Photo Caption: Two pages from Dunham’s 1960s passport. Courtesy Southern Illinois University.

Dunham’s Data: Katherine Dunham and Digital Methods for Dance Historical Inquiry is a three-year project (2018-2021) funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), under the direction of Kate Elswit (PI, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London) and Harmony Bench (CI, The Ohio State University). Through this project, we explore the kinds of questions and problems that make data analysis and visualization meaningful for dance historical inquiry. To do so, we are investigating how dance moves both across geographical locations and across networks of cultural, artistic, and financial capital through the case study of Katherine Dunham. The core project team is joined by UK industry partners One Dance UK’s Dance of the African Diaspora and the Victoria & Albert Museum, as well as international knowledge exchange partnerships with digital projects at Ludwig Maximilians Universität Munich (Germany) and the University of New South Wales (Australia).

While digital methods have altered the landscape of most humanities and arts disciplines, the field of dance studies has yet to fully identify how it can benefit from these analytic approaches. Through the specific line of research regarding Dunham, the project addresses the original problems and questions of dance history that can be advanced through an innovative critical mixed methods approach that includes geographical mapping and network analysis.

Dunham is an exemplary figure for analysing the ways dance moves across both geographical locations and networks of cultural, artistic, and financial capital. She worked across five continents in many contexts, and also spent over one third of her life on tour. She was also an extraordinary self-archivist. The scale and distribution of datapoints necessary to research the transnational circulation of an artist like Dunham pose a challenge for traditional scholarly approaches. Using digital research methods and data visualization in the context of dance history can catalyse a better understanding of how dance movements are shared and circulated among people and continents, and the networks of support and influence that undergird artistic and economic success.

To find out more about this project, go to www.dunhamsdata.org.