Empowering Student Digital Scholarship: CLASS Program as a model for digital humanities scholarship in the Liberal Arts

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Janet Thomas Simons

    Hamilton College

  2. 2. Angel David Nieves

    Hamilton College

  3. 3. Kerri Grimaldi

    Hamilton College

Work text
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Culture, Liberal Arts, and Society Scholars (CLASS) is an undergraduate research and fellowship program in the digital humanities awarded to student scholars at Hamilton College’s Digital Humanities Initiative (DHi). Basic literacies for the digital age are critical skills sets for students entering the professional world in the twenty-first century. The Digital Humanities Initiative provides new opportunities for students in the humanities to become fully engaged citizens in this ongoing digital revolution.

CLASS is based on three-broad areas of scholarly inquiry and their intersection with new and emerging digital technologies: 1) Culture, 2) Liberal Arts, and 3) Society. CLASS provides a unique partnership between departments, programs, and units across the liberal arts and humanities at Hamilton in partnership with the College’s Career Center. It begins with course connections in our Cinema and New Media Studies (CNMS) program but then removes the confines of the semester to promote deep understanding of digital humanities research within a specific field of interest. In these experiences, students and their faculty advisor become part of a collaborative working team of experts in DHi.

CLASS provides students with skills training in digital literacies through intensive research and scholarship coupled with two unique internship experiences. In the summer between sophomore and junior years CLASS offers undergraduate students an intensive professional development experience and provides a comprehensive overview of work in their respective field of interest. In the summer immediately after their junior year students enter their second internship off campus leading to employment and/or graduate study as a result of the eighteen-month program. Assistance with job placement, in a professional field, based on their CLASS internship placement, and/or graduate studies occurs in their final year at Hamilton.

Fig. 1: Fig. 1. CLASS Program 18-month Structure

The coursework for the program begins in the fall of their sophomore year with CNMS 120 or 125 (Fig 1). In the spring semester students can enroll in courses offered in the CNMS minor. Students enroll in either CNMS 200W/Introduction to Digital Humanities or CNMS300/Interdisciplinary Research Methods that provide experiences writing grant proposals in the digital humanities.

The goals for CLASS include:

Collaboration with potential faculty and/or staff mentors to define and develop an interdisciplinary project
Writing a research proposal for their projects.
DHi committee reviews the proposals and recommend possible award opportunities.
Students begin work over a 10-week period in the summer, mid-June to late August.
A two-week intensive training program takes place in June of the first summer. Students survey mature digital humanities projects, participate in discussions of digital humanities readings, interact with invited speakers brought into the program, and explore technologies related to their research project goals. During the academic year following the first summer, students work with their mentor between 4-6 hours a week on their collaborative research project. In the summer between junior and senior years, CLASS offers undergraduate students an intensive professional development experience and provides a comprehensive overview of work in new digital technologies.

CLASS will:

Develop understanding of digital humanities methods
Develop technological expertise for careers and digital scholarship
Through their participation in an undergraduate research project, students will be able to:

Develop a research question, problem, or design;
Apply basic principles and knowledge found in the literature related to the research question;
Develop a research proposal to address or resolve a specific research question or problem;
Apply and evaluate interdisciplinary methodologies throughout the project;
Collect, interpret, and critique data in order to resolve a research question or evaluate a design;
Utilize digital skills (TEI, digital collection development, media object creation, geospatial visualization, etc.) necessary for robust digital scholarship in the humanities
Communicate research findings through oral presentations and digital publications.
Students in research collaborations with Faculty and members of the DHi, develop deep understanding of a specific long-term research agenda. They are expected to conduct collaborative investigation of a specific aspect of the research that is of great interest to them and integrate digital humanities research methods in their process. Deliverables include public presentation and/or publication at milestones in this process.

Cohort 2011

Sarah Bither and Melissa Yang worked with Professor Kyoko Omori to develop an understanding of Benshi performance art for contemporary audiences. The outcome of this work is a website, http://courses.hamilton.edu/dhi-class-1/sarah with components that will ultimately be incorporated into Professor Omori’s Japanese Comparative Literature Archive. Bither continued her study of Japanese culture and language by going abroad to Japan in the spring and summer of 2012. Randall Telfer worked with Professor Thomas Wilson to explore Confucian rituals and connections to contemporary religious practices in China. The outcomes of this work were additional edits to two of Professor Wilson’s websites http://academics.hamilton.edu/asian_studies/home/asc_test/index.html and The Cult of Confucius website: http://academics.hamilton.edu/asian_studies/home/coc_test/index.html. Brynna Tomassone worked with Professor Angel David Nieves to explore cultural connections between South Africa and the United States during the time period leading up to the events in 1976 Soweto. The outcome of this work is a series of book chapters currently in forthcoming publications including The Heritage of Iconic Planned Communities: The Challenges of Change (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014). Tomassone is now a Ph.D. student in Hispanic/Spanish Studies at Syracuse University.

Cohort 2012

Maxwell Lopez (’14) mentored by Professor Nathan Goodale. Continuing aspects of research on the history and culture of the Sinixt Nation in British Columbia, Lopez proposed to work for the 2012 -2013 year creating, “an accurate three dimensional digital representation of the British Columbia site along with some models of artifacts excavated” using the Unity game engine. He believes the project will create a “new way for people to experience and interact with history” and have great capacity for connecting with research with the public. By the end of the two- week CLASS session in June 2012, Lopez had already made several models in Blender (a 3D modeling software) and site maps in Unity (a virtual world platform for models to reside). The following is a screenshot of his initial construction of a pit house in Blender. Please see the folder on CLASS 2012 for screenshots of his work to date and his complete proposal.

Fig. 2: Figure 2. Sinixt Ritual Pit House model (created in Blender).

Lopez continued work with Professor Nathan Goodale in GIS mapping and archeological data collection for continued development of Sinixt Ritual Pit (Fig. 2) houses at an archeology Field School in British Columbia summer 2013. Lopez has presented aspects of his work with Professor Goodale at several forums on campus in Fall 2012 and also at the 2013 Re:Humanities symposium April, 5, 2013.

Continuing aspects of O’Neill’s development of Beloved Witness: Agha Shahid Ali Archive, Ujjwal Pradham (’14) will explore the use of text analysis tools and TEI in developing aspects of the Agha Shahid Ali Archive. Pradham is also interested in establishing a connection between the archive and current communities of interest in Kashmir.

Pradham explored the uses of social software to make connections between contemporary Kashmir communities and the developing Beloved Witness archive. The following is a screen shot of the Voyant Tools (Fig. 3) text analysis Ujjwal did to compare theme words (home, waiting, never, Spring, Kashmir) in multiple manuscripts over the development of a poem written by Ali.

Fig. 3: Figure 3. Voyant Tools.

Cohort 2013

Working with Religious Studies Professor Abhishek Amar on aspects of his Sacred Centers in India Project, students Kenneth Ratliff (’16) and Alex Gioia (’14), embarked on a study of Indian sacred centers -- Buddhist Bodhgaya and Hindu Gaya. The students expanded their understanding of the Indian sacred cities of Gaya and Bodhgaya. They assisted Professor Amar in organizing his research data for these two cities (images, videos, and GPS coordinates) into the metadata schema for his digital research archive. This work of organizing and processing the over 418 data objects from Gaya into survey forms conducive to further analysis is necessary for long term sustainability of the digital archive. It is also the first step in the creation of interactive models of important artifacts and their locations within these religious sites. Appendix “A” is an example of one of the individual data survey forms used in this project and is based on those used by the K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute, with whom Professor Amar collaborates. Ratliff and Gioia have already begun creating an interactive two-dimensional line map of the Vishnupada complex (Fig 4).

Fig. 4: Figure 4. Interactive line map of Vishnupada Complex with Mahadeva site highlighted (created in Blender).

This interactive map will link to images of the sites (Fig. 5) and 3D models of the artifacts in situ (Fig. 6). They hope that these virtual 3D and geographically correct models will foster greater interest in these religious sites due to the accessibility and interactivity of the maps, photographs, models, and videos.

Ultimately, the plans are to place the models that they produce into an online viewing space, developed from a game engine (Unity), that will make the models easily viewable and web accessible to the public.

Fig. 5: Figure 5. Image of Mahadeva site and Tablet artifact on far wall.

Fig. 6: Figure 6. Image of Mahadeva Tablet being modeled in Blender (Free Download at Blender.org).

Working with Patricia O'Neill on aspects of her Beloved Witness archive, Kerri Grimaldi (’16) examined the significance of Emily Dickinson’s poetry to Agha Shahid Ali, a poet from Kashmir, whose work is the focus of the archive. Grimaldi’s project traces the depth of Emily Dickinson’s influence in Shahid’s poem, “A Nostalgist’s Map of America,” by placing Shahid’s poem side-by-side with Dickinson’s “A Route of Evanescence” in four stages of analysis, each increasing in level of explication. By analyzing Shahid’s poem, it is possible to read Dickinson’s in a completely different light, while also witnessing the resonating power of her poetry. Grimaldi has started to create a website to present her analysis of the relationship between the work of Shahid and Dickinson. Ultimately, this website will show not only that Dickinson influenced Shahid’s work, but that his work responded to and interpreted hers, such that their works are in conversation with each other. Please review the current status of this project, including the descriptive first layer of the website, the storyboards exploring intertextuality in the second layer and third layers and a draft of Grimaldi’s own creative video interpretation of the two poems in conversation. This project was submitted in September 2013 to the Dickinson Electronic Archives 2.0: CALL FOR PROPOSALS for volume 3 -- Emily Dickinson’s Reading Culture to be published in 2014. Part One of Kerri's website can be found at http://dhinitiative.org/demos/grimaldi/

Initial Challenges for DHi in developing CLASS included answering, how do we publish in the digital Humanities? Much of collaborative research includes the use of copyrighted material and/or faculty research that is still in early development. These characteristics of the work in CLASS required that we reconsider the amount and type of information (public or not) conveyed to illustrate the progress of the students. We achieved our goal of facilitating discussion with other scholars in the field by including experts from across disciplines in the two-week intensive training program and through the natural association of collaborators on the faculty research projects. CLASS scholars biographies and research descriptions are announced on the DHi website. CLASS scholars give project prospectus presentations and/or example research projects at the end of their two-week training program in the first summer. These presentations and examples are given to an invited audience for feedback on the projects. Ultimately, each student presents or publishes their work off-campus. Several students have presented at Re:Humanities.

CLASS Program Summary and Future Plans
Students in research collaborations with Faculty and members of the DHi, have been successful in developing deep understanding of a specific long-term research agenda. DHi provides the immersive experiences and ongoing continuity with faculty research necessary to support this engagement. Most of our CLASS scholars have conducted collaborative investigation of a specific aspect of a long-term research agenda, determined their specific interests and contributions to that agenda, and publicly presented their scholarship “in progress” at Hamilton events and professional conferences.

Our future plans are to continue the CLASS program and to collaborate on its development with other liberal arts schools. Several schools have asked us about building similar models at their schools. This would require thinking more about scaling-up the program. One option we are considering is a form of “Summer Institute” for undergraduates in which we bring them together with their mentors and a larger DH community for a two-week program.

Appendix A: Proof of Concept for a Sustainable Digital Humanities Faculty Collection Infrastructure in the Liberal Arts.

DHi’s technology infrastructure and research support model is designed to be sustainable. That is, our approach will reduce the need for regular revamping of static faculty research web pages by creating infrastructure and processes that maintain research outcomes as “living” web presences accessible for faculty and student collaborative scholarship over time. To this end we researched best practices in digital collection development and preservation in collaboration with members of our library and decided to develop an institutional warehouse (repository) for digital collections (Fedora Commons). Fedora was chosen for its scalability and ability to be extremely flexible in the way objects can be accessed. Fedora has built-in flexibility to allow creation and maintenance of relationships among objects and across digital collections over time.

After researching open source collaborative tools to interface with collections in Fedora Commons we decided to make use of Islandora. Islandora can be used to create customized themes for faculty collections and projects. Our DHi Collection Development Team is working with the Islandora and Fedora Commons consultants (at Discovery Garden to create our digital scholarship infrastructure. By using experts to help with development we are making efficient use of the Mellon Grant to move this complex project forward.

2013 Appendix B: KPJR Form Vishnupada Complex Mahadeva Temple


Sl.No. Documentation Parameters
State/Dist./Block Gaya
1 Name of the monument/built heritage/site Mahdava Temple
2 Date/Period Early Medieval/Medieval?
3 Location To east and north of 16 Vedis/Padas in Vishnupada Complex
4 Approach East of the Vishnupada Temple, in the Vishnupada Complex
Airport Gaya
Railway Station Gaya
Bus Stand Gaya
5 Topographical features Slope of the Mundaprishta hill on the western bank of the Phalgu
6 Brief History
Temple seems to have origins in early medieval or medieval period. The exact date of the construction of the temple is difficult to determine because of lack of historical sources. It has images and inscriptions, but they may have been moved.

7 Local tradition associated with building/structure/site Gaya Shraddha, place of Pinda-dana as well as Darshana
8 Architectural style Inner sanctum, which has a Linga, and there are 20 pillars, which constitute the Mandapa
9 Description of the building/structure/site
Mahadeva temple: Inner sanctum with a Shiva Linga and a twenty pillared Mandapa. Narasimha Temple (east of Mahadeva): Small rock temple Sarasvati Temple (east of Narasimha): Small rock temple Facing Narasimha are two single chamber shrines. All five are treated as one unit in the Vishnupada complex.

10 Building/Structural material and other Stone and brick; pillars are stone
11 Usage(s) Active worship, Darshana
12 Ownership Same as Vishnupada Main Temple
13 Protection status Good
14 Present condition Maintained
15 Conservation assessment Alright
16 Photographs See attached
17 Plan/elevation, if available
18 Published references
19 General Remarks There is an inscription
20 Name and address of compiler with date elements used Abhishek Singh Amar Matthew Sayers

Mahadeva Temple (129):

By opening

1. Vishnu, 16'' (122)

2. Camunda, 16'' (120, 121)

There's no logic to the temple - they have plastered images all over the place; normally, you would not see Bishnu and Camunda next to each other, but in this case we do, in a disorganized fashion. For instance, they are in the same niche, but Camunda is platered higher than Vishnu, which speaks to the disorganization of the collection process.
South wall

3. Ganesha, 16'' (122)

4. Inscription (123-125)

Appears to be painted more recently.
5. Eroded Uma-Maheshvaga, 14'' (126)

Inner sanctum (127)

6. Huge Shiva Linga (127)

North wall

7. Uma-Maheshvara, 16'' (128)

By opening, on the north, west-facing niche; left

8. Durga, 36'' (130)

9. New inscription (130)

Outside, left

10. Dasavatara (131)

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2014
"Digital Cultural Empowerment"

Hosted at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Université de Lausanne

Lausanne, Switzerland

July 7, 2014 - July 12, 2014

377 works by 898 authors indexed

XML available from https://github.com/elliewix/DHAnalysis (needs to replace plaintext)

Conference website: https://web.archive.org/web/20161227182033/https://dh2014.org/program/

Attendance: 750 delegates according to Nyhan 2016

Series: ADHO (9)

Organizers: ADHO