Meet Alex and Moacir, who host a weekly, open livestream on Twitch to build collaborative, digital projects with Columbia faculty and students in real time

Q: You launched a remote version of the Libraries’ Studio initiative. For readers who aren’t familiar with your in-person programming, what was the goal of Studio Butler and Studio Lehman?

In 2013, the Libraries’ Digital Humanities Center, along with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Teaching Center, established “Studio@Butler,” which they described as a space “designed to support emerging practices in pedagogy and digital scholarship.”

Since its inception, the Studio has worked with faculty both on a one-on-one basis as well as hosting talks, trainings, ‘researchathons,’ labs, and many other happenings in the space with and for other research collectives. For example, the Studio facilitated an Open Lab environment for the Group for Experimental Methods in Humanistic Research at Columbia University, which made use of connections forged at the Studio in some of its most high-profile work, such as Torn Apart/Separados, a set of visualizations looking at immigration in the U.S. in 2018.

In 2018, it became clear that the Studio had been pursuing a vision similar to that of Research Data Services. Beginning in 2019, then, Studio@Butler was renamed to the Columbia University Libraries Studio. Now the Studio exists with a similar philosophy in two locations, Studio Butler and Studio Lehman.

Additionally, we consolidated the Studio’s goals to enable ethical, sustainable, collaborative, and fair digital, data-driven research and pedagogy. To learn more, visit our Studio website.

Digital Scholarship Librarian Alex Gil and Research Data Librarian Moacir P. de Sá Pereira launched Studio Remote, a virtual version of the Libraries’ Studio initiative, in Fall 2020, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: How does Studio Remote differ from your in-person offerings?

We began to miss the social life that we fostered around our collaborative research and learning, at the Studio Open Labs. This summer, after wrapping up our work building a grassroots coalition to provide our city with much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE), we started to offer our virtual support to faculty, students, and colleagues again, adjusting to our new research and learning environments. As part of our renewed effort, we began to dream of new and creative programming that would be more appropriate to our new ways of working.

In some senses, Studio Remote is just like the Butler Open Lab – except over Twitch. However, we have found other differences over the course of the first semester. Because we’re only working on one specific project, the Rose Hall Project, some of the spontaneity of the Open Lab is lost. That is, even though we’re open to the world when we’re streaming on Twitch, the topic will always be the Rose Hall Project. In person, we may have someone visit the Open Lab who would present their work and take us in a different direction for that one meeting.

Additionally, Open Lab was marked by its ephemerality. The serendipity and spontaneity was part of the appeal. With Studio Remote, however, we are saving every stream to YouTube to provide an archive of our work that can be used in the future by scholars wishing to see how we did what we did.

Q: Who is able to participate in Studio Remote and how can users access your programming?

Studio Remote is open to anyone and everyone with an internet connection. You can visit our stream on Twitch on Fridays at 3pm EST. Additionally, Moacir is launching a second show on Tuesdays at 3pm EST, where he will be building a more complex web application on his own.

On Twitch, users can chat with other viewers and with us, as we monitor the chat while building the Rose Hall Project. We look forward to questions related to the project or similar topics.

Q: What challenges have you experienced in transitioning to a remote learning environment? How have you overcome those, or how do you plan to address those this semester?

We certainly had some technical difficulties! Managing a stream took a bit of learning and we had to get used to using our production software, OBS. Like everyone, however, a lot of how we do workshops, classes, and even the Open Lab, had to be reimagined from scratch. This is no different from the challenges our colleagues around the University have faced, of course. 

Specific to Studio Remote, we’ve overcome the challenges simply by doing the work. Through repetition, we’ve become more comfortable in front of the camera and live on Twitch, to a point where we feel like we can even branch out.

Q: Describe the project that you worked on in the first season of Studio Remote.

We have been working on the “Rose Hall Project,”  based on archival data collected by Celia E. Naylor, Professor of Africana Studies and History at Barnard College. Rose Hall Plantation in Montego Bay, Jamaica, is one of the island’s largest tourist attractions. Tours of the old plantation still revolve around the myth of the White Witch of Rose Hall. Not only is this story ahistorical, it also obscures the lives of the enslaved who labored and lived in Rose Hall. In this project we set out to re-center the lives and relationships of those enslaved persons with each other as best as we can from the flawed and dehumanizing archival record. The project serves as a companion piece to Naylor’s forthcoming volume on the Rose Hall Plantation.

Technically, the project is a static site generated in JavaScript with the Ember framework. It uses a static spreadsheet of data on the enslaved people compiled by Professor Naylor from archives in Jamaica and London and constructs visualizations about their lives using SVG graphics and the D3 visualization library

The project prompts complex questions about the proper way of managing a relationship between form and content. How can we represent, in interactive visual language, kin relationships inferred from the archival record? How can we respectfully present these lives lived under the terror of enslavement when the data for these people is only available in their masters’ records? We’ve addressed similar questions throughout the work we’ve done, but every new project provides new challenges.

Alex, Moacir, Professor Celia E. Naylor of Barnard College, and collaborators addressed the inaccurate archival record related to Rose Hall Plantation in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in the first iteration of Studio Remote.

Q: What was participants’ response to your programming? 

We’ve had people watching from Columbia and other institutions participate, comment, and ask questions on Twitch. We’ve noticed that other librarians are looking at our work to implement their own versions in the upcoming months. Similarly, because the streams are available on YouTube as well, they are part of the archival record, ready for consumption by people who didn’t participate “in person.”

Q: What are you planning for season two of Studio Remote? What are you most looking forward to in 2021?

On Friday afternoons, we’ll continue building the “Rose Hall Project.” On Tuesday afternoons, Moacir will be building his web application Wandertext in a spin-off stream, “Coding with the Dead.” 

But we’re also eager to expand even further the audio and video footprint of Research Data Services and Digital Scholarship at Columbia. We are eager to have more public-facing material available on YouTube beyond just archives of our streams. For example, we would like to host guests – beginning with Professor Naylor – and provide shorter videos that introduce the kinds of technologies and concepts we tend to take for granted in an intermediate-level stream like Studio Remote.

We hope that our plans for the future are intriguing enough to be of interest to our colleagues in the Libraries and beyond, so that we can start imagining a broader, more public librarianship in the pandemic era.