• UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Softball: Gauchos Split Final Road Games at Hawai'i https://t.co/CpEDdmmhVc
    8 hours 55 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Gauchos are live on @ESPN3 ! WATCH >>> https://t.co/io6ZzYs9Hg https://t.co/BEO8wTxv62
    14 hours 1 min ago
  • ucsantabarbara twitter avatar
    Congrats to Leah Foltz for winning the #UCSB Grad Slam! Now she moves onto the UC-wide competition in SF on May 4th! https://t.co/kVqCtOTWb7
    20 hours 55 min ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Former @UCSB_Baseball LHP Dom Mazza speaks with his hometown paper after throwing a perfecto this week! https://t.co/GPc3B3qL9g
    21 hours 15 min ago
  • ArtsandLectures twitter avatar
    Watch pianist #MurrayPerahia's breathtaking and imaginative performance, tonight at 7PM at UCSB Campbell Hall!… https://t.co/M83EeA6Y53
    1 day 51 sec ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Softball: Hawai'i Tops UCSB 5-1 in Gauchos' Final Road Series Opener https://t.co/ejf0MWM1g0
    1 day 7 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Gauchos Sweep Past UCI 4-0 https://t.co/WFwbxDV8eA
    1 day 9 hours ago
  • ucsantabarbara twitter avatar
    We're happy to see you back, alumni! Don't miss the great events we have this weekend. #AllGauchoReunion… https://t.co/Sbz4iirr7i
    1 day 13 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Women's Tennis: Cal Poly 0, UC Santa Barb. 4 (Final) No.2 UCSB blanks No.7 Cal Poly in Big West Quarterfinal 4-0 https://t.co/m4kdACQFo5
    1 day 13 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    .@UCSB_Baseball vs. UC Riverside on @ESPN3 is live now! Watch here >>> https://t.co/QJMvNLa0mQ
    1 day 13 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    WWP: Defending Big West Champs Defeated by No. 12 LBSU in Another Overtime Match https://t.co/XIO3RJdo9p
    1 day 14 hours ago
  • UCSBgauchos twitter avatar
    Top-Seeded UCSB Set to Host Big West Golf Championship at Sandpiper GC https://t.co/SyXPKB2Ur5
    1 day 15 hours ago
  • UCSBLibrary twitter avatar
    RT @ForestSways: CEMA poster preservation for primary source research. #Chicanohertiage @Marikhasmanyan @UCSBLibrary #sca17 https://t.co/M…
    1 day 17 hours ago
  • UCSBLibrary twitter avatar
    @AmldavisAnn We're glad you're interested in using, please contact (805) 893-3062 or @library.ucsb.edu">special@library.ucsb.edu for m… https://t.co/fwAVOMoWyB
    1 day 17 hours ago
  • UCSB_GradPost twitter avatar
    CPT F-1 Visa workshop for international students on May 11 https://t.co/l6xZEndRVl #UCSB #ucsbgradpost
    1 day 18 hours ago

A Pioneering Netizen

UCSB scholar to discuss how the campus, one of the first hubs of the internet, led the humanities into the digital age
Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - 10:45
Santa Barbara, CA


Ultrabasic Guide to the Internet

Alan Liu’s original book on the internet.

At first blush, Alan Liu, a distinguished professor of English at UC Santa Barbara, would seem to be an unlikely pioneer of the internet. He was a scholar of British Romantic poetry, an analog art centuries removed from the coming digital revolution. But seeing the internet’s potential, he dove in.

“I was here at the very beginning of the World Wide Web,” Liu said. “I was very early on learning HTML and so on, which was fairly unusual in those days in the humanities departments.”

Since 1994, when he created Voice of the Shuttle (VoS), a “Website for humanities research,” Liu has been a leading proponent of incorporating the digital world into the humanities. It’s been a period of technological leaps forward and malicious setbacks, and Liu will recount it in the talk “ ‘Wild Surmise’: How Humanists and Artists Discovered the Internet at UCSB, c. 1994 — An Origins Story,” Friday, Jan. 13, at 10 a.m. in the UCSB Library Instruction & Training Room 1312. It is free and open to the public.

A hand-coded collection of links to online resources in the humanities, VoS was what Liu calls the “good hack” — a product of ingenuity and resourcefulness. “You have to remember in the early days of computing,” he explained, “before we had our elaborate software and control interfaces, running a computer meant you took a wire out of this socket and you moved it over here to program the machine to do what you wanted to do. That kind of hacking, in the sense of a workaround solution, has long been part of the mindset of computing.”

In curating VoS, Liu focused on the ontology of data — cataloging and classifying information in a way that made it accessible to humanities scholars. “Part of what I put in place in VoS was not just a pile of links but a framework, a set of categories and way of thinking through the relationship between categories that I carefully annotated,” he noted. “And that remains of value. It’s really hard to recover that kind of ontology without someone who knows the field or fields and is thinking through the relationship between them.”

Maintaining, or “weaving” VoS — the name alludes to the myth of Philomena, who wove a tapestry that told of her rape and mutilation by her brother-in-law — was initially a labor of love. “I spent about two hours each night just having fun, finding things I thought would interest scholars and putting them on my page,” Liu recalled. “It was a lot of fun back then, just every night going out and just seeing new things.”

Liu even wrote a book, “Ultrabasic Guide to the Internet: For Humanities Users at UCSB,” that was sold through the campus bookstore. He made “maybe $60” on it. But he wasn’t in it for the money. “Back then I thought I could edit the internet,” he said. “Many of us did. In my mind my competitor at that time was the original Yahoo, which was a hand-curated list of things before they became a search engine in the Google philosophy of things.”

And then came “the bad hack.” Trolls and bad actors are not new phenomena on the internet. Seven years after creating VoS, “I woke up one morning and there was nothing left” of the site, Liu said. “They had come in and removed all the tables and all the content and so on. They just left a comment, ‘Bad hack.’ ” He rebuilt it as a database with more robust security.

Today, Liu is deeply involved in the digital humanities — engaging the internet to get a better understanding of the humanities. He likens it to Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, around 1440, in what is now Germany. Gutenberg, he said, didn’t just invent moveable type and the press, he created a whole system that worked to revolutionize the distribution of information. “He was curious and interested in the nature of ink, the nature of the platens that went into the press,” Liu noted. “He was interested in the whole series of moving parts that came together in what we know as the printing press today.”

In the same way, Liu says, today’s humanities scholar must understand how the internet works. In his classes he requires students to “get under the hood” of the internet by using some tool — some simple coding, for example — as a tactical exercise. “If you think about it,” he said, “it is completely insane that any humanist today would not be interested in the entire system of the internet, which is our version of the printing press, in the same way Gutenberg was interested in the system back then.”

Contact Info: 

Jim Logan
(805) 893-3071