Connectivity vs. Canonicity: Data Science and Dance Studies in Historical Dialogue Open Access logo PLoS transparent

Extended abstract for paper presented at Graphs and Networks in the Humanities 2022, Online, 4 February 2022.


This paper is framed as an interdisciplinary dialogue between two dance scholars and a data scientist who work together on the project Dunham’s Data: Katherine Dunham and Digital Methods for Dance Historical Inquiry. Drawing on data-informed research in theatre history, feminist and anti-racist approaches to data, and cultural strategies in the digital humanities, our research utilizes digital methods to shift disciplinary conversations about touring performing artists and their repertory. We focus on a dataset covering the repertory that Katherine Dunham’s dance company performed between 1947-60, which we manually curated from undigitized archival programs. Analyzing how deeply Dunham’s works are connected to each other offers a different view of the importance and impact of specific repertory than proposed by traditional humanities methods. We consider how emphasizing connectivity over canonicity can radically shift dance historians’ evaluations of repertory, and how its representation as a network graph makes visible the many interconnections across repertory--knowledge that otherwise only live in the bodies of Dunham’s performers.