FREDERICKAPLAN-HQ-ID2 Prof Frederic Kaplan holds the Digital Humanities Chair at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) and directs the EPFL Digital Humanities Lab. He conducts research projects combining archive digitization, information modeling and museographic design. He is currently working on the "Venice Time Machine", an international project in collaboration with the Ca'Foscari University in Venice, aiming to model the evolution and history of Venice over a 1000-year period.

 Frederic Kaplan graduated as an engineer of the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Telecommunications in Paris and received a PhD degree in Artificial Intelligence from the University Paris VI. Before coming to Switzerland, he worked ten years as a researcher at Sony Computer Science Laboratory contributing in particular to the AIBO robot. Then he worked six years at CRAFT, the EPFL pedagogical research laboratory.

 He published more than a hundred scientific papers, 6 books and about 10 patents. His inventions and devices have been exhibited in several museums including the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He is also the founder and president of OZWE, a company that designs and produces innovative interfaces and consumer electronic products and of, a joint venture focusing on digital publications.


What first got you interested in engineering practice?

 As an engineer, I founded a startup, worked in the R&D labs of a large international company (Sony) as well as various academic environments. In these different settings I got convinced of the importance of integrating reflexive activities about engineering processes as part of my own engineering practices. I wrote several books taking a larger cultural perspective on my work as an engineer, illustrating how engineering is not only about designing machines matching particular well-defined goals but involves many other social, political and human aspects. I am now convinced it is crucial not only to study and model the complexity of these processes but also to involve engineers themselves in this modeling process. As director of the newly founded Digital Humanities Lab at EPFL, I'm trying to involve all the members of my team in this collective self-modeling approach.


Why did you begin researching the topic of your chapter?

 Dominique Vinck suggested it was relevant to document the very early phase of the foundation of the Digital Humanities Lab as we were in a transition phase, full of hesitation and unexpected connections. He taught me how to proceed in this self-modeling and provided the methodological and theoretical context to analyze my own observations.


What challenges did you encounter when working on this chapter?

 The challenge was to speak as neutrally as possible of my own experience in conducting the first projects of the Digital Humanities Laboratory, identifying each node of the underlying networks involved in the processes, beyond my initial oversimplifying narratives. Using the third person was actually a challenge for me, as I felt this distance could lead to a less sincere account than a more subjectively narrated version. Dominique Vinck convinced me this was the way to go and felt globally happy about what we found using this approach.


What aspect gives you the most satisfaction now?

 This chapter provided a nice opportunity to work with Dominique Vinck, with whom I had been exchanging for quite a while. I learned a lot about the methods and the literature devoted to studying engineering in the making.


What advice would you give to someone interested in engineering practice research?

 Read the book and apply its methods to your own case.


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