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Several members of the Hamilton community represented the College at a recent conference titled Our (Digital) Humanity: Storytelling, Media Organizing and Social Justice, at Lehigh University.

Doran Larson, the Walcott-Bartlett Chair of Ethics and Christian Evidences and Professor of Literature and Creative Writing; Kathy Kwasniewski, administrative assistant for the American Prison Writing Archive; and Will Rasenberger ’19 discussed the American Prison Writing Archive (APWA) in a session on Narratives in Confinement.

The hands-on presentation guided participants in choosing scanned, handwritten essays from the American Prison Writing Archive and then transcribing the essays into texts that can be searched by terms such as author state, ethnicity, and religion, as well as key words and phrases.

The exercise was designed to allow participants to experience the writings of incarcerated people in the U.S. today and contribute to expanding the number of essays available to APWA users with specific interests.

Participants were also able to discuss the experience as one that “frees the voices of incarcerated people for reception by a global public.” In addition, participants left with the means to arrange transcription sessions at their home campuses, community centers, or anywhere visitors might benefit from this real-time, online experience — something that could lead to the creation of regional sites for essay solicitation and intake.

The conference was part of Lehigh’s Mellon Digital Humanities Initiative for Engaging Undergraduates with the Local Community (MDHI). According to the program’s website, MDHI is the result of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and “focuses on strengthening partnerships between Lehigh and Bethlehem [Pa.] to develop collaborative approaches that document social change and spur meaningful inquiry within the community.” Our (Digital) Humanity was the culminating conference of the three-year grant.

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