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Patrik Svensson moderating a conference discussion (Molly Steenson speaking)

Patrik Svensson is a Professor of Humanities and Information Technology at Umeå University and Visiting Professor of Digital Humanities at UCLA.

Patrik Svensson’s academic background is in linguistics, language learning, philology and corpus methodology. His Ph.D. work was on nominal number. He finished his Ph.D. in 1998 after having spent a year as a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley 1996-1997. He published a textbook on the Gothic language (the first one in Sweden in 150 years) together with Torbjörn Nilsson in 1998. Svensson was successful in getting a senior lectureship in English linguistics in 1998. A few years later, he was offered a postdoctoral fellowship from Stint (a year at UC San Diego) and at the same time as he was asked to become the director of HUMlab. He chose HUMlab and a less disciplinary pathway, but continued to work on language education and technology. This particular line of work has so far resulted in two books (2006, 2008), three articles/chapters, a number of finished projects, national network building and a strong engagement in learning more broadly.

Between 2000 and 2014, much of Svensson’s time was devoted to building, establishing and expanding HUMlab at Umeå University. From a small operation of two people and one empty space, HUMlab came to employ about 25 people and encompass two large labs on different campuses, more than 10 externally funded projects and large international footprint (at the time of Svensson stepping down). This development was made possible through strong support from Umeå University and a number of funding agencies (including the Kempe Foundation, the Wallenberg Foundation, Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and the Baltic Foundation). HUMlab came true through a very strong group of collaborators employed in HUMlab and through an extensive and strongly engaged international network. Svensson’s job was partly to curate an intellectual direction and events and to build networks and new projects. Importantly, HUMlab is a learning environment and his work has involved frequent work with students and colleagues to support learning, exploration and taking risks. He has also been strongly engaged in building the spaces and infrastructure, articulating the overall vision and ideas through the way space, technology and people come together.

During this time, Svensson’s interest turned towards the intersection of the humanities and information technology. This was a result of his engagement in HUMlab and there was also a close connection to much of his earlier work (corpus linguistics, learning and information technology). He published a long article on the humanities and information technology in 2002 (in Human IT, in Swedish). Drawing on this work and extensive field studies and networking, he started to work on a four-part series for the Digital Humanities Quarterly (published 2009-2012): Humanities Computing as Digital Humanities, The Landscape of Digital Humanities, From Optical Fiber To Conceptual Cyberinfrastructure and Envisioning the Digital Humanities. Svensson explores the history and epistemic tradition of the field and argues in favor of seeing the digital humanities as a contact zone that supports multiple modes of engagement, different epistemic traditions and intellectual-material exploration. He develops a more comprehensive take on the field in his 2016 monograph Big Digital Humanities (University of Michigan Press). The intellectual direction of the field and the humanities is also explored collaboratively in the 36-chapter edited volume Between Humanities and the Digital (co-edited with David Theo Goldberg, MIT Press, 2015).

Work on ‘Humanities and the Digital’ remains one main strand of Svensson’s current work. The other main (and related) strand is ‘Conditions for Knowledge Production’, and this theme includes work on research infrastructure, spaces for learning and knowledge production, intellectual middleware (with Johanna Drucker), presentation software (with Erica Robles-Anderson) and academic events. Recent work includes the December 2014 HUMlab conference on “Genres of Scholarly Knowledge Production” (see here for the post-curatorial statement), a piece on Close Reading PowerPoint and a chapter on “The Humanistiscope—Exploring the Situatedness of Humanities Infrastructure” (in the aforementioned volume Between Humanities and the Digital). Several of Svensson’s ongoing projects relate to this research theme, including the research program Media Places (together with Stanford University, funded by the Wallenberg Foundation 2011-2016, see here for a HUMlab article about the collaboration). Svensson spent the academic year of 2015-2016 at the Graduate Center, City University New York, New York City. see here for a HASTAC interview from that time. From the fall of 2016 he is a Visiting Professor of Digital Humanities at UCLA (a three-year appointment) as well as Professor of Humanities and Information Technology at Umeå University.

Most of Svensson’s work is characterized by an interest in combined critical reflection and visionary-interventionist sentiment. For instance, his research on infrastructure is closely embedded in thinking about what humanities (and other) infrastructure could be, and through his practice, he builds infrastructure. This can be a fine balance: How do you provide critical reflection on a field at the same times as being actively involved in developing it? During his time in New York City and UCLA, his interest in “making a difference” and societal/cultural change has become a much more important driving force and an ongoing learning experience.