Dance in Transit at the Women in Data Science Summer Camp

I feel so fortunate to have been able to lead a workshop on data visualization and storytelling for the Women in Data Science Summer Camp this summer at Ohio State. This free program, directed by Jenna McGuire and hosted by the Translational Data Analytics Institute, offers young women (grades 8-10) in Columbus an opportunity to explore data science through presentations and workshops with OSU faculty, staff, and students.

I was able to put together a hands-on workshop for these young women using materials that Kate Elswit and I have collected and generated for Dance in Transit, focusing just on African American choreographer Katherine Dunham’s touring in 1950. Using TimelineJS designed by the Knight Lab, the workshop participants created their own digital timelines representing the data they gathered on Dunham’s travels and activism in 1950. This includes her lawsuit against a hotel in São Paulo, Brazil for racial discrimination, and her premiere of the controversial work Southland in Santiago, Chile.

The task of creating a timeline was fairly simple, but I asked workshop participants to use copies of archival documents and historical materials to create their data set. I provided them with copies of concert programs from Paris, New York, and São Paulo, newspaper articles, and letters, all from 1950, so they could piece together a Dunham story of their own. In the process of putting together a digital timeline about a single individual, they learned a little about working with archival resources, creating data sets from historical documents, understanding the history of racism in the Americas, and recognizing the ways arts-based political activism can fuel social change.

This workshop was hugely gratifying for me, and I enjoyed sharing ways that the arts, humanities, and computing can be complementary modes of research. I hope this camp inspires these young women to further develop their interests in data analysis, and I hope to see them at Ohio State in a few years!

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