200 Days in the Life of the College

Thursday, March 10

Adding a digital dimension to the humanities

By Allison Eck ’12

Imagine a chain linking together all of Hamilton’s major academic buildings. It would be like a fortified network bridging the departments, sometimes in creative and unlikely ways.

That’s what Angel Nieves, associate professor of Africana studies, had in mind when he helped pioneer Hamilton’s Digital Humanities Initiative (DHi), a research-​and-teaching collaboration that uses new media and computing technologies to inform and supplement humanities scholarship. He co-directs the initiative with Janet Simons, associate director of instructional technology services.

The project is, as Nieves puts it, a “confluence of energies,” challenging the way students and professors interact with digital archives and encouraging them to be co-creators of knowledge through these media. Made possible by the largest humanities grant Hamilton has ever received ($800,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation), the project was originally conceived as a response to the formation of the HILLgroup (Hamilton Information Learning and Liaisons) and to the recent creation of a minor in cinema and new media studies.

The DHi has helped professors advance their pedagogy and coursework through more than a dozen projects so far. “I can ask my colleagues to push themselves a little bit further,” Nieves says. “They’re asking a different set of questions and getting a different set of answers.” Professor of English Catherine Kodat, for example, is using geospatial mapping technologies to aid in her investigation of New York School artists and the gentrification of neighborhoods in New York City.

Nieves thinks that this endeavor will keep Hamilton at the forefront of higher education. As he says, “We have a legacy of being willing to take some chances, and it’s been clear that those moments have really helped to advance the College. This is another one of those moments.”