Dunham’s Data – A Unique Fragment of Dance History and Movement

September 17, 2020

Two pages from Dunham’s 1960s passport.

Two pages from Dunham’s 1960s passport.


ANN ARBOR – Just in time for National Dance Day (Sept. 19), The National Endowment for the Arts has acquired a new data collection on dance history, now archived at the National Archive for Data on Arts and Culture (NADAC).

Dunham’s Data is a three-year project (2018-2021) funded by the United Kingdom Arts and Humanities Research Council, under the direction of Principal Investigators Kate Elswit (University of London, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama) and Harmony Bench (Ohio State University).

The project explores the kinds of questions and problems that make the analysis and visualization of data meaningful for dance history. It does so through the case study of choreographer Katherine Dunham, cataloging a daily itinerary of Dunham’s touring and travel (including country, city, hotel, and performance venue, whenever possible) from the 1930s-60s, the dancers, drummers, and singers in her employ during that time, and the repertory they performed. The manually-curated datasets included with the initial release from this collection represent Dunham’s itinerary for the years 1950-1953.

Spatialized sequence of Dunham’s 1950-53 destinations

This first dataset from Dunham’s Data is now archived at ICPSR and available for use in secondary research. Further datasets will continue to be released through 2020-21.

Bench and Elswit describe how such manually-curated datasets connect to the core of their research questions: “We are interested in how movement moves, and the granular perspective of building this everyday touring itinerary offers new insights into the transnational circulation and global legacy of this important African diasporic choreographer, anthropologist, activist, and teacher, whose own work is so deeply interconnected with place.”

Anyone with an interest in arts and culture research is invited to explore the data and accompanying materials, available to download from NADAC, part of the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR). The Dunham’s Data project website also shows work in progress in terms of how Bench, Elswit, and their team are working to visualize such data in ways that are resonant for dance: “Visualizations serve to develop inquiry through this data, but they also function as visual arguments that themselves convey a sense of motion.”

More About Dunham’s Data
Download Dunham’s Data Everyday Itinerary, 1950-53 (ICPSR 37698)
National Archive of Data on Arts and Culture (NADAC)
National Endowment for the Arts

Dory Knight-Ingram, [email protected]

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