Dunham’s Data is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC AH/R012989/1, 2018-2022), under the direction of Kate Elswit (PI, University of London, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama) and Harmony Bench (CI, The Ohio State University). We are thrilled that our team — Bench, Elswit, Antonio Jimenez-Mavillard, and Tia-Monique Uzor — is recipient of the 2021 Award for Excellence in Digital Theatre and Performance Scholarship jointly given by the Association for Theatre in Higher Education and the American Society for Theatre Research.

Dunham’s Data explores the kinds of questions and problems that make the analysis and visualization of data meaningful for dance history, through the case study of 20th century African American choreographer Katherine Dunham. We manually curate datasets from a large body of undigitized primary source print materials that Dunham herself chose to save, held by seven archives across the United States, which find meaning and expression in tandem with exploratory static and interactive data visualizations. These document the daily itinerary of Dunham’s touring and travel from the 1930s-60s; the over 300 dancers, drummers, and singers who appeared with her; and the shifting configurations of the nearly 300 repertory entities they performed. Together they provide new means to understand the relationships between thousands of locations, and hundreds of performers and pieces across decades of Dunham's performing career, and ultimately elaborate how movement moves across bodies and geographies.

Our team process of intentional data curation, analysis, and visualization is exploratory, iterative, and self-reflexive, guided by a commitment to humanistic scholarly argument. Our essays engage with both the underlying methodologies and the historical insights that emerge. The online project portfolio is designed as a wayfinder to draw connections between multi-modal outputs: datasets, interactive and static visualizations, datasets and user guides, and essays. We are also completing a limited-edition box set that will preserve key outputs in physical form. 

Dunham’s Data contributes to understanding how digital humanities can engage intellectual and methodological problems that matter to dance scholars. In turn, we ask how dance might inform interdisciplinary data-driven approaches to evidencing and elaborating embodied knowledge within historical study more broadly. Throughout our research process, we grapple with the dance-based knowledge practices indexed by each datapoint, the embodied intercultural and intergenerational memories of which Dunham’s repertory was composed, and the physical toll of maintaining a transnational career as a Black female performer across many decades. Conversations that began with the Institute for Dunham Technique Certification during Dunham’s Data have evolved into a new project partnership to explore data curation that begins from the dance studio as site for the body-to-body transmission of history. We are also continuing to experiment with the possibilities of a “choreographic syntax” that imbues data visualizations with meaningful motion to better represent dance’s “visceral data.”

Project partners include One Dance UK’s Dance of the African Diaspora and the Victoria & Albert Museum, as well as international knowledge exchange partnerships with digital projects at The Ohio State University (US), Ludwig Maximilians Universität Munich (Germany), and the University of New South Wales (Australia). The datasets associated with Dunham’s Data were acquired by the National Archive for Data on Arts and Culture, and the full website and portfolio were selected for archiving in the Library of Congress’s Performing Arts Web Archive