We acknowledge that this has been a difficult fall term. At W&L, we’re already halfway through our semester. Many of us are teaching from our homes or minimizing our time on campus. At a small liberal arts college that relies on face-to-face interactions in and outside of the classroom, we have found it hard to stay connected with our colleagues, never mind stay caught up on our own research or the latest in our fields.
To that end, we’d like to offer a small series of open Zoom sessions for the DH community to come together during the lunch hour and check in. You can bring a project update, a technical question, a great reading on digital pedagogy, or just show up. If you need incentive to pull out that TEI project or another set of eyes on your data, we’re here for you.
Though we cannot gather together for lunch, participants will receive a $15 gift card to a local eatery. Thanks to the Digital Pedagogy Teacher-Scholar Cohort for sponsoring this series.
For eight months I’ve held a new title, no longer “Student” at Washington and Lee but now “Digital Humanities Post-Baccalaureate Fellow” in the W&L Library. In this position, I’ve contributed to the development of a new initiative called Rewriting the Code: Women and Technology, aided in the promotion of W&L’s new Digital Culture and Information (DCI) minor, and explored the university’s decision to adopt coeducation in the mid-1980s.
Rewriting the Code is a cross-departmental, collaborative effort which aims to inspire women at W&L to pursue majors, careers, and interests at the intersection of technology and the humanities. We started with two fall workshops, one covering HTML/CSS and the other on Python. After receiving double the number of applicants (60!) as spots available, we decided to host a second round of these workshops during the beginning of winter term. Coming up, we will be hosting a forum that includes a keynote presentation on March 1 and panel discussions on various topics, plus a mentoring lunch, on March 2. I have spent a significant portion of my work time aiding in the planning and execution of these events.
My work for DCI has primarily involved encouraging students, through the use of social media, to sign up for DCI classes. The goal is to have some of these students declare the minor after trying out the classes. In both the fall and winter terms, we have seen most DCI classes nearly full or at maximum capacity (and a couple with long waitlists, too!). It is exciting to see the enthusiasm students, and especially the underclassmen, have for DCI classes and the valuable skills they get to learn.
Researching the coeducation decision has allowed me to explore the vast holdings of W&L’s Special Collections. I have learned that it is very easy to begin skimming through documents in a folder, realize it is unlikely I will find any information related to coeducation within those documents, but be so intrigued by what I’m reading that I continue looking through it anyway. Nonetheless, the (re)discoveries that are made related to coeducation as I search through our collections is exciting for me and the other staff members who work in Special Collections. Although this project still has considerably more work to be completed before my one-year appointment comes to an end, before I leave I expect to have a website created with digital facsimiles of a variety of different types of documents related to coeducation and the experience of women at W&L more generally.
So, what is a post-baccalaureate fellowship? These types of positions are typically open to graduating seniors or recent graduates (those who graduated within the past one to three years) and are relatively short in duration (one or two years). Post-baccalaureate fellowships provide a great transition for students and recent grads because they offer the opportunity to gain hands-on work experience as well as mentorship from colleagues. For myself in particular, I believe that this position has been able to provide me with valuable experience as I transition from college life to the working world. Although I worked over the summers while in college, I didn’t have the “traditional” W&L internships, especially before my senior year. Instead, during the summer of 2017, I helped my mother remodel our house and equestrian property before selling it later that year. In my spare time, I worked for the government, visiting farms in the area to talk to farmers and collect data about their crops and livestock. While I felt that I had a productive summer in my own way, the feedback I received in interviews during my senior year was often along the lines of, “It seems like you are capable of accomplishing many things, but we don’t have enough solid examples of your ability.” This position allows me to demonstrate my skills through the projects I’m completing. While I did have a work study position as a student, I have considerably more responsibility now, aiding in the planning, organizing, and promotion of our various events and other projects on campus. Unlike with my work study position, I am able to be a part of these projects from start to finish.
Further, this type of position also benefits current students who get to participate in the events that are occurring through my work. For example, Rewriting the Code is a brand new initiative this year, yet over 60 women will have been impacted in some way through the workshops we held. Even more will benefit once we hold the forum in March. The coeducation project is also involving students to research issues important to them. Currently, a student is aiding in the development of a background story and oral histories on Asians, Asian-Americans, and exchange students (with a focus on women) to add to our collective knowledge about the impact of coeducation.
I also have discovered this fellowship to be an easier transition to life after college, as I’m already in a place where I am comfortable. Although at times it feels strange being an employee at W&L while still having friends who are students, much of the culture that I became accustomed to as a student is the same. This has made it easier to focus on my work tasks without being concerned about adjusting to a new company culture.
Although I have yet to decide where my path will take me after this fellowship ends, I feel confident in the skills I’ve gained and demonstrated through my position. I’m also excited about the impact of my work, in particular with the Rewriting the Code initiative. In the future, I hope to see more opportunities for other students to have experiences similar to mine.
– Kellie Harra ’18, Digital Humanities Post-Baccalaureate Fellow
[FYI this event has been rescheduled for January 16, 2019 from 12:15pm-1:15pm. Join us for the same great lineup! Please register on Event Manager.]
With a fresh snow and impending finals, it is certainly time to look toward Winter Academy offerings. The entire line-up looks great this year, but we invite you to join us for the following DH event:
Monday, December 10th, 2018
Digital Humanities Summer Research Panel
Curious about how “digital humanities”–whatever that means–can fit into your research? What it’s like to work collaboratively with undergraduates working on humanistic questions? What impact the research can have on your pedagogy? Then, you should hear from Mellon Summer Digital Humanities Faculty Research awardees and a Special Collections project.
Presenters: George Bent, Professor of Art History; Sydney Bufkin, Mellon Digital Humanities Fellow; Megan Hess, Assistant Professor of Accounting
Two members of W&L’s Digital Humanities Working Group, Brandon Bucy and Alston Brake, will participate in the Five College Consortium’s Digital Humanities Panel to be held at Smith College, MA on June 18, 2013. They will discuss the evolution of Digital Humanities at W&L and campus initiatives to support faculty and staff in this work. The panel will focus on what it means to do Digital Humanities work in liberal arts colleges. Click here to see their presentation.
Professor Curtis Jirsa’s spring term students in ENGL 314, The History of the Book, compiled a detailed exhibit of 3 early printed texts housed in Leyburn’s Special Collections. The URL is: http://www.leyburnarchives.wordpress.com/. You can navigate the site via the menu at the top. Clicking on the name of each book in the menu will bring you to a preliminary page, and then clicking on the submenus will provide more historical and bibliographic information.
For Dr. Rachel Schnepper and her students in History 229: Media and Politics in Early Modern England, studying life and culture in sixteenth and seventeenth century England from Lexington, VA is a difficult task. While there are many secondary sources available at Leyburn Library, the primary sources are lacking. Thanks to online access to many digitized primary sources, however, students can begin to formulate and answer new research questions that previous generations of undergraduate researchers could only dream of.
“Using digital humanities databases greatly expands the primary sources available to students. With these databases, students can access eighteenth century English court records and newspapers, passenger manifests of penal transport ships to Australia, or the records of slavers from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Access to all of these would be impossible for my students without the developments that have occurred in digital humanities in the past 10 years.”
Schnepper’s student Elizabeth Bucklee ’13 agrees. Her final paper project examines the libels written in response to the 1631 trial of the earl of Castlehaven whose wife and son accused him of rape and sodomy. Elizabeth studied the libels using Early Stuart Libels, a database of early seventeenth century political poetry. Elizabeth noted that this was the first time she actively searched for primary sources on her own: “Usually for a humanities paper, you figure out your topic, do a book search in Leyburn, logon to JSTOR, and see where that takes you. The context in which I was looking for [primary sources] was completely different and that changed the nature of the search. I looked at the primary sources first and foremost in determining my topic.”
Elizabeth and another student from History 229 presented their final paper projects in the first organized digital humanities panel discussion in the history of W&L at the Science Society and the Arts (SSA) conference held in March. The packed panel session that Schnepper organized and helped lead brought together students and faculty from history, classics, German, and computer science.
Det Beal ‘14 also presented his work from Schnepper’s 218 course at SSA in a busy afternoon poster session. Using the Burney Database, Det traced the usage of the use of the word “yankee” in British newspapers during the American Revolution, which revealed how “as the war progressed and British defeat became more evident, Britains stopped using the word as much and it became almost invisible after the war.”
Based on his experience with digital databases in Professor Schnepper’s class, Det felt empowered to expand the scope of his papers in other classes: he knew he could access similar online resources for other topics that interested him, which he has done this past term in Prof. Senechal’s History of Violence in America course. “Professor Schnepper’s class opened my eyes to the kind of wide ranging research you can do. You are not simply limited to what the professor gives you. Professor Senechal allowed us to either do an incident that she knows that was very well publicized, which a large majority of the class is doing, but I chose instead to pick something of my interest because I knew the [digital] resources would be available to get in-depth with a project that I was really interested in.”
Schnepper reiterates the value of the digital data: “The aggregating of all of this material digitally allows both me and my students to manipulate the primary sources to reveal new insights into the past. For example, my GIS representation of London stationers of the 1640s enables me to physically reconstruct the print trade of revolutionary London along the lines of religious and political allegiances.”
Brendan Hartsell ’13, another student in Schnepper’s History 229, has likewise used online databases to create his own analytical frameworks to uncover and analyze popular perceptions of Quakers during the second half of the seventeenth century. Using the English Broadside Ballad Archive, Hartsell was able to hone his data analysis skills. He said, “I was able to look through all of these broadside ballads and figure out where they fit in a number of criteria. Through this, I was able to find a lot of information that had not previously been published, like the prevalence of sexual themes.” He added, proudly, “In the past, any data would have been received from secondary sources, so this is my first time actually finding that out for myself.”
Brendan’s pride underscores one of Schnepper’s main pedagagical goals: in using the digital humanities resources, students become skilled in a variety of analytical tools. “Students learn how to navigate new technologies with savvy, how to manipulate digital resources and massage information out of them. These are invaluable skills for them to learn, particularly in a world that has taken a digital turn,” she said. Thus, advocacy is the central role Schnepper has played during her second year as a Mellon Post-doctoral Fellow in history.
Beyond her own courses, Schnepper has been an active consultant for the new W&L Introduction to Digital Humanities Spring term course. “Dr. Schnepper has been a great resource of ideas on what topics and tools we should cover and how we can engage the broad, multi-disciplinary student audience,” said Dr. Sara Sprenkle, assistant professor of computer science, who is co-teaching the new course with Dr. PaulYoungman, associate professor of German. Youngman also emphasizes her value as a sounding board, “Professor Schnepper’s rich imagination has proven to be a real asset as we begin planning for this unique course.”
Schnepper has been a resource to other faculty as well. She said, “With my colleagues here at W&L, I’ve found that many are very interested in the digital humanities and have projects of their own in mind, only they simply did not know how to go about doing them.” She has been involved in conversations with professors in departments across campus, learning about their research and sharing with them the digital tools available to realize their ideas. Associate professor of sociology Jonathan Eastwood is one of those faculty members who sought Schnepper’s counsel. He said, “Rachel has been a great resource as I have begun taking an interest in digital humanities initiatives. Not only is she knowledgeable about a wide range of tools, but she is also a trained historian. As such, she is uniquely capable of drawing linkages between technological resources and the kinds of substantive questions in which I am interested.”
Schnepper is optimistic about the future of history and the digital humanities. She said, “Digitizing the archive will enable historians to not only do the sort of archival research they love to do, but allow them to do it in new and immensely productive ways that reveal more about the past.” Beyond historians themselves, Schnepper is excited by the opportunities to “make the digital archive a useful and productive resource not just for us historians, but also for the students in our classrooms and the students outside of universities who want to learn more about their history or the history of other countries.”
Over five years ago, Professor Paul Gregory from the Philosophy Department came to the Computer Science Department with a problem. He needed a computer application that not only would help students practice symbolic logic for his Philosophy 170: Introduction toLogic course, but could also assist him in his grading by automatically correcting symbolic logic quizzes. In agreeing to collaborate with Gregory, little did Professor Sara Sprenkle realize that she was going to become to go-to computer science person for humanities professors across W&L. For, since then, Sprenkle’s partnership has been sought on a number of other digital humanities projects for faculty throughout the university.
At present, Sprenkle is working on two digital humanities projects in addition to Gregory’s symbolic logic tutorial. The first is with former Mellon Postdoctoral fellow and current Assistant Professor at Marquette University Professor Sarah Bond to develop a site that would allows users to examine the evidence and literature for ancient voluntary associations. The second and most recent project with Professor Rebecca Benefiel of the Classics Department seeks to explore the relationships of graffiti in ancient Herculaneum. Benefiel and Bond projects are similar in that both wanted to be able to search large collections of ancient inscriptions in order to look at them in different ways, allowing them uncover new things about the ancient world.
While at first glance, it may appear as though these collaborations benefit only Gregory’s logic classes or Benefiel and Bond’s research, this is hardly the case. Indeed, these digital humanities collaborations have proven to be tremendously important for Sprenkle’s own research on web applications. “My research looks at what can we learn from what users actually do,” Sprenkle explained. “I do software testing research specifically on web applications. We need real applications and have people really using them. I can use these applications in my research to learn how to do better testing for these applications.”
This is precisely what these projects with Gregory, Benefiel, and Bond have provided. For example, Gregory’s symbolic logic tutorial is one of the five web applications Sprenkle and her research collaborators at the University of Delaware look at. “The logic application is great,” Sprenkle described, “because we have actual users.” In fact, over the last two semesters, it had over 800 user sessions. Sprenkle and her research collaborators have published threepapers evaluating testing techniques using the symbolic logic tutorial, a clear indication of the value of this project to Sprenkle’s research.
But it is not just Sprenkle’s research that benefits from digital humanities collaborations here at W&L. They are also amazing opportunities for students here as well. In fact, this was something that Sprenkle recognized immediately. “I thought it would be a great application for our students to work on,” Sprenkle said.
Richard Marmorstein ’14, a double major in Computer Science and Economics, agrees. Since the summer of 2012, Marmorstein has been working with both Gregory and Sprenkle on the symbolic logical tutorial. “Usually you’re working on code that your professors have coded for you and modifying it or rewriting code from scratch,” Marmorstein said. “But this was code that other people had written that weren’t professors so it was a little messy going in to it, which is like real life. The people that you work with aren’t always perfect in writing code so it was a real, practical experience.”
This real, practical experience is already paying off for students. Because they are working with an actual client, i.e. Gregory, Benefiel, or Bond, students working under Sprenkle’s supervision on her three digital humanities projects, either as part of her web applications course or as independent studies, are more attractive to potential employers. Her students have reported how “recruiters eyes light up when they start talking about these projects because personal interactions are really important to employers.”
“Students learn a lot from these projects,” Sprenkle added. “And when they talk to their client later, they not only think they were cool projects, but also fun and worthwhile.”