Oct 02. Drag and Facebook's Identity Problem


Brown Institute Magic Grantee Jessa Lingel co-authored a piece for The Atlantic on Facebook's recent public apology. According to their article

After aggressively suspending the accounts of dozens of drag performers, in some cases demanding they submit legal ID to keep their profiles alive, yesterday Facebook apologized to the drag queens and the broader queer community supporting them. Their policy of requiring only “real names” in users’ profiles will now allow whatever “authentic name they use in real life.”

Adam Golub and Jessa based their Magic Grant, Bushwig, on the inadequacy of social networks like Facebook to deal with the issue of identity. Bushwig began with the idea that it's not only drag queens that deal with complex notions of identity. As Jessa points out in her Atlantic article,  

But maintaining multiple identities online is not just for drag queens. We all perform versions of ourselves. When we use two different platforms, reserving one for our professional life and another for our side interest, we’re separating two sides of ourselves using the tools available to us. When we complain about our parents commenting on our Facebook posts aimed at our friends, we’re wishing we could maintain different public faces on a platform that prefers to push them together.

The Bushwig Magic Grant has produced a Drag Arts Archive and is planning a public installation that deals with notions of identity through drag culture.

Sep 29. Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things

This weekend the Brown Institute hosted Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things, an experiment, led by the Digital Storytelling Lab at Columbia, in new forms and functions of storytelling. Roughly 25 storytellers, game developers, makers, creative technologists, experience designers and journalists participated in a special one day story lab. An experiment in co-authorship – Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things invited 25 participants to step into a collaborative design space. Together participants prepared the groundwork for a storyworld that will play out globally through a series of connected objects that become conduits for a re-imaging of Sherlock Holmes. Recently entered into the public domain, Sherlock Homes will provide the foundation for an exploration into new forms and functions of storytelling. 
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Sep 26. Gaia Global Circus concludes Latour Week


On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening, Compagnie AccenT and Soif Compagnie presented Gaia Global Circus at The Kitchen in Chelsea, followed by Q&A sessions with the troupe and Prof. Latour.

On Friday, following the presentations, New York Times contributor Laura Collins-Hughes reviewed the show, which can be read at Through Gaia Global Circus, Latour addresses one of "the great questions of ecology: our failure to feel much of anything in the face of the climate crisis," writes Collins-Hughes. The play, "calls to mind in a visceral way why we need to keep this home of ours healthy." 

Exeunt also reviewed the play saying Gaïa Global Circus sets the bar high for future endeavors into the growing  'climate theater' niche."

More details and a summary of Latour's week-long visit can be found at

Sep 23. Latour week at Columbia


Last night, Prof. Latour spoke to an audience of 500 people on his recent work is on climate change, on global ecological crisis. You can see a video of the event here. Next up, his project "Gaia Global Circus" will be presented at The Kitchen in Chelsea. To help understand the disconnect between the scale of the problems we are facing and the set of "emotions, habits of thought and feelings" we need to respond to such crises, Prof. Latour has left traditional publishing and has created theatrical experiences. "Gaia Global Circus" explores how the language of theater might help us appreciate our situation in ways that the language of science alone has not.

Prof. Latour is a unique breed of academic and "Gaia Global Circus" is just one example. When creating his magnum opus, "An Inquiry into Modes of Existence" (AIME), summarizing 25 years of his work, he not only produced a printed book, but also designed a web platform that allows readers and co-authors to make additions and modify the text. It is a daring experiment in collective, digital scholarship.

Over the last decade, Prof. Latour has overseen theatrical projects, staged reenactments (a 1903 debate between Tarde and Durkheim), and art exhibitions ("Making things public" and "Iconoclash"), forging a new kind of "creative research." These projects are not simply publicly accessible presentations of more complicated research, but instead constitute new modes of research in their own right. This is why the Brown Institute was eager to host Prof. Latour this week. 

And we're off to a great start!

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Sep 12. 2013-2014 Magic Grant Wrap-ups

It’s been an exciting year for the 2013-2014 Brown Institute Magic Grant recipients.Teams from Columbia, Stanford – and Columbia & Stanford - have been hard at work pushing the boundaries of media innovation. Read more.

Sep 03. Brown at Columbia's new fellows

The Brown Institute at Columbia is pleased to announce three fellows for 2014-2015. Each has a very different kind of engagement with narrative - from new experiments in longform storytelling, to the development of journalistic technology, to finding story by tracing a black line on a white wall. 

Jennifer 8. Lee is a journalist and entrepreneur. She is co-founder of a literary studio called Plympton, which focuses on publishing serialized fiction for digital reading. Its mobile reading app, Rooster, launched in March of 2014. She serves on the boards of the Center for Public Integrity, Hacks/Hackers, the Asian American Writers Workshop, Nieman Foundation, and the New York Public Library Young Lions Committee. Jenny was a reporter at the New York Times for nine years and is the author of "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles," a book documenting the history of Chinese food in America that was #26 on NYT bestseller list. She also produced "The Search for General Tso," a documentary which premiered at the 2014 TriBeCa Film Festival. She is a cofounder of Newsdiffs and Spark Camp. 

Aram Chung joins us from a Google Journalism Fellowship at IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors) where she explored ways to apply graph database techniques to investigative reporting and contributed to DocumentCloud, IRE's online document management platform. Aram is a 2014 graduate from the dual Master of Science degree program between Columbia's School of Journalism and the Department of Computer Science. During her fellowship period, Aram will create a graphic, interactive textbook explaining computational methods in terms of journalistic applications, helping journalists and students both select approaches for their stories as well as dig deeper into the underlying metaphors and abstrations motivating their design.

Shantell Martin draws - black ink on white surfaces. Her illustrations transform everything from walls, found objects, sneakers and even faces into a visual narrative. Shantell's work is a meditation of lines; a language of characters, creatures and messages that invite her viewers to share a role in her creative process. Her creations bridge fine art, commercial and the everyday experience. Martin has been featured on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, the cover of the New York Times Home Section, and Creative Review Magazine. She was named French Glamour’s New York’s "coolest it girl" in 2011 and her collaboration with fashion brand Suno was featured in Vogue in 2013. She regularly creates live digital drawings at conferences, musical performances, and museums including MoMA.

Aug 23. Crowdsourcing experts by Michael Bernstein

Michael Bernstein's work about crowdsourcing expertise and problem-solving is featured on a new video. He shows how to dynamically assemble and manage paid online experts. Bernstein is an Assistant Professor in Computer Science at Stanford, and he develops systems and tools for crowdsourcing work with his team. Bernstein is affiliated with the Brown Institute, and he and his teams are Magic Grants recipients for their projects Visual Genome (2014-2015) and Ensemble (2013-2014).

Aug 23. XRay featured in the NYT Bits Blog

The New York Times Bits Blog featured a long piece by Steve Lohr on XRay, "a reverse-engineering machine that models the correlations made by web services." As you browse the web, shop online or contact friends via SMS or email, companies collect and share information, making inferences about you to target their services. XRay exposes those inferences. According to Lohr, "the group’s three initial efforts have tried to determine the kinds of ads shown to Gmail users based on the text in their email messages; the product recommendations Amazon shows users based on their wish lists and other data; and the video recommendations made by YouTube determined by the videos users have previously viewed."

The work on XRay was supervised in part by Augustin Chaintreau and Mathias Lecuyer, whose previous project Dispatch was funded by the Brown Institute in 2012-2013. XRay is the basis for a 2014-2015 Magic Grant by Charles Berret, Max Lee Tucker de Silva, Cecilia Reyes and Augustin Chaintreau, who are customizing the tool for journalistic investigations. XRay will be presented at the Usenix Security Symposium in San Diego. Try it out here


Jul 26. Columbia student seminar with Latour on Sept. 23

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Applications due: August 18 (double extended!)

Columbia graduate students are now invited to apply for a seminar led by Professor Bruno Latour on Tuesday, September 23, 12-3pm. Twenty-five graduate students from throughout the university will be selected to participate in this single seminar given by Prof. Latour. Students will organize themselves into a reading group to meet once or twice in early September for discussion of Prof. Latour’s work. They will then meet to continue this discussion with a small group of faculty on September 15, 12-2pm. Students and a few faculty will meet with Prof. Latour on September 23. A reading list will be distributed in advance. 

Applications are available through the Brown Institute submitttable site. Aside from your name, advisor and dissertation topic, we also ask for (in one short, concise paragraph) the major themes/keywords from Latour's work that are most relevant to your own work, and a description of why you would benefit from this seminar. The due date for applications is August 11, and successful applicants will be notified in mid-August.

This seminar is part of a week of events with Prof. Latour (more information forthcoming): 

Monday, Sept. 22, late afternoon: public lecture with Q&A by Nick Lemann 

Tuesday, Sept. 23, 7pm: Latour’s play, Gaia, for Columbia students and faculty 

Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 24, 25, 7pm: Public performances of Gaia 

Prof. Latour’s visit is sponsored by the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, Alliance (Columbia, École Polytechnique, Sciences Po, and Panthéon-Sorbonne University), The Center for Science and Society, and The Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Jul 21. Our new Columbia home!


Today the Brown Institute moved into its new home at Columbia University. I (Mark Hansen) can report that the space is more lovely than I could have ever imagined. While there's plenty to do still -- including a mural by Shantell Martin -- the space is inspiring. LTL Architects did a wonderful job! To mark the move, the Chronicle of Higher Education also wrote a fantastic piece about Brown and its goals. Joy! 

Established in 2012, the Institute is a collaboration between Columbia and Stanford Universities. Our mission is simple: Sponsor thinking, building and speculating on how stories are discovered and told in a networked, digitized world.
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