“The DH Master opened my eyes to the gold mines of cultural data”

© Ludovica Schaerf

© Ludovica Schaerf

Ludovica Schaerf is a second-year student in the Master of Science in Digital Humanities program offered by the Digital Humanities Institute in EPFL’s College of Humanities. Ludovica describes her experience in the program, and what inspired her to enter this emerging interdisciplinary field.

Originally from Italy, Ludovica earned her bachelor’s degree in computer science at Amsterdam University College. She recently completed an internship at the Lausanne headquarters of Peter Lang SA, a scientific publishing company, as part of her EPFL master’s degree in digital humanities (DH Master).

College of Humanities Digital Humanities Institute (CDH DHI): Why did you choose the DH Master program at EPFL?

Ludovica Schaerf: I wanted to be able to combine my informatics studies with disciplines that I have a certain fascination for, such as philosophy, art, literature, and history. I didn't really know about the existance of DH until the last year of my bachelor's studies, when I met a former PhD of the DHLab, and I realized that this was probably what I was looking for.

CDH DHI: What have you found most interesting about the DH Master program so far, and what have you found most challenging?

LS: The world is going through a period of big hype for big data, and the DH Master program has helped open my eyes to the gold mines of cultural data. At the same time, DH is a relatively new and cutting-edge discipline, and it offers very little certainty about the future, which can be a challenge. What is the place of a digital humanist in industry? Are cultural institutions aware of the value that DH has to offer their data? In some sense, studying DH is also a bet on the future of the discipline.

CDH DHI: How has your background in computer science impacted your experience in the DH Master program so far?

LS: One thing that makes the DH Master program at EPFL special is its focus on computation. Like many of my fellow DH students, I started my studies focusing predominantly on computer science and data science, and there have been numerous occasions in this program where a solid background in data science, machine learning, and deep learning really helped me.

I have also taken many courses in the humanities, and this has also been a big plus. While a solid background in computer science is key to many projects, humanities knowledge helps define the problems to be studied, the means to analyze them, and the interpretation of results.

CDH DHI: What motivated you to choose an internship in academic publishing?

LS: When I chose to work in academic publishing, I was determined to understand what possibilities DH had to offer outside of universities, and within cultural institutions. I was really interested in the description of my project: to reinvent dissemination platforms to be better suited to social sciences and humanities books, as opposed to publications in the ‘hard sciences’.

CDH DHI: What are your career plans at the moment?

LS: Currently, I am writing my thesis in the DHLab, where I am building on the lab’s Replica project. The aim of this project, which was initiated by Benoit Seguin, is to identify artworks that share the same iconographic pattern given an input artwork. My thesis will concentrate on updating the project with state-of-the-art methods, and creating clusters of artworks that influence each other in that respect.

I plan to continue my DH journey in September with an internship at ArtRecognition, a Zurich-based startup that uses artificial intelligence to authenticate artworks. There, I'll be able to see what the application of digital art history looks like in industry.

More generally, I would like to continue studying and learning new methods, and identifying new applications in digital art history and beyond. I will probably pursue a PhD in digital humanities with a focus on art history.

CDH DHI: How do you describe what DH is to your friends and family?

LS: Whenever I meet someone new, I know that that moment will come when I will have to explain what I study. It is definitely not an easy moment. Do I go in-depth into what it is? Do I just say data science? Do they really want to hear the whole story?

I usually end up telling them one of the following: “I study data science applied to the humanities”; “I study computer science of the arts”; or “I study data from the humanities with computational tools to find new connections, representations, and overlooked facts”.

Author: Celia Luterbacher

Source: College of humanities | CDH

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