Humanities Center

Digital Humanities Series


Helen J. Burgess:  "Loops and Flows:  Spinning Worms and Digital Rhythms"

Wednesday, December 7th, 5PM

Click here to join meeting:  Helen J. Burgess ZOOM

Helen Burgess smiling with glasses on.

Small and unassuming, yet insistent and demanding, the larva form of bombyx mori — the domestic silkworm — is a thoroughly artificial animal, having participated in thousands of years of domestication and research. As well as being a significant economic product, the silkworm is a common "model organism" for research in genetics, agricultural husbandry and the development of assorted medical interventions. As a producer of fibrous media, this technical animal exists in a highly entangled relationship — both literally and physically, in the form of sticky webs — with us. The rhythms of worms spin in time, attuned to our processes just as we are attuned to theirs.

This presentation discusses how we might read these attunements and entanglements in light of digital rhetorics. Helen J. Burgess argues, following an intriguing throwaway comment by Timothy Morton, that one way to the inner world of the silkworm is through rhetoric, and tie this insight to the work of Diane Davis' "foreigner relations." Rhetorical strategies such as ekphrasis and prosopopoeia allow us a glimpse into the life of a silk worm — the reading of a mind — as a thoroughly mediated, and yet strangely intimate, animal of art and artifice. Burgess presents a critical crafting project in which silkworm products  — silk cocoons and spun fiber — are combined with electronic components to produce a digital artifact of prosopopoeia: the rhetorical act of speaking in the voice of another.

Burgess (she/her/hers) is a Professor of English at NC State University, where she teaches in the Communication, Rhetoric and Digital Media PhD program. An electronic publisher, digital humanist, multimedia developer, critical maker, and crafter, she loves Mars, textiles, cyberpunk, and bots. She is editor of Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures.


Digital Humanities Series From Earlier This Year...

Gina Bloom:  "Rough Magic: Performing Shakespeare with Gaming Technology"

Recorded on Wednesday, November 9th

Video of gina bloom presentation

In this talk Bloom contrasts the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2016 motion capture production of The Tempest with the significantly lower budget productions of scenes from the play produced by users of the video game Play the Knave, which she co-developed with colleagues at the University of California, Davis ModLab ( The game’s “mimetic interface” (Jesper Juul, A Casual Revolution) is both empowering and frustrating for players, who quickly discover limitations in their capacity to control fully their avatars. Experienced as glitches in the animation, these limitations are an interesting site for analyzing the ethics of the human-computer interface. Unlike the RSC production, which used expensive technology to attempt to eliminate glitches in animation, Play the Knave cannot avoid them. Rather than see pervasive glitches as a bug, however, this paper argues that they are a feature. As Knave demands that players accommodate the digital other, it prompts them to inhabit their bodies differently. Whereas the RSC’s mocap Shakespeare experiment celebrates the triumph of human over technology, Play the Knave uses Shakespeare to foreground our enmeshment with digital worlds and to expose the inherent glitchiness of the human body.

Gina Bloom is Professor of English at the University of California, Davis, where she is affiliated faculty with the PhD programs in Education and Performance Studies. She is the author of Voice in Motion: Staging Gender, Shaping Sound in Early Modern England (2007) and Gaming the Stage: Playable Media and the Rise of English Commercial Theater (2018). Her most recent book is a collection of essays (co-edited with Tom Bishop and Erika T. Lin) called Games and Theatre in Shakespeare’s England (2021). Bloom is currently co-writing a born-digital book entitled “Collaboratory Shakespeare” with Colin Milburn and Nicholas Toothman, with whom she created the mixed reality Shakespeare performance game Play the Knave. She also collaborates with Lauren Bates, a theatre artist and high school teacher in Cape Town, on a project called “Blood will have Blood,” which uses Play the Knave in South African and American high schools to address violence and social inequities.

 The Digital Humanities Series is co-hosted by Meriam Library.


The 2022-2023 Humanities Center theme, Soundscapes, explores perceptions and interpretations of acoustic environments in their respective cultural, political, and spatial contexts.  Ranging from the sounds of nature to a multitude of expressive forms such as music, poetry, dance, and storytelling, every culture has created distinctive soundscapes that shape our daily experiences and mediate our relationships to the world.  Events will highlight interdisciplinary humanities research and creative activity on this year’s theme. 

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