A Powerful Legacy and a Bright Future in the Digital Humanities

The University of Virginia has long been a pioneer in digital humanities and today remains on the cutting edge of the field. Faculty in the UVA Library and across the humanities and computer science disciplines are working together to build new avenues for research and create robust repositories to share their findings with scholars around the world.

This Friday and Saturday, more than 100 members of UVA’s digital humanities community will come together at a new “DH@UVA” conference to discuss the future of their work at UVA and explore new means of collaboration.

“One of the things that I think is most important about the digital humanities at UVA is its proven history,” said conference co-host Ron Hutchins, UVA’s vice president for information technology. “DH@UVA is hopefully going to be a coordinating entity. The focus of the conference is going to be connecting people.”

The gathering will pull in voices from all over Grounds to share ideas. For new faculty members like Assistant Professor of Computer Science Vicente Ordóñez-Román, it’s an opportunity to meet new research partners. Ordóñez-Román, who specializes in artificial intelligence and visual and linguistic analytics, will share how his work can complement research in media and communications.“Having been here for the 1990s and having helped to write Virginia’s first chapter in the digital humanities, it’s great to have an opportunity to help launch the next chapter as well,” said John Unsworth, University librarian, dean of libraries and professor of English. “At the conference Friday and Saturday, I’ll be asking faculty from across Grounds what approach they would take to digital humanities if we were starting from scratch in the current environment. I’m eager to see what emerges from that conversation.”

As UVA prepares for the next stage of innovation in this area, UVA Today offers a look back at a sample of the top digital humanities scholarship the University has produced already.

The Chaco Research Archive: Preserving an Archeological Treasure

The Chaco Research Archive, created by Stephen Plog, David A. Harrison Professor of Archaeology, is a collective history of archeological research from Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. The ruins of the Chaco Culture National Historic Park are a site of ancestral importance to many Native Americans of the Southwest and were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. Prior to the creation of the archive, archeological data collected there between the 1890s and the mid-20th century was widely scattered across the country. Hosted by the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities and UVA’s Department of Anthropology, the archive works with research partners around the country to collect and maintain a searchable database of archeological information about the site.

Collective Biographies of Women

“Collective Biographies of Women” is an annotated bibliography of English-language biographies of some of history’s greatest women. The digital project is based on English Professor Alison Booth’s book, “How to Make It as a Woman: Collective Biographical History from Victoria to the Present.” Booth, academic director of the Scholars’ Lab, pulls together these varied portraits, examining the complex rhetorical communication in words and images by different biographers, editors, illustrators and publishers. Inside, users can find more information about the differing views of figures like Queen Elizabeth I, Pocahontas, Joan of Arc and Harriet Tubman.

Digitally Mapping William Faulkner’s World

UVA English Professor Stephen Railton and the University’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities are working with collaborators from around the world on a “Digital Yoknapatawpha.” Yoknapatawpha is the famous fictional setting of 14 of Faulkner’s novels and 54 of his short stories. A prototype of the digital archive is available now with interactive maps and timelines. Eventually it will include links to places, characters and events in Faulkner’s literary world.

Neatline: Mapping the Humanities Through Time and Space

Neatline, a digital program created by the UVA Scholars’ Lab, is meant to help scholars think about their research and data in spatial terms. It overlays portions of text and research information with maps and timelines, making it easier to spot patterns and identify new avenues for inquiry.

Illustrated maps appear as users open a Neatline project, each marked with clickable dots sprinkled throughout the landscape. In some exhibits, elements of the ancient world spring to life with visuals and vivid descriptions when clicked upon. Dates run along the bottom of the screen to anchor each element of the Neatline project in time as well as space.

The Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project

The Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project is the most comprehensive digital archive of primary-source materials available about the infamous trials. UVA Professor of Religious Studies Benjamin Ray worked with the University’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities to develop the award-winning archive. One particularly popular tool in the archive digitally maps the geography and timing of each accusation of witchcraft. Recently, Ray and Chris Gist, a Geographic Information Systems specialist in Alderman Library’s Scholars’ Lab, worked with a team of other scholars and used data from the archive to pinpoint the exact location where the 19 accused witches were executed during the trials.

The Valley of the Shadow: A Window into the Civil War

Created by Edward Ayers, the former dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and now the president emeritus of the University of Richmond, “The Valley of the Shadow” provides primary source documents detailing everyday life in towns on either side of the Civil War. This rich archive contains thousands of original letters, diaries, newspapers, speeches, census and church records left by the residents of Augusta County, Virginia and Franklin County, Pennsylvania. It provides scholars with a detailed window into the period from John Brown’s raid all the way through the era of Reconstruction.

Media Contact

Katie McNally

University News Associate Office of University Communications