As readers of this blog know, we are beginning to explore the potential for a digital humanities center here at the University of North Dakota. The Department of English already has invested in a digital humanities class and has several faculty members with research interest in the field. My interest in the Department of History is in the emerging fields of digital history and digital archaeology. So far, a small working group has fashioned some basic material that sought to define digital humanities here on campus and outline potential directions for our work.
This past week, UND's new President circulated an invitation for "White Papers" asking for resources that would help interdisciplinary groups on campus develop new ideas or shift the emphasis of exiting groups. We plan to organize some of our existing material into a white paper and request funding that will help develop digital humanities here on campus. The trick is to translate our groups goals into a viable request for resources.
One thing that is striking about our campus is that there are a number of ongoing digital projects in draw upon digital technology and resources already on campus. This work ranges from the creation of digital texts to the use of GIS in archaeological and geographical research to innovative use of digital audio, video, and photography. The goal of any Center or Working Group here would be to create a center of gravity not only to promote these projects to the administration and wider public but also to encourage the kind interaction between individuals that will likely stimulate collaborative research, cross-disciplinary projects, or new technologies. As anyone who has worked in academia knows, the best way to stimulate research is to make lots of money available to collaborative projects. This is probably not a viable option at present so we have worked to come up with other ways to focus the intellectual infrastructure already present on campus is a productive way. The hope is that this group or center would form a crucial component in helping the campus and scholars in the humanities transition from analogue perspectives on their research to embracing the wide range of digital technologies and methods that will characterize the next generation of research and teaching.
The ironic thing about many of our efforts is that they involve distinctly non-digital methods and resources. First we all concluded that some kind of space on campus for our Working Group or Center would foster faculty collaboration. I work mostly in my office and I am sure that many of my colleagues have their favorite productive spaces, but a central location for informal or formal discussions about digital approaches to the humanities would nevertheless represent an important aspect of the kind legitimacy and visibility necessary to promote our work. We also discussed the need for a lecture series. My vision would be to run two a year and pair a faculty lecture with an outside speaker. We will likely ask for resources to fund two graduate students who would help prepare external grant applications, maintain the web site (a digital projects portal), and support various campus projects in the digital humanities.
Since the resources would only be available once (as opposed to sustaining support) we decided not to ask for much in the way of hardware or even software (although we will include several crucial and expensive software packages) which have well-established horizons of obsolescence and little value unless backed by sustainable funding. It seems that funds right now would best serve to foster the kind of social and intellectual infrastructure on campus that would be largely self-sustaining in the future.
It's always hard to know how any proposal will be received. There is reason, however, for optimism as the President has already assumed that a center for digital humanities exists on campus. We hope that we won't disappoint him too much when we tell him that our work is still in early stages and needs support from the administration to reach its fullest potential.