The Smile

Bittersweet: A Cultural History of the Smile

In 2021 we collaborated with two PhD candidates in the Faculty of Arts to build a digital exhibition titled Bittersweet: A Cultural History of the Smile.

As part of the University of Melbourne Digital Studio Internships Program, Catherine Gay and Xingcheng Wang worked with Dr Tyne Sumner to create an interactive digital humanities project that tells the literary, artistic, and cultural history of the smile.

You can take a look at their incredible work here!

Our collaborators

Catherine Gay is a Trust Hansen PhD Scholar in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. Her research looks to the lives of Indigenous and settler girls in nineteenth-century Australia with a focus on the colony of Victoria. Her interests lie in feminist history, children’s history, and material culture methodologies, with a particular drive for uncovering children’s voices and emotions through their written and material creations. Catherine is a Research Associate at Museums Victoria, where she has completed numerous curatorial and public history projects. 

Xingcheng Wang is a PhD scholar in the School of Languages and Linguistics at the University of Melbourne. His research focuses on the development and validation of an automated dialogue system from assessing English L2 interactional competence specific to text chat. This research helps us understand how second language learners of English deal with potential constraints of the online medium and find their own ways of approximating facial expressions, emotions, intended meanings, and more importantly managing interactional work in text chat. Xingcheng is a casual Research Associate at the University of Melbourne and a winner of the Duolingo English Test’s 2021 Doctoral Award

How did we make the exhibition?

To Bittersweet: A Cultural History of the Smile Catherine brought her background in museum and curatorial studies, along with her love for art and print culture. The project offered her the opportunity to hone digital humanities skills, including data analysis and web scraping, and engage with digital data in new and creative ways. 

In the project Xingcheng integrated his linguistic knowledge and skills into the analysis of ‘smiles’ in late 19th and early 20th century literature written by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Arthur Conan Doyle. The digitalized findings presented the audience with a novel way to think about and appreciate how smiles were described and used by these authors in different ways. The internship program provided him with the opportunity to apply his expertise in linguistics to research in history and literature and sharpened his digital skills in the presentation of literary works.