In the Realm of Digital Humanities

Humanities meets technology.

You may have heard the phrase digital humanities (DH), or broadly, digital scholarship (DS), and wondered, “What exactly does that mean?” The reality is that DH or DS means different things to different people.

Within the University of Texas Libraries, we think about digital scholarship as research and teaching that is enabled by digital technologies, or that takes advantage of these technologies to address questions in a new way. Dr. Tanya Clement, UT faculty member and leading scholar in the digital humanities arena, believes that DH work applies technology to humanities questions and also subjects technology to humanistic interrogation.

DH and DS are interconnected and yet not interchangeable. In her recent book, When We are No More, author Abby Smith Rumsey describes the DS landscape as involving and leveraging “use of digital evidence and method, digital authoring, digital publishing, digital curation and preservation, and digital use and reuse of scholarship” to discover new things. Her description creates capacity for interdisciplinary investigation and the application of DS tools and methodologies to disciplines beyond the humanities.

Development of a framework to support digital scholarship is one of UT Libraries four current strategic priorities. The reorganization that we’ve undertaken in the last year has established a digital scholarship department that brings together a small team of experts focused on scholarly communication and open access initiatives, research data services, digital project work — including education and partnerships — and innovative spaces and services associated with the Scholars Commons pilot project.

The digital scholarship team is building on and expanding the UT Libraries capacity to engage with and support DH and DS projects and pedagogy. Much of this work involves UT Libraries subject specialist liaison librarians, colleagues in UT Libraries Information Technology (IT) and Discovery and Access divisions, collections, graduate students, and faculty, both as researchers and as teachers.

The UT Libraries has had some early successes with digital scholarship projects related to Human Rights and Latin American initiatives in LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, the partnership between the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies and the Benson Latin American Collection. These projects include Primeros Libros, LADI, the Latin American Digital Initiatives archive, and research and teaching initiatives built around the Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive (AHPN), among others.

LLILAS Benson is currently wrapping up its National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Office of digital humanities Reading the First Books project, a two-year collaborative effort to develop platforms for the automatic transcription of multilingual books published in 16th-century Mexico. A public symposium on May 30 will celebrate the project’s milestones, which include the developed transcription tool, the interface prototype, and data sets. The symposium will also bring together invited scholars, librarians, developers, and students for a day-long conversation on the themes of digital scholarship, colonial and early modern history, and Latin American studies.

LLILAS Benson digital scholarship Coordinator Albert Palacios works with a number of UT Libraries IT and Discovery and Access experts to complete project work of this nature. He also notes the essential involvement of staff like Hannah Alpert-Abrams — doctoral candidate in the UT Austin Program of Comparative Literature — and the project’s Graduate Research Assistant (GRA), Maria Victoria Fernandez — a graduate student in the LLILAS-School of Information dual degree program — who manage and execute the complex, detail-oriented tasks involved.

Other examples of recent project work include European Studies and Digital Scholarship Librarian Ian Goodale’s use of open source publishing platform Scalar to create an access portal for documents from the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library related to a period of political reform in Czechoslovakia known as the “Prague Spring.” Initiated through collaborations between the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (CREEES) Director Dr. Mary Neuburger and UT Libraries Assistant Director of Research Mary Rader, the resulting website recently went live making these locally held documents available to the world.

Prague Spring
The Prague Spring website.

Ian realized their vision with the assistance of several GRAs, most recently School of Information graduate student Nicole Marino, and in consultation with and through support from UT Libraries Discovery and Access experts. Utilizing digital humanities tools and collaborative approaches to leveraging local expertise, the project creates context for important, unique primary source materials and shares them via UT Libraries open access repository, Texas ScholarWorks. Ian describes the Prague Spring Archive portal as an attractive, easy to navigate resource that will continue to grow over time. He collaborated with REEES faculty members Dr. Mary Neuburger and Dr. Vlad Beronja and students in their graduate course last semester to review and annotate additional materials for inclusion. This content and new features, in development, will expand its scope and elevate its impact.

Tamil pulp novels from the South Asian Collection.
Tamil pulp novels from the South Asian Collection.

The UT Libraries is also using Omeka, a flexible open source web-publishing platform for the display of library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions, to feature collections of distinction. Digital Scholarship Librarian Allyssa Guzman and UT Libraries Ask a Librarian GRAs Ashley Morrison and Mitch Cota are working together to create an exhibition of South Asian Popular and Pulp Fiction collection book covers. The items in this collection broadly represent different types and periods of pulp fiction in India. The book covers included  highlight examples of texts that enable scholars to explore literary conventions, cultural themes, social anxieties and alternative uses of South Asian languages such as Telugu, Urdu, Hindi, Malayalam, and Tamil.

Katie Pierce Meyer, our Humanities Librarian for Architecture and Planning, launched a Digital Scholars in Practice lecture series last year. The series showcases scholars conducting research through digital technologies, conducting research on digital technologies, and critically examining digital technologies in practice. It also seeks to celebrate innovative scholarship and build a community of practice of Digital Scholars both on a local and national scale. The most recent lecture featured Dr. Kristine Stiphany, a practicing architect and scholar who holds a visiting postdoctoral fellowship from the National Science Foundation at UT Austin. She spoke about her work using digital technologies to draw social parameters into the design and construction of infrastructure in Brazilian informal settlements.

UT Libraries has several other projects in the works, and once implemented, a reshaped digital project proposal process being created by a Digital Projects Cross-functional Team, will undoubtedly surface others of potential promise and impact. Meanwhile, the digital scholarship departmental team continues to build skills and relationships that will foster a collaborative, sustainable approach to digital project work and digital scholarship within and beyond the UT Libraries and UT Austin.

 

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