Laying the Groundwork for the Digital Humanities Commons

Anticipated to begin in 2014, the Digital Humanities Commons—a summer fellowship program for faculty and graduate students at the UW—will support innovative and experimental research both inspired by new technologies and about these new methods of research and forms of communication. Where research in the humanities is often undertaken by a single scholar, the Commons will enable faculty and graduate students to collaborate with librarians, technologies, and designers to animate their scholarship with new visualization tools, digital media, and communications platforms.

In preparation for the launch of the Commons, the Simpson Center has been collaborating with other campus units to increase the profile of the digital humanities and to sponsor visiting lecturers. This February 2013, Cathy Davidson (English, Duke University) will visit the UW as Katz Distinguished Lecturer in the Humanities.  Co-founder of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory), a network of innovators to new forms of learning for the digital age, and author of numerous books, her work explores the impact of digital media on learning.

The Center has been piloting capacity-building projects as well, including a workshop on digital pedagogy for literary studies taught by Jentery Sayers (English, University of Victoria) and Katherine Harris (English and Comparative Literature, San José State University) that took place in June 2012. It explored an array of digital resources available for classroom use and offered strategies for re-articulating already existing course syllabi with digital pedagogy in mind.

The Simpson Center is also continuing to build connections with digital humanities organizations globally. In June, it sponsored twenty travel grants for UW faculty, graduate students, and staff to attend the week-long Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria. The Center has been a long-time member of HASTAC, based at Duke University. And in March 2013 the Center will host a meeting of directors of humanities centers and directors of digital humanities centers, sponsored by the Scholarly Communication Institute (SCI) at the University of Virginia Library. The goal of the meeting is to develop shared understanding of the skills needed by those holding doctorates in the humanities, to identify pedagogical models be suited to developing them, and to sponsor strategic pilot projects that test such models—and to take action. 

In advance of 2014, the Simpson Center Executive Board has selected several research projects that draw on digital platforms, including The Svoboda Diaries Newbook Project; New Geographies of Feminist Art: China, Asia, and the World; and a six-part workshop series called “Demystifying the Digital Humanities.”

Led by doctoral students Sarah Kremen-Hicks (English) and Paige Morgan (English), “Demystifying the Digital Humanities” introduces participants to basic skills and literacies necessary for an exploration of the digital humanities on their own. Topics covered will include professionalizing online identities, a brief introduction to working with programming languages, and developing digital humanities projects. Each session will be accompanied by online resources, including video recordings of the sessions themselves.

All of this activity helps to lay the groundwork for the Digital Humanities Commons. In January 2009, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded the Simpson Center a $625,000 Challenge Grant to support the digital humanities at the UW. When matched 3 to 1 by private donations, the sum total of $2.5 million will endow the Digital Humanities Commons. UW faculty and graduate students will be able to apply either on an individual basis or in teams, with a total of eight being supported each summer. There will also be funds for technical collaborators and equipment to help make their ideas a reality.

Learn more about the Digital Humanities Commons at the Simpson Center. And click here to make a gift and help us reach our goal!