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Digital Humanities Working Group Offers Research Support for Scholars

From digital mapping to data visualization to tools for text analysis, USC faculty and students in the humanities and humanities-adjacent fields are increasingly using computation to expand both the scope and the reach of their research. But for scholars whose training doesn’t typically include computer science, venturing into the digital space can be daunting. 

That’s why the Digital Humanities Working Group, an offshoot of USC’s Humanities Collaborative that’s supported by the Digital Research Services team at University Libraries, has developed a range of resources for faculty who want to explore the ways computational tools can enhance their research. 

“Our goal is to make working in digital scholarship more approachable and less intimidating to humanities researchers,” says Scholarly Communications Librarian Amie Freeman. “Many of the scholars we meet with have fabulous ideas but aren’t sure how to get started. We can connect them with collaborators, tools, and even assistants to make their projects a reality.”

In addition to a wide range of software tools, the group can provide support from the Libraries’ Digital Research Services team and from computer science students who can help with everything from digitization to project management to website development.

The Digital Humanities Working Group brings DH-curious and accomplished DH practitioners together to share projects, ideas, and assistance.  “We want it to be accessible and casual where people felt comfortable sharing failures and crazy ideas and asking any type of question,” says Kate Boyd, the Libraries’ Director of Digital Research Services and Collections. “Hence, there are no recordings, just the conversation and memories that happened in that moment between those of us connecting online or in person.” 

The group, now in its fifth semester, also sponsors a series of talks which showcase the variety and expanse of digital humanities work happening at USC. Recent talks include librarian Greg Wilsbacher’s overview of his NEH-funded project to develop an AI tool that can aid in the description of archival film, music professor Marcelo Hazan’s discussion of his hypertext edition of the songs of a Brazilian composer, and political science professor Joshua Meyer-Gutbrod’s presentation on his work developing a database of state political campaign rhetoric in order to examine partisan agendas and rhetoric.

While many of the presenters have become adept at using digital humanities tools, the working group is not limited to those who already have DH skills, or even those who have clear ideas about how digital tools could enhance their work. The group describes itself as “an open community of digital humanities dabblers, novices, and practitioners who can share new and developing projects, discuss strategies for addressing the challenges of beginning and continuing digital humanities work, and find collaborators and colleagues across campus.”

Senior computer science major Sophia Riley, who has assisted three different faculty members with their projects, says the opportunities for cross-pollination between the humanities and computational sciences that the group affords have been both exciting and professionally enriching: “My work on digital humanities projects has given me the opportunity to learn and practice web development from multiple frameworks. It’s a great exercise in problem solving. All the projects I’ve worked on have been interesting, but what has always stood out to me is the passion my clients have for their projects! It really motivates me to do my best work.”

Boyd says both the list of digital resources available to humanities scholars and the proliferation of DH research across multiple disciplines at USC are impressive. “The work happening across campus includes the creation of digital repositories and online encyclopedias, web scraping, data and text analysis using machine learning, GIS, virtual reality, photogrammetry, and artificial intelligence,” Boyd notes. “The creation of virtual realities by Jason Porter in the School of Journalism, Dr. Sarah Williams’ work on the audible history of medieval music manuscripts in the Singing the Archives project, and the Institute of Southern Studies' Dr. Smith and Dr. Simmons’ work transcribing 18th century probate records are just a few examples of the fascinating projects that have been launched in the last few years.”

For those interested in learning more about DH tools, how they can be deployed in humanities research, and the support that’s available to USC faculty and students as they adopt new digital resources, University Libraries is offering an introductory workshop, Getting Started with Digital Resources, on April 18. The workshop will provide an overview of content management systems like WordPress and Omeka, text analysis tools such as JSTOR’s Constellate, and data cleaning and visualization tools.

 “We hope that anyone interested in diving into a digital project or even just dabbling in the digital humanities will attend the workshop,” says Scholarly Communications Librarian Amie Freeman. “This professional training session will equip campus researchers with the skills they need to get started working in the digital humanities realm, and we look forward to building new connections with students and faculty.”

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