf. In addition, undergraduate research assistants work with graduate-student supervisors and Transcriptions faculty to produce original research in the innovative Literature & Culture of Information (LCI) Reseach Team program.
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration. Transcriptions uses the themes and practices of information technology to create research activities that bridge not just between academic disciplines but between the academy and other professional sectors of society. Faculty and students in the project, for example, collaborate or visit with members of such other departments on campus as Art Studio, Media Arts & Technology, Film Studies, or Psychology (the UCSB Psychology Department's Virtual Reality lab). Project participants also meet with or interview people from the worlds of business and private-industry information technology (see, for example, LCI field trip to the Panasonic Speech Technology Laboratory).
See full Research page for more on Transcriptions faculty research, graduate student research, undergraduate research, Colloquium Series, Topics Pages, Bookshelf, and Talks/Essays

4. Technology Model

Transcriptions demonstrates the paradigm for a new kind of humanities department that runs its own in-house technology as an integral part of its mission of learning and teaching. The paradigm starts with the creation of physical spaces for advanced information technology nested within a department's normal teaching and research environments. In Transcription's case, these spaces consist of the Transcriptions Studio (a combined research and development lab and seminar room in South Hall 2509) and a Multi-Station Computing Classroom (South Hall 1415)—both supported by a suite of servers managed by department staff. Transcriptions has also been instrumental in creating other, simpler digital classrooms in the UCSB English Department (each with a single computer and digital projector).

Building such department-based computing facilities allows Transcriptions to:

  • Supplement larger central campus computing facilities with custom, high-quality hardware and software
  • Allow the department's students and faculty to walk in before, during, or after class to work on projects without advance scheduling
  • Enable the department to set its own policy governing access to the servers (without the need to go through the system administrator of a larger campus units with less flexibility)
  • Create a collaborative, informal atmosphere akin to that of an architect's or artist's "studio" rather than computer "lab."

See guides to Transcriptions Technology Facilities & Software, and Course Technology. See also a meditation on the Secret Life of Technology.

5. Resources

Transcriptions develops materials to support the use of digital technology, new media, and the Internet for learning and research. While some of these resources are specific to the project (e.g., tutorials for technology in the Transcriptions digital studio, the Coursebuilder system that allows faculty to publish course web sites), many are designed to be generally useful and to serve Transcription's larger mandate as a demonstration project.

Transcriptions uses these resources to complement hands-on guidance in new technologies delivered through workshops and drop-in technical support hours.

Resources include:

Full index of Transcriptions Resources

6. Events

Transcriptions runs a Colloquium Series each year that introduces project participants and students to a broad range of experts in the humanities, arts, engineering, and other fields who have an interest in information culture. (See description above)

In addition, Transcriptions organizes a number of special events each year for undergraduates enrolled in its Literature & Culture of Information specialization (LCI). Events include visits to class by guest speakers, virtual visits with experts at other locations around the world, and field trips to laboratories, businesses, and other locales. (See fuller description and examples of LCI Special Activities & Events)

Full Events Page with Calendar

7. Related Projects

UC Digital Cultures Project

Transcriptions is an affiliate of the University of California system's Digital Culture's Project (DCP). Headquartered at UCSB under the direction of Transcriptions faculty member William Warner, the DCP is a "multi-campus research group" that weaves together humanities and social science faculty and graduate students from across the UC system whose work bears upon digital technology, media, and culture. Each year, the DCP sponsors conferences, graduate conferences, summer institutes, and a residential fellowship at UCSB.

Electronic Literature Organization's PAD Initiative

Beginning in 2002, members of Transcription and the DCP began collaborating with the international Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) on the ELO's Preservation / Archiving / Dissemination (PAD) initiative for electronic literature. Transcriptions faculty members Alan Liu and William Warner chair the PAD Technology/Software and Copyright/Open Source committees, respectively; while another Transcriptions faculty member, Rita Raley, serves on the PAD Academic Dissemination committee.

Other Programs and Centers at UCSB

Within UCSB itself, Transcriptions regularly collaborates with the following initiatives or programs:

Transcriptions has also been a catalyst or affiliate of other digital-technology projects in the UCSB English Department (see overview of English Dept. initiatives)

Project History

Transcriptions was initiated in academic year 1998-99 with the assistance of a NEH Teaching with Technology grant. Over the span of its first three years, the project built its Transcriptions Studio and offered its first set of courses. The project also created its original Web site (now archived.)

A matching grant and additional funding from various UCSB agencies allowed Transcriptions in 2001-2002 to extend itself into a second phase of activities—including the creation of the Literature & Culture of Information (LCI) specialization for undergraduates, the building of a new Multi-station Computer Classroom (in collaboration with the UCSB English Dept.), and the launching of the present, second-generation project Web site. Transcriptions also helped launch, and became affiliated with, the University of California's new system-wide Digital Cultures Project (DCP) in 2001 (directed by Transcriptions faculty member William Warner).

See Transcriptions Funding Proposals and Performance Reports for a detailed history of the project


Transcriptions was seeded with a $30,000 Teaching with Technology grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and an accompanying $15,000 federal matching grant. This government funding was the catalyst for further, substantial funding from the project's home institution, the Univ. of California, Santa Barbara. Sponsoring UCSB agencies include the College of Letters and Science (which awarded $50,000 to build the Transcriptions Studio, followed by additional support for equipment and furnishings), the Instructional Improvement Program (which awarded $57,000 over the course of four years for pedagogy development), the Humanities and Fine Arts Division (which awarded $4,300 to develop the undergraduate research assistantships and other facets of the Literature & Culture of Information specialization), and the English Dept. (which supported Transcriptions on a continuing cost-sharing basis with a portion of the project's teaching assistant support, technical staff salaries, and supplies). Transcriptions also received private donations of $15,000, which were critical in releasing its federal matching grant.

The NEH grant was a three-year commitment (later extended one year) for 1998-2002. While Transcriptions will continue with support from the UCSB English Dept., it is currently searching for new funding to develop its undergraduate Literature & Culture of Information (LCI) specialization more fully and to start a formal graduate program.

See full Transcriptions Sponsors page and Transcriptions Funding Needs


Transcriptions is staffed by the following faculty: Alan Liu (project director), Christopher Newfield, Carol Pasternack, Rita Raley, and William Warner. (Faculty previously associated with the project include Charles Bazerman and Mark Rose.) Four to six graduate students serve each year as teaching assistants or research assistants in the project. In addition, undergraduates students serve as graphic designers and research assistants. Transcriptions has also benefited from the support of the following UCSB English Dept. staff: Christine Nelson and Laura Baldwin (Managing Supervising Officers), Brian Reynolds and Karen Whitney (technical support staff), and Lyn Thompson (financial and accounting support).

See full Credits page



Mailing Address:

Transcriptions Project
c/o Prof. Alan Liu
Department of English
University of California
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-3170

Faculty E-Mail Address:

Alan Liu (Project Director):
Christopher Newfield:
Carol Pasternack:
Rita Raley:
William Warner:


Transcriptions Project
UCSB English Department
(805) 893-4622


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