University of South Carolina

USC center has new digital digs Sept. 18

By Peggy Binette, peggy@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-7704

USC’s Center for Digital Humanities (CDH) has a lot to celebrate.

In addition to a new home centrally located in Thomas Cooper Library, the center has a new associate director and has landed one of the first grant awards in a new National Endowment for the Humanities program.

The center, launched two years ago in the College of Arts and Sciences and now affiliated with University Libraries, is part of an emerging field that helps scholars apply new technologies to historical, literary and cultural records of the past in ways that enhance research and teaching. There are nearly 100 digital humanities centers in the country.

Colin Wilder, a Solmsen Fellow with the University of Wisconsin Madison’s Institute for Research in the
Humanities, was named associate director of the center in July. He joins David Miller, the center’s director and a Carolina Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature.

Together, the digital duo, with the help of graphic designer Aidan Zanders, programmer Mike Helms and a team of graduate and undergraduate students, help faculty envision ideas, connect them with collaborating partners on campus, incubate projects and assist with the pursuit of external funding once a prototype is developed.

One could think of the center as sort of an academic digital dating service that matches scholars’ promising humanities projects with innovators in engineering and computing.

With most digital humanities centers located in libraries, Miller says Thomas Cooper Library is the perfect home for USC’s center.

“The library, both in a practical sense and symbolically, is the right place of us. The center’s new location is halfway between Swearingen and Humanities and Gambrell, and we work closely with librarians in digital collections,” said Miller.

With four projects completed, 12 underway and three on the horizon, the CDH staff has been busy. Many of the projects thus far have focused on gaming, app development and digital sites to accompany book projects.

“We want to help people visualize projects, showing them things that they could do,” Wilder said. “The next three years will be a process for us in which we develop our profile, build on our strengths and develop new ones. New traffic to the center may bring about our emerging areas.”

Miller, one of the world’s top scholars on 16th century English poet Edmund Spenser, recently was awarded one of seven NEH Digital Humanities Implementation Grants for a project whose prototype helped launch the USC Center for Digital Humanities in fall 2010.

The project, called Paragon, combines Miller’s knowledge of Spenser’s works, including the famous 600-page epic poem “The Fairie Queene” and its many editions, with the technology innovation of Song Wang, an associate professor in computer science.

Paragon uses Wang’s complex algorithms to align images of different editions of the same work in order to detect variants in the text. The result is a digital tool that eliminates the laborious back-and-forth manual task of reading two editions of the same work.

“We believe we’ll be able to figure out that level of perfected text that we couldn’t do before. To be able to dump works into a computer and it present you with the perfected variants of the text is extraordinary,” Wilder said. “It still requires professional scholarly judgment to say, ‘no this variation is not important but this one is.’ It can do the technical part of the scholarly work that is so labor intensive.”

Wilder says the potential for the digital collation tool is great, with application to all sorts of images. Plans call for James West, a researcher at Penn State University, to test Paragon on edited works of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It also will be tested on an early English ballads collection at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Faculty and staff are invited to learn more about Paragon and other digital projects under way at USC at the center’s open house Sept. 18.

If you're going

  • What: USC Center for Digital Humanities Open House
  • When: 3 - 5 p.m., Sept. 18
  • Where: Thomas Cooper Library, Level 5
  • Explore: Meet the staff, celebrate the grand opening of the center’s new office and meeting space, see an expo of nearly two dozen digital projects from across campus and enjoy a reception.
  • Learn More: http://cdh.sc.edu/

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Posted: 09/06/12 @ 10:45 AM | Updated: 09/18/12 @ 8:24 AM | Permalink