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CDH Open is a series of events run online during the Covid-19 pandemic. The events bring together speakers and discussants in a series of virtual talks, discussions, presentations, readings and debates.

Best Wishes: A Psychophilology of Supplications
Speaker: Steven Connor

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride, goes the old proverb. 'Best Wishes' focusses on the magico-symbolic action, both vernacular and psychopolitical, of wishing, and what it might tell us about the kinds of magical thinking (and magical passions) at work in mass-mediated relations.

Event date: 20 May 2020

Audio introduction:



Abstract: ‘Asking, or asking for almost anything, directions, help, love, money, even for the time, is asking for trouble, so we must take a great deal of trouble with the way we ask in order to head it off. Because asking is largely an intraspecific action, it always takes place within a landscape of relative advantage and disadvantage, and asymmetrical relations of power, which the act of asking has the capacity to confirm or disturb. ‘I only asked’, we may protest when a request goes wrong; but one rarely if ever ‘only asks’. To ask is to request some object or service, but it is always also by the same token to seek permission for one’s request, or secure it by enquiring into the acceptability of making it. Asking is therefore always attended by moral, emotional and political tension. Asking is difficult because of our awareness that being asked imposes, as we say, a demand; that any ask is potentially a big ask.’

Speaker: Steven Connor is Professor of English in the University of Cambridge and Director of Cambridge’s Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH).


Distance and Depth, Computers and Close Reading
Speaker: Martin Paul Eve
Discussant: Ryan Heuser

Martin Eve will discuss his book ‘Close Reading with Computers’, which challenges the assumptions about the proper scale for distant reading, explores the relationship between computational analysis and other forms of interpretation and opens up new questions for the future of computational humanities. 
Event date: 27 May 2020
Introduction to Martin Eve's book, Close Reading with Computers
Speaker: Martin Paul Eve is Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing, Birkbeck, University of London.


Surveillance for your own good: A discussion and debate
John Naughton, Director of the Press Fellowship Programme at Wolfson College, and the Observer’s technology columnist. 
Anne Alexander, Director of CDH Learning and a member of the Data Ethics Group at the Alan Turing Institute. 
Hugo Leal, Methods Fellow, Cambridge Digital Humanities. 

At a time when surveillance aps are being discussed ‘for our own good’ it seems important to explore the larger contexts – what is the relationship between state power and platform/consumer surveillance? What are the chances of digital surveillance being ‘rolled back’ rather than becoming a permanent extension to forms of digitally enabled control in our everyday lives? How does universal surveillance or monitoring impact different groups – in relation to social power and discrimination? What do nudge tactics and their digital implementation imply for consent, as a meaningful possibility? Why do we passively accept surveillance? 
Chair, Caroline Bassett, Director, Cambridge Digital Humanities. 
Hugo, John, and Anne will each briefly focus on a particular area of surveillance to frame an open discussion.   
Date:  Wednesday, 10 June, 2020 

The Computational Production of the New: On Aesthetics, Creativity and Digital Technologies 

Speaker: M. Beatrice Fazi

Can computation generate the new? M. Beatrice Fazi argues that engaging with such question involves addressing computation aesthetically. Drawing from her monograph Contingent Computation (2018), Fazi will discuss aesthetics as concerning creation and reality’s potential for self-actualisation. This talk will demonstrate that aesthetics is a viable mode of addressing computational systems precisely because such generative potential is inherent to the axiomatic, discrete and formal structures of digital technologies. Novelty in computation is then expressed not by computers doing something strange or unexpected, but by a computational process that does what it is supposed to do.

Discussant: Joshua Scannell, The New School (USA)

Chair: Caroline Bassett, CDH Director, Cambridge.

Beatrice Fazi is Lecturer in the School of Media, Film and Music at the University of Sussex. Her primary areas of expertise are the philosophy of computation, the philosophy of technology and the emerging field of media philosophy.
Josh Scannell is an Assistant Professor of Digital Media Theory at The New School’s School of Media Studies. Prior to joining The New School, he taught sociology and women, gender, and sexuality studies at Hunter College, and Queens College, CUNY, and in the Media Culture and Communication department at NYU Steinhardt
The article ‘Digital Aesthetics: The Discrete and the Continuous’. Theory, Culture & Society, 36(1): 3–26. is available here: and would be helpful to read before the event.
Date: Wednesday, 24 June, 2020 - 16:00 to 17:30

Programming the Planet and Reconfiguring Sense

Speaker: Jennifer Gabrys

Chair: Caroline Bassett, CDH Director, Cambridge.
The drive to instrument the planet and to make the earth programmable has translated into a situation where there are now more “things” connected to the Internet than there are people. Sensors are such connected and intelligent devices that detect changes in environmental patterns, generate stores of data and activate responses, so that more "intelligent" processes can unfold. Yet what are the implications for wiring up environments in these ways, and how does the sensor-actuator logic implicit in these technologies not only program environments but also program the sorts of citizens and collectives that might materialize through these processes? I take up these questions through a discussion of material from Program Earth and the Citizen Sense research project to examine the distinct environments, exchanges, and individuals that take hold through sensorized projects.
The introduction to Program Earth, available here: and would be helpful to read before the event.
Jennifer Gabrys is Professor in Media, Culture and Environment in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cambridge. She is Principal Investigator on the project AirKit, and she leads the Citizen Sense project, both funded by the European Research Council. In May 2020, she began a new ERC-funded project, Smart Forests: Transforming Environments into Social-Political Technologies. She is the author of Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet (2016); and Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics (2011); and co-editor of Accumulation: The Material Politics of Plastic (Routledge, 2013). Her recent and in-progress books include How to Do Things with Sensors (2019), and Citizens of Worlds: Open-Air Toolkits for Environmental Struggle. Her work can be found at and
Date: Wednesday, 1 July, 2020 - 15:00 to 16:15

Performance and Workshop: Dr Tulp and the Theatre of Zoom

Convenors: Annja Neumann, Carina Westling and Wendy Bevan-Mogg​

Annja Neumann, CDH Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities, Carina Westling, Lecturer in Cross-Platform media and Wendy Bevan-Mogg, Lecturer in Film Production, both of Bournemouth University
‘It’s hard to judge a life by its body. Maybe it’s a side effect of the job, but I quite like my bodies to have a bit more movement in them.’
There have always been parallels between medical performances (the operating theatre) and those undertaken in other theatres; and in both cases a key issue concerns how bodies are staged, laid out, anatomized, mapped and how they materialize. Nowhere is this parallel made clearer than in Rembrandt’s canonical painting De anatomische les van Dr Nicolaes Tulp (1632), and in re-workings associated with it spanning the early nineteenth century to the present day: Arthur Schnitzler’s medical drama Professor Bernhardi (1912), for instance, Christian Petzold’s film Barbara (2012) or Maylis de Kerangal’s novel Mend the Living (2016). Across the last two centuries, such reworkings re-appear across different media, often at points of crisis.
In the wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic, we have adapted Rembrandt’s powerful theatrical setting to the virtual environment now used by so many to interact with each other to produce an on-line series of performances and a workshop. As it takes place within Dr Tulp’s Zoom theatre, this unfolding autopsy will expose the tissues that demarcate the interior and the exterior. The focus shifts, in the process, between the audience and the object of investigation, each gradually becoming more unstable. Four participants at a time will meet digital Tulp in a twelve-minute performance, repeated four times per hour.
Inspired by the mass shift to online spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic, the co-producers Annja Neuman, Carina Westling and Wendy Bevan-Mogg seek to examine how online interaction ‘de-abjectifies’ the human body (Lemma, 2015), by banishing its messy form and leaked fluids, and how Zoom promotes the illusion of interpersonal transparency and immediate communication.
Thursday, 16 July 2020: 8 Performances scheduled 16:00 – 18:00
Friday, 17 July 2020: 8 Performances scheduled 17:00 – 19:00
The performance is live-streamed on Zoom. A virtual autopsy examines embodied practices in virtual spaces and their entangled relationships with twenty-first century politics. You will receive further information about the performance and technical requirements when you register. Please note that the performance will be recorded for educational use.
Zoom, Thursday 16 July 2020: 18:15 – 19:15
The workshop on Thursday, 16 July 2020, will explore the topic of virtual embodiment. It provides an opportunity to share reflections and insights on the performance from an informed point of view. A debriefing session and panel discussion aim to bring actors into conversation with co-creators and workshop participants. However, participation in the performance is not required to attend the workshop. The discussion will also be grounded in a text and a series of paintings: ‘The Shape of Agency in Interactive Storyworlds’, a chapter in Carina Westling’s new monograph immersion and participation in punchdrunk’s theatrical worlds (London, New York: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2020) and the series of paintings ‘Annunciation after Titian’ (1972) by Gerhard Richter as well as Rembrandt’s group portrait The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp (1632).
Key words: embodied sensory cartographies, anatomical theatre, embodied practices, liveliness, virtual space, virtual embodiment, digital scenography, agency and biopolitics
Martin Edwards / Dr Tulp
Paul Panting / Medical Student 1
Reynah Oppal / Medical Student 2
Artistic team:
Executive Producer: Annja Neumann
Writer: Wendy Bevan-Mogg
Creative Producer: Carina Westling
Dramaturgy and Director: Annja Neumann
Music and Sound Design: Gary Hayton
Additional Dramaturgy: Wendy Bevan-Mogg
Stage and Casting Manager: Camille Gerstenhaber
Date: Friday, 17 July, 2020 - 17:00 to 19:00

Ghost Fictions: Automatic Writing in the Age of Machine Learning

Speakers:Dr Anne Alexander - Director of Learning, Cambridge Digital Humanities, University of CambridgeProfessor Caroline Bassett -  Professor of Digital Humanities and Director of Cambridge Digital Humanities, University of CambridgeProfessor Alan Blackwell -  Professor of Interdisciplinary Design, Computer Laboratory, University of CambridgeDr Joseph Walton - Research Fellow in Digital Humanities/Critical and Cultural Theory (Media and Film) University of Sussex

Computational techniques for generating ‘natural’ language through statistical models created using huge datasets in conjunction with neural networks have advanced rapidly in recent years. These ‘Large Language Models’, such as GPT-3 and BERT, can be used for a wide range of tasks with little or no modification, including writing short stories, answering philosophical questions and apparently proposing potential medical treatments -- although GPT-3 did have some difficulty with the question “how many eyes does a horse have?”
This CDH Open workshop will delve into the production of such ‘synthetic’ or ‘ghost-written’ texts combining insights from speculative fiction, computer science and digital humanities, through a combination of demonstrations, discussion and hands-on experimentation with automated text generation. 
No knowledge of programming is required. Participants who wish to take part in the practical experiments will need a Google account.
Image credit: Image modified using the iOS Prisma app, which is based on an open source implementation of the neural network style transfer algorithm from Gatys et al (2015) 
Thursday, 20 May 2021
Live session 1: 11:30am – 1:00pm
Lunch break / experimentation lab: 1:00 – 2:30pm
Live session 2: 2:30 - 3:30pm

(un)real digital futures: games, theatres and 'the' metaverse

Speaker: Ben Lumsden: Unreal Engine/Epic Games

As we live through the Covid-19 pandemic our sense of the physical and the digital is changing. So much screen time produces an impression of space, but one that is entangled with the ways in which we co-create and stage the spaces of everyday life. These are hybrid but also increasingly, ‘smart’. Meanwhile, automated actors operate alongside us and organize our interactions and spaces.

This seminar on (un)real digital futures is part of an arts-based research project named ‘Actors on a new stage’, which draws on Annja Neumann’s research in the area of theatricalization of public spaces. Our speaker, Ben Lumsden, brings experience from working for Unreal Engine as the lead for media and entertainment at Epic Games. He will discuss the current state of real-time immersive experiences and the convergence of different media platforms using gaming technology. The future of entertainment, he argues, will include a new version of the 'metaverse' concept drawn from science fiction.
The talk is followed by a discussion with our speaker and a panel of academics and artists, each of whom will critically contextualise the metaverse idea. In the third part of the seminar, we will open the floor to questions from participants and potential actors in the metaverse.
The seminar will be chaired by CDH Research Fellow and dramaturg Annja Neumann
Confirmed discussants:
Caroline Bassett: Director, Cambridge Digital Humanities
Cary Parker: Digital Artist & Filmmaker for Round World Films, Cambridge
Jonnie Penn: Research Fellow in AI History, Department of History and Philosophy of Science,  University of Cambridge
Kirk Woolford: Immersive Media Practitioner & Researcher in Creative Technologies, Anglia Ruskin University
Tuesday, 25 May, 2021: 15:30 – 17:00
Image credit: Shooting Iceage, courtesy of The Future Group