Information Ecosystems: A Mellon Sawyer Seminar

An interdisciplinary team of Dietrich School faculty has been awarded $225,000 from the Andrew Mellon Foundation’s Sawyer Seminar program to fund a multi-year collaborative initiative titled: “Information Ecosystems: Creating Data (and Absence) From the Quantitative to the Digital Age.” The project will bring fourteen field-leading international scholars to Pitt over the course of the 2019-2020 Academic Year for a bi-weekly series of workshops and public talks. It will also create competitive research fellowships for two Pitt doctoral students and one post-doctoral fellowship.

The project seeks to advance critical understanding of where data comes from and how it is used, setting the present moment within a century-long history of information supply and its power-laden consequences. How are information sources generated, to what end, and with what results for our collective ability to see—or to ignore? This in an inquiry into the social and political life of data, both within academic research and in the wider world.

This is a particularly salient time to convene this conversation at the University of Pittsburgh and in the City of Pittsburgh, both of which find themselves at the epicenter of digital change and transformation. The initiative brings key stakeholders in information science, humanities, social sciences, and international studies together from across the university and outside it, to rethink the future as well as the past of information. At a moment when societies are in urgent need of guidance to navigate rapidly shifting digital terrain, a deep understanding of the blind spots and biases baked into our data and our analytic tools is essential for policymakers and researchers alike.

Today’s co-proliferation of data sources and advanced computational techniques makes interdisciplinary graduate training more essential than ever. This initiative encompasses a new interdisciplinary graduate seminar on critical digital methods, as well as graduate research fellowships and a post-doctoral fellowship.

The successful proposing team included Pitt faculty Michael Colaresi (Political Science), Michael Dietrich (History and Philosophy of Science), Melanie Hughes (Sociology), Alison Langmead (History of Art and Architecture and School of Computing and Information), Ruth Mostern (History), Lara Putnam (History), Werner Troesken (Economics; deceased), Annette Vee (English), and Randall Walsh (Economics).

Sawyer Seminar Schedule

During the year of the Sawyer Seminar (AY 2019-2020), on ongoing community of scholar-participants will meet every other week for a lunchtime Seminar Workshop. Each session will have a main, invited presenter. Roughly one-third of these are Pittsburgh-based (and, in many cases, also ongoing Seminar participants) and two-thirds are external invitees. The two-day visits of these invited speakers will also include a separate public lecture at which all are welcome. The schedule for these public talks will be posted by April 2019.

Friday Workshop Schedule (all from 12n-2pm)

Fall 2019
Spring 2020