2020 Annual Report Highlights the CdH's Interdisciplinary Networks

© Visualizations : Shin Koseki, Graphic design : Oxyde

© Visualizations : Shin Koseki, Graphic design : Oxyde

A series of visualizations by Professor Shin Koseki in the 2020 Annual Report demonstrate that the College of Humanities (CdH) functions as a key engine of interdisciplinary innovation in the Swiss academic landscape.

The CdH’s annual report for 2020 has just been published. It showcases interdisciplinary collaboration in the college through a series of visualizations by Professor Shin Koseki, who works at the intersection of data science and urban studies and has just joined the University of Montréal as the UNESCO Chair of Urban Landscape.

After having produced a “classic” visualization of the CdH’s international linkages for the 2019 Annual Report, Koseki agreed to undertake a more ambitious project for the 2020 edition to chart the distinctive role played by interdisciplinarity in the college. He opted for a network visualization because this method allowed him to represent "the diversity and complexity of the work done in the CdH.”

Koseki developed his approach through discussion with Gabriela Tejada and Virginie Martin-Nunez, who led the CdH team that prepared the annual report (the team also included Isabelle Hügli, Celia Luterbacher, and Madeleine Dungy). The first step was to collect information from the CdH community about the disciplinary parameters of their work. Koseki emphasizes that “we had to devise a methodology that was extremely simple and accessible” in order to ensure a high rate of participation. They decided to ask CdH members to fill-out a short questionnaire indicating their disciplinary horizons in research and teaching, according to the general classification of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

Koseki used this material to generate a relational database and then to program a series of network visualizations. He began by gathering data on the disciplines covered by all recent SNSF-funded projects in order to produce a rough base map of the Swiss academic landscape. He then used the data gathered from CdH collaborators to produce three further visualizations that situate the CdH in the wider Swiss context. The first shows the interdisciplinary skills that individual scholars have acquired through their own training and research practice. The second presents the research collaborations that CdH members have established with partners outside their own area of expertise. The third reveals interdisciplinary engagement within the CdH’s teaching curriculum in the Social and Human Sciences Program (SHS).

Koseki explains that using the SNSF data as a “background” against which to sketch the work of the CdH “made it possible to construct a dialogue with the SNSF.” The gaps between the data from the SNSF and the CdH are revealing.“You can see that the CdH is innovating extensively by establishing interdisciplinary relationships that are relatively rare within the SNSF framework.” The initial questionnaire circulated by Koseki and the CdH team allowed respondents to list fields that fell outside the disciplinary classifications of the SNSF, such as digital humanities and artificial intelligence. Koseki reflects:

"The work that we did already makes it possible to foresee that the disciplines as they are currently presented by the SNSF will undoubtedly change in the near future, especially in the areas that are covered by the CdH, in the areas that bridge social sciences, humanities, computer science, and engineering. It is really in those realms that the CdH is innovating by developing new disciplines."

The other sections of the 2020 Annual Report further illustrate the multifaceted innovation underway in the CdH. Its Institute for Area and Global Studies (IAGS), Digital Humanities Institute (DHI) and its other research groups draw together widely varying disciplinary perspectives, from cultural heritage to data science. The CdH also supports an annual initiative, the Collaborate Research on Science and Society (CROSS) that is specifically focused on promoting collaboration across disciplines at EPFL and UNIL. The SHS teaching program blends a rich array of methodological approaches while also linking theory and practice. EPFL Pavilions, CdH-Culture, and the Artist-in-Residence program offer interactive public engagement at the intersection of art and science. The report reveals the creative strategies deployed across all these different areas to sustain collaborative networks through the Covid-19 lockdown. It also sketches projects for the coming academic year, as the campus reopens.