Susana Ruiz awarded ACLS digital grant to develop VR documentary of 2011 Egyptian Uprising

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Assistant Film and Digital Media Professor Susana Ruiz

UC Santa Cruz assistant film and digital media professor Susana Ruiz has received a 2021 Digital Extension Grant of $150,000 from The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) for her project, Arab Data Bodies: Social Media in Mixed Reality. 

The Digital Extension Grant program supports collaborative, team-based research projects that advance inclusive scholarly practices and promote greater understanding of diversity through digital research. 

The grants of up to $150,000 are also designed to extend the reach of established digital initiatives to new communities of users. The program is made possible through the support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Ruiz shares the grant with her co-principal investigator, assistant film & media studies professor Laila Shereen Sakr at UC Santa Barbara.

“I am so excited about this work and this collaboration,” said Ruiz. “It is an extension and re-imagining of a long-standing project by Professor Sakr called R-Shief—an incredible archive that has been collecting millions of social media posts in 30 languages since 2008 related to social movements. 

“Specifically, we are focusing on the now 11-year-old social media archive collected during the 2011 Arab uprisings. Using this database as primary source content, we’ll be developing a virtual reality (VR) immersive documentary that re-enacts Tahrir Square in 2011—downtown Cairo’s main public circle that became a focal point during the uprisings.” 

Arab Data Bodies is a mixed reality cinematic world of historical data and public spaces,” she added. “It is a VR documentary of the Egyptian Uprising of 2011 that enables participants to experience the historical moment virtually on the ground.”

Ruiz’s scholarly and creative work is concerned with how the intersection of art practice, game/playful design, and digital storytelling can enable new approaches to social activism, aesthetics, and public education. Her work is collaborative, interdisciplinary, and blends theory and practice. 

“We see the next five years as being crucial in the development of mixed realities media and scholarship,” said Ruiz. “Professor Sakr and I share a deep interest in exploring collaborative methodological approaches based on the idea and application of ‘practice’—media, activist, and expressive practices—that render an informed and careful understanding of mediated shared experience.” 

The grant money will be shared by both campuses and used to support the research team and help bring undergraduates and graduates into the project, as well as to hire technical consultants and purchase equipment.

“Digital projects in the humanities uncover and provide access to collections and materials that might have been hidden from sight or not even considered worthy of collecting,” noted ACLS Vice President James Shulman. “We’re excited to see how this year’s Digital Extension awardees contribute to forward-looking work that builds fields and scholars’ careers, and will shape the scholarship of tomorrow.”