Scholars' Lab Helps U.Va. Graduate Students Expand Their Research

September 11, 2008

September 12, 2008 — Some graduate students are doing their research at the corner of Technology and Academia.

On Tuesday, three graduate students — newly appointed fellows at the University of Virginia's Scholars' Lab at Alderman Library — explained to an audience of about 40 people how they will use the lab's technology to pursue their research.

The two-year-old lab caters to the research, digitization and online editing needs of faculty and students in the humanities and social sciences.

Graduate history student Jean Bauer is building a database to aid her research into the creation of the U.S. Foreign Service. Pierre Dairon of the French department is using technology to organize, track and map geographically all the versions of Evangeline, an American literary character who appears in many different media and locales. Abigail Holeman is exploring social organization in an ancient Mexican civilization by comparing ritual and cosmology with the built environment at a northern Mexico archeological site.

Bauer, who plans to build a relational database of the who, how and where of U.S. diplomacy in Europe in the late 18th century, said much of the work on her project was possible without the aid of the lab's technology, but would have taken a lot more time and effort.

"A lot of what I am doing it to make traditional scholarship much faster," she said.

As she builds her databases, she is concerned about making information available for other people to use in their own research.

"How we store information changes how we look at it," she said, adding that she is interested in how technology affects the academic process.

One way it affects academia is to bring generations together.

"We see an increasing need for faculty and graduate students to come together on intellectual grounds, with their research and teaching interests, to develop their own community," Joseph Gilbert, coordinator of the Scholars' Lab, said. "Students and faculty have taken research with vast amounts of information to new levels."

The Scholars' Lab pays $10,000 to each fellow, which Gilbert said gives them the option of not teaching while they pursue their research. Last year the lab offered 4 one-semester fellowships, but this year changed it to three yearlong awards, giving fellows time to tackle a more involved project.

A selection committee reviews the applicants' project proposals.

"They are looking for proposals that are innovative and which make sense within the discipline," Gilbert said.

On Tuesday, the fellows outlined their research and how the technology will help them, while their audience lunched on pizza and salad. Afterward, the audience and presenters mingled informally.

"It is impressive to watch them stand up and set the stage for their fellowship work," said Bethany Nowviskie, director of digital research and scholarship at the library.

Nowviskie said the fellows will be invited back to present their research findings after their year is over. Next month, two of last year's fellows will present their completed research projects.

The lab has created its own blog ( for graduate fellows in Digital Humanities, faculty and Scholars' Lab staff.

— By Matt Kelly