Digital Humanities: the power of the computer

woman with flat screen TV in background, classroom

McGinn teaser.jpgWhen Emily McGinn became the first Digital Humanities coordinator at UGA, one of her first tasks was introducing people to the concept of digital humanities and their implications for faculty research and teaching across the entire campus:

"Digital humanities involves using the power of the computer to aggregate humanities information. So, for instance, instead of reading one book, you can read 1,000 books at once," McGinn said. "It enables humanities scholars to ask different research questions about the material they're studying. I wouldn't be able to ask my own brain if I read 1,000 books to remember all these things about themes, syntax, patterns and the like and index them, but I can with a computer."

McGinn pairs up with faculty to develop projects that students can take to earn the digital humanities certificate, which introduces students to the hands-on quantitative side of humanities research. One of her favorite projects so far has been Death and Human History in Athens, a project that has spanned five classes-two classes in history and classes in African-American studies, historic preservation and human osteology from the anthropology department. McGinn goes into each class to work directly with the students, teaching them via workshops and trainings about data collection.

"Going forward, I think we're going to see much more of an emphasis on data," she said. "And as much as I really, really resist ‘scientizing' the humanities—I really don't want to do that at all-I think there is merit to expanding the horizons of humanities scholars and letting them explore data—driven methodologies."

Digital humanities at UGA recently received a boost among faculty when it became eligible for the Study in a Second Discipline fellowship from the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost. The impetus was largely due, McGinn said, to a push by Roxanne Eberle, an associate professor of English in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. McGinn is currently working with Eberle each week on a project analyzing the letters of Amelia Opie, a British novelist and poet from the late 1700s.

The Willson Center, the UGA librairies and the Center for Teaching and Learning work together with our schools and colleges to bring more resources to faculty and to introduce best practices and methods. New tools present great possibility for using data in the classroom and in research, bringing the richness of all human knowledge to a wider array of questions, challenges and analyses than has ever been possible.

Image: Emily McGinn by Andrew Davis Tucker for UGA