The mood in the room is jovial – all smiles and in-jokes. For the past two weeks, the five Weinberg College instructors sitting around the conference table at the Kaplan Institute have spent all day, every day discussing and debating how to tackle the daunting process of digitizing their work. For most of them, it’s no small task; much of their material has been historically taught via very traditional means (read: lectures and readings). But now, having come out the other side of 10 continuous days of presentations on what can be done with today’s technology, they must stand in front of their workshop leaders and department chairs to lay bare their plans for the coming nine months. Smiles all around are a very good sign.
Each summer, Northwestern’s Digital Humanities Summer Workshop brings together faculty, librarians, and technologists for an intensive, collaborative experience in developing digital humanities pedagogy and research projects with meaningful roles for students. Faculty who apply to the workshop come with a project in mind and their vision is either confirmed or evolves dramatically based on inspiration from the tools and presentations they are exposed to over the course of the workshop.
Here are this year’s projects:
Senior Lecturer of Political Science, and Director of the Center for Forced Migration Studies
Refugee Voices Digital Repository
Dr. Ben-Arieh’s project asks a complicated question: what is our responsibility to refugees? That question will be explored through two new courses (Refugee Settlement Policies & Localities and Constitutional Challenges in Comparative Perspective) which seek to put traditional understandings of social science data in conversation with the humanities to consider the many non-measurable, yet visible ways in which resettlement is primarily a local government matter.
Two of the major deliverables from this work will be an interactive annotation of the 1980 Refugee Act and an interactive map of Chicago. The digital annotation will create a color-coded “process map” for understanding the Act – its key phrases, history, legal and political contestation, etc. – and the map will illuminate how the application this Act affects the everyday life of those resettling in its neighborhoods.
Associate Professor of English
Mapping Latina/o Modernism
Dr. Cutler’s project is tied to research for a planned book, Invisible Hands: Print Culture, Class, and Latino/a Modernism (tentative title), which argues that print serials were the most important literary institution for Latino/a communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It will examine how writers and editors refracted class anxieties through the creation and circulation of these literary works.
The major deliverable from this work, apart from the book, will be an online database that describes, and in part recovers, an archive of tens of thousands of forgotten texts. Within the context of an interactive map, data from these texts (title, publication, author, time, place, etc.) will be visualized to understand their relational networks. For instance, the limited work started during the workshop has already helped uncover that Peruvian and Spanish writers had the widest crossover in America, not Mexican authors as would seem most likely.
Luce Postdoctoral Fellow in Religion, Politics, and Global Affairs
Indigenous Religions Meta-Archive (IRMA)
Dr. Dees’ project looks deep into the history of the scientific studies of Native American religions, specifically how the US Government has influenced their cultural and religious practices. Her innovative approach to understanding how different historical actors (practitioners, scholars, litigators) have contributed to the production of knowledge about indigenous religious thought, practice, and material culture will offer a complex and multi-layered look into how theology and politics shape the construction of data.
By collecting and connecting archives and resources, adding metadata to each resource entry, mapping archives geographically, and adding the data to a timeline, Dr. Dees hopes to create a platform that applies the scientific method to comparative religions and archival data. Through this work, students will help address how theology and politics have shaped the ideas related to native and indigenous religions.
Assistant Professor of English
Remapping the Renaissance: Black Women’s Print Circuits
Dr. Myers’ project focuses on the Third-World feminist thrust of the Black Women’s Writing Renaissance of the 1970s and 80s. Using social network analysis, Dr. Myers and her students will seek to explore the transnational dimensions of this explosion of black women’s writing and creativity, examining in particular the ways in which this flourishing of production and publishing operated across what we have long considered its regional and national boundaries.
The project will focus not only on the early presence of black women writers, editors, and literary scholars in historically white universities and major publishing houses but also on their autonomous works, including conditions: five (The Black Women’s Issue) and The Black Woman: An Anthology. The objective is to make a visualization of the writers and their print circuits using social networks and geographical mapping to understand their relationship and influence on each other.
Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Law
The Talmud Project: A Digital Critical Edition of Tractate Makkot
Dr. Wimpfheimer’s project will create a digital platform for studying the Talmud, a central text of Rabbinic Judaism. This new platform and accompanying desktop app will create a user-friendly apparatus for producing a crowd-sourced critical edition of the Talmud by training users in the use of the tools and critical methodology necessary for the study of the Talmud. It also will create a framework that addresses and eases the major challenges of its study for a lay audience – namely its use of multiple languages, many right-to-left, and its switching between them without prior indication.
The platform will support metadata tagging of individual elements of the Talmud – language, morphology, etc. – to allow for new visualizations like geographic maps and of social and family networks that can incorporate historized and localized notions of commentaries on the work that range from the eleventh century to today all over the world.
At the conclusion of the workshop, Josh Honn, co-leader of the Summer Workshop and Digital Humanities Librarian, reflected on the process of the group and their work ahead.
“This workshop is such a generous and generative space for both exploring what the digital can bring to the humanities, and, more importantly, what the humanities can bring to the digital,” said Honn. “Through critical exploration, digital experimentation, and transdisciplinary discussion, we all work together to create impactful forms of scholarship and pedagogy. Every year I say, ‘This has been the best group yet, and every year it’s true!’ I’m really looking forward to these collaborations over the next few years.”
The 17-18 cohort of Digital Humanities Fellows is the first of five years of new funding from the Office of the Provost and Weinberg College Dean’s Office. It is hosted annually by the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities and co-organized by Northwestern University Libraries and The Weinberg College Media and Design Studio.
Digital Learning will follow these projects over the course of the academic year as their exciting work takes shape and will post an update in the Spring Quarter to tell the story of the journey each has taken as theory meets practice in the classroom.