Mellon Awards $800K for Digital Humanities Initiative

DHi Co-Directors Janet Simons and Angel David Nieves
DHi Co-Directors Janet Simons and Angel David Nieves

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Hamilton College $800,000 in support of the Digital Humanities Initiative, a research and teaching collaboration in which new media and computing technologies are used to promote humanities-based research, scholarship and teaching, including curriculum development, across the liberal arts. This is one of the largest humanities grants ever received by Hamilton College. According to co-director Associate Professor of Africana Studies Angel David Nieves, DHi is “a multi institutional project, a sustainable model to bring multiple faculties together to share in their research and to link departments that traditionally do not work together.”

“I am confident that the DHi will transform the ways in which humanities scholarship and teaching are practiced not only at Hamilton, but also, through collaborations, among our peers across the liberal arts,” wrote President Joan Hinde Stewart in the DHI grant application. “To remain relevant to new generations of students and faculty, the humanities must embrace the tools of technology to enhance scholarship, create knowledge, and inform curricula. Hamilton’s DHi will make these digital tools available to faculty and their student partners, teach them how to employ these tools to create new knowledge and interactive collections of artifacts, and help them integrate their discoveries into the classroom and beyond.”

“This is a paring of several academic departments and Information Technology Services (ITS),” said co-director Janet Simons, associate director of instructional technology services. “And it evolved with the establishment of the new Cinema and New Media Studies minor,” Nieves added.

The topic of digital humanities began germinating more than a decade ago with the formation of the HILLgroup (Hamilton Information & Learning Liaisons) created by ITS and the library to support faculty in the identification, selection, and use of technologies and content applicable to their teaching needs. The group has emphasized digital literacy development and has scaled to support about 22 courses per semester, impacting approximately 25% of the student body.

Prior to applying to the Mellon Foundation, several Hamilton faculty members developed prototypes that are examples of the collection of rich media resources and opportunities for collaborative research on which the DHi is focused.

Professor of History Thomas Wilson created a project titled Digital Humanities: The Autumnal Rites to Confucius and Beyond which includes footage of annual sacrificial rites that venerate Confucius in a Taiwanese temple. These rites were no longer performed after the fall of the imperial court in 1911, but were revived again by local authorities as early as the 1920s and were formally adopted in Taiwan by the Republic of China in the 1960s. A student researcher produced a DVD including subtitles of Wilson’s translations of the existing video. Future steps in this project will include an enhanced website with interactive links providing detailed background on the rite, annotated illustrations from ritual manuals on the rite, notes on key changes in the rite in imperial times, a bibliography of sources, and photographs and links to other web sites of similar temples. The development of a virtual Confucius temple, allowing Avatars to enter a temple to explore the sights and sounds, is also a future piece of the project. A conference attended by specialists on this and similar rituals, to discuss development of a consortium for a digital humanities resource on religious rituals may follow.

"In describing the benefits of the DHi, Simons explained, “We will be teaching students the importance of collecting information and the significance of multimedia collections. … DHi is about making resources accessible and working collaboratively, annotating, searching for additional sources.” Nieves added, “Working with other institutions, [faculty and students] will be harvesting relevant research and developing tools to do so. DHI is a lab for collaboration in the humanities.”

Patricia O’Neill, the Edmund A. LeFevre Professor of English, is beginning work on a site that focuses on the life and work of the Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali, who died in 2001. According to O’Neill, “Shahid was a beloved teacher of creative writing at Hamilton in the late 80s and early 90s, he was nominated for the National Book Award in 2000, and lines from his poetry are quoted by almost every writer in the world who thinks about the sub-continent and its woes … On November 5, Hena Ahmad, Shahid's sister, will come to campus to talk about her work on literature and feminism but she will also meet with us in the digital humanities group to discuss how we might be able to digitalize Shahid's papers and correspondence and create a virtual research archive where readers and scholars might exchange ideas related to Shahid's poetry and the ongoing troubles in Kashmir.”

Nieves’ own project, Soweto ’76: A Living Digital Archive, represents six years of work researching, collecting and organizing audio and video that has been repurposed in new ways to make available to students in their own research and writing. Nieves received national recognition at the 2009 Nebraska Digital Workshop in October 2009 for his work from The Center for Digital Research in the Humanities (CDRH) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The goal for the first three years of the DHi is to launch 10 sustainable projects. Currently other planned projects include:

  • Randy Ericson, Couper Librarian - Experiencing Shaker Communities
  • Martine Guyot-Bender, professor of French - The French Film Documentary Digital Repository
  • Angel David Nieves, Associate Professor of Africana Studies - Mapping Soweto
  • Vincent Odamtten, professor of English - A Multimedia Approach to Ghanaian Culture and Literature/Africana Studies
  • Kyoko Omori, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures - Comparative Japanese Film Archive
  • James Wells, visiting assistant professor of classical studies - A Digital Museum of Classical Reception

In the future, the DHi plans to sponsor a wide range of activities including faculty development workshops, media literacy programs, scholarly conferences and symposia, undergraduate seminars, a fellows program for Hamilton College students and faculty, and humanities programs designed for the public-at-large. Ultimately the directors hope the DHi will lead to the creation of a “cohort of faculty well-trained in the digital humanities who can assist in outreach, mentor colleagues, and enhance faculty development.”

Summarizing the project, Nieves said,“DHi represents a confluence of energies…. We would ideally like to see faculty creating classes around this initiative. …In this program, no question is too big. And the technology will allow people to take ownership of their stories, it will allow people to become scholars through technology.”

Back to Top