Johanna Drucker, a Professor in UCLA’s Department of Information Studies and the Bernard and Martin Breslauer Professor of Bibliographic Studies, is known for her work in alphabet historiography, history of the book and print culture, experimental poetry, fine art, digital humanities, and graphic design history. Drucker’s extraordinary accomplishments in these fields culminated in her 2014 election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honorary society that recognizes achievement in the natural sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities. In addition to her own research projects, Drucker is focused on laying the groundwork to help UCLA truly become a research powerhouse. With IDRE’s very own Lisa Synder, Johanna is lobbying for the establishment of an Integrated Research Infrastructure & Support Network (IRIS) for faculty and staff researchers.
Drucker Explores Wide Range of Interests
After earning a B.F.A. from the California College of Arts and Crafts, Drucker decided to pursue an Ad Hoc Interdisciplinary Doctoral program at Berkeley, as her research interests extended well beyond the academic discipline of a single department. “I did a Ph.D. that has a French name – écriture – the French word for writing. I was interested in the history of writing as the visual representation of language,” said Drucker. After acquiring a Ph.D., Drucker served as a faculty member for a number of highly esteemed universities across the country, including Yale, Columbia, and UVA, before accepting a position at UCLA.
UCLA is the ideal setting for Drucker to explore all of her heterogeneous academic interests. “This position is perfect because the Breslauer chair is meant to foster pedagogy in the areas of history of the book and special collections, so I’m able to bring all my interests together. I also teach digital humanities, and I just taught a class on information and visualization, so I get to do work in knowledge design as well. I’m working on research projects that use special collections materials, such as my project on the history of the alphabet, but result in digital outcomes. I feel like this is the perfect place for me because of the rich collections and terrific staff,” Drucker revealed.
A Jack of All Trades
Over the course of her illustrious career, Drucker has written a multitude of scholarly books.Her most recent titles include “What Is?: Nine Epistemological Essays” and “Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production.” Drucker explained, “My newest book, called ‘Graphesis,’ just came out from the Harvard University Press. It’s about visual forms of knowledge production, and it focuses on the history of diagrams and how diagrams work.”
A world-renowned scholar, Drucker is also a talented book artist and visual poet; her one-of-a-kind works can be found in special collections and libraries across the globe. One of Drucker’s favorite works, which she wrote and illustrated, is titled “The History of the/my World.” A tribute to her mother, the book contrasts official history with personal memory. “I wrote the book about 20 years ago, and it was about the difference between history and memory,” Drucker noted. “The book was really a feminist rewriting of the history of the world. It was also a critique of some feminist theory that was very dominant in the 1980s about women and language. The red text, which is personal memory and my relationship to my mom, breaks through the black text, which is retold history. This is a book I truly love.”
History of the Book Online Project
When she is not teaching eager undergraduate students or working on a new book, Drucker dedicates her time to several research projects such as the History of the Book Online, which she is doing in collaboration with Special Collections. “The goal is not only to build a teaching resource but also to use the project as a teaching tool. Students are building the content of the resource, and working with Special Collections has been great fun! This summer we’re going to start working with the UCLA Clark Library to put together materials that one could use to understand the material history of book production,” Drucker noted.
Finding a Support System at UCLA
Drucker admits that her research would not be possible without the help of people working at IDRE, the Digital Library, and the Center for Digital Humanities. “I have relied on the support of people from the CDH as well as IDRE like Lisa [Synder] and Todd [Presner]. Those people were kind of an immediate community for me because of our common interests and our desire to build something together as a curriculum. It’s really important to build connections and community if you want to work with people,” Drucker explained.
Since coming to UCLA in 2008, Drucker has steadily built an expansive network of support to assist her with various research projects. In the future, she hopes to help other researchers develop an equally strong support system and seeks to make the transition process as smooth as possible for faculty members new to the university. “We have wonderful people on the staff, but what is lacking is any kind of coordinated engagement with faculty research. We’re trying to build it. When new people come in, they should be interviewed by someone to find out their research needs the same way the benefits office interviews new hires to find out about their specific needs,” Drucker noted. “This is where IRIS comes into play.”
What is IRIS?
In partnership with IDRE’s Visualization and Modeling expert Lisa Synder, Drucker is championing the creation of an Integrated Research Infrastructure and Support Network (IRIS) at UCLA. Designed to support faculty and staff research, IRIS is a unified network of physical spaces, technical infrastructure and digital services.
Synder and Drucker got the idea for IRIS when they noticed that faculty members across a wide range of departments had similar research needs, yet there was no cohesive, efficient system to help them find the necessary expertise, resources and support. IRIS seeks to help faculty and staff quickly identify where expertise is located, what resources are available on campus, and how to get consultation for particular projects. If implemented, IRIS can significantly reduce redundancy, cut technical equipment costs, foster interdisciplinary collaboration and optimize knowledge exchange.
Drucker uses a simple, yet effective analogy to explain why the university needs an integrated research network. “You can put a scientist in a car and get them to the opera. You can put a historian in a car and get them to the beach. The structure of the problem is the same! Who the person is and where they want to go might be different, but they both need transportation.” Drucker acknowledges that this analogy is not universally true; certain researchers may have distinctive needs and preferences. “Some people want four-wheel drive or a big wheeler. There are people whose technical needs are different in scale or in kind. They either have massive computational needs or massive storage needs. But other than that, we all pretty much need the same things: an integrated research environment with virtual server space, sandboxes, strong security, and the ability to make research public,” said Drucker.
A Deeply Fulfilling Career
With her ambitious research endeavors, artistry, scholarly publications, and efforts to build up UCLA’s research infrastructure, Drucker has certainly made a name for herself. When asked to describe her proudest accomplishment, Drucker humbly responds that she feels honored just to be in a position she enjoys and to be able to collaborate with talented undergrads on a daily basis. “I feel so privileged to work with the kind of students I get to work with. I consider that to be a great gift in my life – that I get to engage with these wonderful, young, bright, interesting human beings.” she explained. “Being a teacher/mentor is interesting. Your main role is just to help students realize their full potential, and sometimes just the smallest thing is all they need. Often a student is sitting in my office, and all he or she needs to hear from me is, ‘Yes. You can do that.’ That’s all that’s necessary – recognition and affirmation. The true accomplishment for me is to be in a position I love with people I respect.”