ATHE-ASTR 2021 Award for Excellence in Digital Theatre and Performance Scholarship

We're thrilled to be able to finally announce that our team — Harmony Bench, Kate Elswit, Antonio Jimenez-Mavillard, and Tia-Monique Uzor — has won the ATHE-ASTR 2021 Award for Excellence in Digital Theatre and Performance Scholarship, which is given jointly by the two theatre organizations to an individual or project that "demonstrates innovation and rigor in the use of electronic/digital media for the purpose of producing or disseminating knowledge about theatre and performance."

The full award citation reads:

Dunham’s Data is a project that involves the digitization of data from primary source materials preserved and archived by African-American choreographer Katherine Dunham. The data, which has been manually curated by project directors Kate Elswit and Harmony Bench, documents Dunham’s daily whereabouts, the works in her repertory, the people in her employ, and the movement of her company and repertoire on tour around the world. The project is notable both for the manner in which the data has been curated – a model of work described as “Slow DH” –  and for the new research questions and insights opened up by the data, particularly by the data visualisations produced by project collaborator Antonio Jimenez-Mavillard.

As one support letter noted, this project "demonstrates what dance and performance history might gain by creating and analyzing large-scale data sets…. [it] challenges the preexisting categories of performance history, revealing the extent to which the “work” and the “company” are fictions that scholars create to manage the unpredictable and ever-shifting realities of the day-to-day labors of dancers and musicians. The project reveals the complex offstage worlds Dunham and her many performers negotiated… and how these offstage complexities informed their onstage transmission of artistry and embodied knowledge."

Another supporter noted that "the data curation, reflexive methods and interactive visualizations in Dunham’s Data represent, for the first time, the prospect of comprehending the dynamic interaction of an internationally touring company of diverse artists with their culturally diverse repertoire in performance. This is a field-leading innovation…"

While this project remains a work-in-progress – some of its most exciting features are still in development or have not yet been made fully public – it stands as a model of how digital scholarship can transform the practice of historical research and historiography and points to the ways in which large datasets can be used to illuminate as-yet-untold stories of performers’ lives and works.