Registration Open for Fall ’15 DH Practicum

Registration is now open for the Fall ’15 offering of the lab’s Digital Humanities Practicum (American Studies 850).  This course approaches digital humanities through practical experience in a lab setting and seminar-style reflection upon and discussion of that experience.

The lab develops tools and collaborative work processes that make it easier, cheaper, and faster for scholars, students, and cultural heritage organizations to “do” public-facing digital humanities projects.  A significant expression of this commitment is the continuing development and refinement of DH Press, an award-winning multi-purpose digital humanities toolkit built on the widely-used WordPress digital publishing platform.   Our commitment to developing new models for public engagement through digital humanities is currently being expressed in “Digital Loray”: an extended, community-based effort to use digital technologies to integrate local history into the experience of one of the largest adaptive reuse projects in the state’s history (the Loray Mill in Gastonia, NC).

Participants will work with Will Bosley, General Manager, and other staff of the DIL to contribute to ongoing DIL project work and to augment and expand published projects.  In addition to exploring and evaluating a range of digital humanities tools, they will learn to use DH Press to design and implement digital humanities projects and explore different ways of visualizing digital humanities data for academic and non-academic audiences.  They will gain valuable experience in developing effective work practices and hone project management and communication/presentation skills of particular relevance to interdisciplinary, collaborative, public-facing  digital humanities practice.

The seminar dimension of course, led by Robert Allen, James Logan Godfrey Distinguished Professor of American Studies and Director of the DIL, will connect the practicum experience with issues and debates in the digital humanities more generally through reading and discussion.

Enrollment is limited and is by permission of the instructor.  This course welcomes participation from graduate degree-seeking students from across the UNC-CH community; staff and faculty; graduate students at Duke, NCSU, and NCCU (via inter-institutional registration); and independent scholars/humanities practitioners (enrollment through Friday Center for Continuing Education).  No previous training or experience in digital humanities is required beyond the level of computer literacy and competence expected of any graduate-level student in the humanities.  This course counts toward the UNC-CH graduate certificate in digital humanities.

The course will meet on Mondays 3:30-6:25 pm in the Digital Innovation Lab (431 Greenlaw). Participants should plan to spend at least one additional hour each week in the lab during business hours working on small-group projects.

Expressions of interest should be sent to Professor Robert Allen:


NEH’s Brett Bobley to Speak at Launch of Digital Innovation Lab October 10, 2011

The Digital Innovation Lab will be “officially” launched on Monday, October 10, by College of Arts and Sciences Dean Karen Gil in conjunction with the visit to campus of Brett Bobley, Director of the Office of Digital Humanities of the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Bobley will give a public talk at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities (University Room, Hyde Hall) at 2 pm, followed by discussion/Q&A.   Faculty, staff, and students from UNC-CH, Duke, NCSU, and NCCU interested in the digital humanities are especially welcome.


Technology has already had an immense impact on the sciences. Fields like biology, chemistry, astronomy, and mathematics rely heavily on technology. But not simply for increased efficiency. It isn’t a matter of getting things done more quickly; rather it is about getting things done that couldn’t be done before. That’s the game-changing aspect of technology. . . .  [S]ince the widespread use of the Internet browser, the world has seen significant change in the way people read, write, learn, and communicate. . . .  This isn’t a fad or a trend but, I would argue, a permanent change in our society that needs to be addressed – and needs to be addressed by humanists.     –Brett Bobley, “Why the Digital Humanities?” (2008)

 The phrase “public good” often refers to the idea that there are good things—things of special social value—that ought to be produced for free public use rather than as a marketable commodity. . . .   Thomas Jefferson put it most eloquently: ‘He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.’. . .  [A]lthough public goods can be extended to more users at or near zero cost, they can be quite costly to produce in the first place. The case of digitally produced scholarship is an excellent example. Economic theory tells us that we ought to charge nothing for it at the margin: we ought to give it away. On the other hand, it tells us nothing about how to pay for its production or how much of it to produce. It does tell us that markets will underproduce this kind of good, though, and it also tells us that, as a general matter, the solution of public-goods problems requires collective action.” Our Cultural Commonwealth: The Report of the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences (2006), p. 23.


In the first of her recent six-part New York Times series, “Humanities 2.0,” Patricia Cohen announced: “the next big idea in language, history, and the arts? Data.” “Powerful technologies and vast stores of digitized materials,” she argued, are transforming the questions scholars and students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences might ask, the kinds of knowledge they might produce, how and with whom they work, and what “counts” as scholarly expression and productivity. (“Digital Keys for Unlocking the Humanities’ Riches,” Nov. 16, 2010)   The term “digital humanities” has emerged as a general term for application of digital technologies to everything from mapping exchanges of letters among Enlightenment thinkers to tracking the evolution of verb endings in written English.

The digital technologies that are driving change throughout humanistic disciplines within the academy are also creating a rapidly expanding space for what we might call public digital humanities: opening up new opportunities for scholarly engagement with non-academic audiences, democratizing access to archival holdings and public records, creating new teaching environments for K-12 students through “ubiquitous learning,” changing relationships between cultural heritage organizations (museums, libraries, preservation organizations) and their publics, creating vehicles for personal commentary and storytelling, allowing communities to rediscover the histories of neighborhoods lost and reborn, and increasing the relevance and value of cultural materials for new and different purposes.

The Digital Innovation Lab commences it works on the creation of digital “public goods” with this conversation about the promise and challenge represented by public digital humanities.  We want to use this occasion to bring together individuals and groups who are exploring this new frontier in the digital humanities , those for whom this work is or might be relevant, and those who might make important future contributions to its growth and development.

Among the questions that might frame our discussion:

  • What is the range of projects, programs, tools, and activities constituting the “field” of public digital humanities and what are examples of current best practice?
  • Who are the major organizational “players” in this arena and what are their roles/perspectives? (university units, cultural heritage organizations, government agencies, non-profits, etc.)
  • What challenges do public digital humanities activities present for the players?
  • What are the implications of embracing public digital humanities for archives, libraries, museums, university faculty and graduate students?


MSC Plans Third Project with Preservation Durham: Re-Populating Hayti ca. 1920 this Fall

Graduate and undergraduate students in Lab-linked courses this fall will work together with Preservation Durham to develop a new Main Street, Carolina online resource documenting the history of the Hayti neighborhood of Durham, N.C.  A team of graduate students from Robert Allen’s digital humanities/digital history seminar will design the project using the Main Street, Carolina software platform, working with our client/partner Andy Edmonds, a Preservation Durham board member.  Using city directories and census enumerations, they will create a searchable database of Hayti residents and businesses in 1920, which can be displayed on the 1913 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Durham.  The graduate students will then work with a team of undergraduates taking Allen’s “Main Street, Carolina” course this fall (AMST 350), to develop crowd-sourcing techniques for data entry and metadata processing.

Sanborn map for Hayti in 1913, showing Lincoln Hospital and White Rock Baptist Church

This project is being developed for Preservation Durham as a proof-of-concept model for a much more ambitious project to produce a comprehensive built-environment genealogy of Hayti, documenting the neighborhood’s development in the late 19th century, its heyday as the heart of the African-American community in Durham in the early 20th century, the “redlining” of the neighborhood in the late 1930s, and its eventual destruction as a result of “urban renewal” in the late 1960s.   A Main Street, Carolina project undertaken by graduate students in fall 2010 (“Dividing Durham”) digitized and published the “redlining” map and accompanying documentation for Durham, making these key documents available to the public for the first time since their production in 1937.

The project will draw upon the complete set of digitized, “stitched,” and georeferenced Sanborn Maps for Durham published between 1884 and 1913 (7 separate map sets), which reveal the growth of Hayti and Durham as a whole at the level of the individual dwelling and commercial building.

Contemporary satellite view of the same area.

For this project, the maps will be “repurposed” from their use in “Going to the Show,” the award-winning digital history resource developed in collaboration with UNC Library’s Carolina Digital Library and Archive and Documenting the American South.  As layers on top of contemporary satellite and street maps of Durham, the historical maps can be removed to reveal the built environment of what used to be Hayti as it is today.

MSC Partnering with Public History at UNC-Greensboro this Fall

Through the Main Street, Carolina program and Robert Allen’s graduate seminar in digital humanities/digital history, the Lab is partnering this fall with graduate students in UNC-Greensboro’s Graduate Concentrations in Museum Studies and Historic Preservation in the development of a new online resource using the Main Street, Carolina software platform.

Under the direction of Public History Director Professor Benjamin Filene, UNC-G graduate students are developing Windows to the Past: People, Places & Memory in Downtown Greensboro, a multi-faceted project that will offer public audiences several different ways of “touring” downtown and making connections between people, streetscapes, and sense of place. While buildings are the starting point, their goal is to “repopulate” the past by sharing human stories.  They are designing window-front displays, a printed self-guided tour, and a podcast.  UNC-Chapel Hill students will partner with them to design and implement an interactive web-based tour that both draws on and extends these other products, using the Main Street, Carolina software platform.


MSC Partnership with Civic Education Consortium this Fall

Through the Main Street, Carolina program, the Lab is partnering with the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government’s Civic Education Consortium in a pilot project to add K-12 lesson plans to Main Street, Carolina online sites.

This fall, Civic Education Consortium Project Director Christie Hinson will develop two lessons plans keyed to the N.C. Standard Course of Study for 8th grade North Carolina history.  One will be added to the Preservation Durham Tobacco Heritage Trail site, launched in spring 2011.  The second will  be developed as a part of one of four new Main Street, Carolina projects undertaken by graduate students in Robert Allen’s Fall Term 2011 seminar on digital humanities/digital history.

This partnership grew out of Christie’s participation in the Fall Term 2010 offering of the course.  She was a member of the team that worked with the City of Durham’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development to produce “Historic Parrish Street,” a virtual walking tour of the downtown Durham neighborhood once called “the Black Wall Street” because of the concentration of African-American financial institutions centered there.  Christie developed a lesson plan based on the project and circulated to teachers throughout the state via the Civic Education Consortium’s website.  To date, more than 1600 teachers have downloaded the lesson plan.

Tom Hanchett discusses Bearden and Charlotte 1911 projects: Sept. 2, 2011

Dr. Tom Hanchett, Historian at the Levine Museum of the New South, will discuss the two Main Street, Carolina projects on which he has partnered (Charlotte 1911 and Romare Bearden’s Charlotte) on Tuesday, Sept. 6, at 2 pm, in Robert Allen’s digital humanities graduate seminar (Peabody 08).

Charlotte 1911 re-presents data Hanchett used in his landmark monograph on urban segregation, Sorting Out the New South City, as what Steve Jobs would call a “recombinant mashup”: 4000 georeferenced data points drawn from the 1911 Charlotte city directory displayed on the 1911 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.

Romare Bearden’s Charlotte uses the Main Street, Carolina software platform to produce a “ghost tour” of the sites associated with the early life of the famed artist and his family–sites that find their way into his work many years after he left Charlotte for New York.  This project is the Levine Museum’s contribution to the Romare Bearden Centennial celebration.

Binotti and Smith discuss Gnovis: August 30, 2011

Lucia Binotti (Romance Languages, UNC-CH) and Chris Smith (Bioinformation, NCSU) will discuss their NEH-funded (Digital Start-Up) digital humanities project, “Gnovis,” in Robert Allen’s digital humanities class, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2:45 pm, Peabody 08.

“Gnovis is a software tool for visualizing entities and the relationships between them in well-defined domains of knowledge. Gnovis is a first attempt at producing an engine that can display corpora of knowledge in multi-dimensional environments, allowing for the visualization of extensive amounts of material organized semantically in nested clusters.”

Their presentation and discussion is also the kick-off event for this year’s program of speakers and activities sponsored  by the UNC Digital Scholarship Reading/Working Interest Group

“Astounding” Redlining Maps for Durham

Preservation Durham board member and Main Street, Carolina partner Andy Edmonds contributed five columns on the impact of digital technologies on historic preservation to the Durham Herald-Sun.  In “Preservation Going Digital” he highlights Richard Marciano’s work with Depression-era “redlining” maps, and the pilot project on redlining in Durham, “Dividing Durham,” developed by graduate students in Robert Allen’s fall ’10 digital humanities class.