Hoobler co-director of grant-winning project

Ellen Hoobler, assistant professor of art history at Cornell College, is one of the co-directors for a project that has been awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Humanities Startup grant. The project, entitled “Dangerous Embodiments: Theories, Methods, and Best Practices for Historical Character Modeling in Humanities 3D Environments,” is a collaboration with faculty at the University of Arkansas, among other schools.

The goal is to create a method to design and evaluate avatars—digital representations of a person—that are more inclusive and better reflect different and combined ethnic heritages. The grant abstract said:

Ellen Hoobler

Avatars now have the potential to become increasingly realistic, presenting many conceptually significant choices as we create them. This proposal addresses this need through the development of a comprehensive typology for avatar creation, and deployment of representative avatars in two Unity environments chosen because of their difficult heritage. We will then study responses to different representative avatars within these environments using tools drawn from experimental philosophy, culminating in a symposium that invites discussion and peer review of descriptive, empirical, and normative aspects of the project. The proceedings will then be published in an edited volume that will be an important contribution to the field as more digital humanities projects reach maturity.

A comprehensive typology for avatars and study of the consequences of certain choices that we make when creating avatars is needed. The publication, reporting qualitative and quantitative data comparing what is learned in different contexts would be a valuable contribution in philosophical approaches to racism and to broader audiences. The impact of choices made when creating avatars have not been discussed outside the gaming community—and those discussions have been limited. This resource is not available and would be invaluable as digital humanities projects reach maturity.

Hoobler plans to try and incorporate some of the virtual environments, along with the results of the projects work, into her courses at Cornell.