Launching the Digital Humanities Movement at Washington and Lee University: A Case Study

Barry, Knudson, Youngman, SprenkleBy Jeff Barry, Associate Professor and Associate University Librarian, Julie Knudson, Director of Academic Technologies, Sara Sprenkle, Associate Professor of Computer Science, Paul Youngman, Associate Professor of German

 

 

Abstract: This paper offers a case history of the development of digital humanities (DH) at Washington and Lee University. We will focus on how we informally and then formally implemented DH, especially the meshing of the various partner constituencies, the design of our program as it has evolved over time, and the technological environment within which we are supporting DH. We will conclude with an analysis and evaluation of our work in progress and detail our short term and long term future.

Keywords: digital humanities, collaboration, information technologies, library

Introduction

We faced a challenge at Washington and Lee University (W&L) in the summer of 2012: how does one start a movement – in this case, amovement in the digital humanities (DH). The state of DH on campus at that time is best expressed by Suzanne Keen (then interim dean of the college, now dean):

Everybody was working independently, and didn’t really even know about one another’s projects. I felt that if you said “Digital Humanities,” that relatively few W&L faculty would have any idea what that even meant (Suzanne Keen, e-mail message to author, March 11, 2014).

Her vision for the end state of a DH program on campus is compelling. She foresees DH permeating the curriculum widely and gaining broad acceptance among faculty, staff, and students. Moreover, she foresees liberal arts graduates who are information fluent, able to work with digital artifacts, and for whom working with large data sets is a matter of course. The difficulty we face is building a bridge from the current state of DH as Dean Keen describes it to her exciting vision.

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