Encoding Culture was successfully piloted as a HASS elective in Spring 2023, under the number 21H.S05.  A proposal to add the class to the catalog as a HASS-H, permanent number 21H.C30, is pending approval for Spring 2024.

Term(s): Spring only
Level: Undergraduate
Units: 12
Prerequisite: 6.100A
Instructors: Ryaan Ahmed (History, Music)

Computers allow scholars and artists to study and play with media such as texts, images, audio, and numerical datasets with unprecedented scale and speed. These affordances open a world of opportunity for cultural production: artists can sketch, remix, and make on machines, and an individual scholar can access and analyze more and more varied cultural artifacts than ever before.

But what does it mean to model, create, or analyze these media on a computer? This course explores this question, in the technical sense of how we represent these media as bits on a hard drive, and in considering the consequences of doing so. Students will learn the history and current practice of digitally encoding common forms of media, along with the cultural and social issues implicit in these systems. They will apply computational methods for manipulating and analyzing encoded media, drawing from a wide range of practices including computational linguistics, audio processing, computer vision, and machine learning. In doing this work, students will confront underlying issues of what is lost and gained when we encode culture, and equip themselves to think critically about their own computing work.