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Exploring the Digital Humanities at K-State

By Thomas Webb
Communications Student Writer

While digital humanities may still be a mystery to many on campus there is one place that is attempting to promote the still nascent field. The Digital Humanities Center in the College of Arts & Sciences at K-State, DHCenter@KSU for short, is an English Department initiative that looks to  explore and encourage humanities research and teaching in our digital world.  . 

As the Digital Humanities Coordinator and Blake Archive Bibliographer, Mark Crosby, who is also an assistant professor in English, puts it, “The digital humanities work to promote scholarship, and access to materials that otherwise would not be open. This encourages people to do cultural research where they generally wouldn’t, and depending on their research methodology, they are going to enrich culture. The more we know about a particular time period and the literature coming out of it, the more we will enhance our knowledge of not just that time period, but also of ourselves as a species.”

Great WarThe DH Center is working to establish open access databases that allow significant scholarly work as well as free public availability to further humanity’s understanding of the culture around them. This is especially important as the ubiquity of the internet has shifted many academic materials online. As more texts and books become digitized, there is a need to be able to actually work with such a large amount of data. This is where the digital humanities come in. However, this is also where many scholars and students find themselves floundering. To many, the skill set to develop DH projects just simply is not there, a problem the Center is keenly aware of and actively working to solve.

Crosby is hoping to provide an environment of collaboration and training to assist scholars and students with not just understanding the digital humanities as a scholarly tool, but also to establish a base of technical knowledge that will allow for further growth within the Center. Crosby is conscious of the technical barrier into digital scholarship. “Part of Digital Humanities is a negotiation of traditional scholarly endeavors, and the digital tools we have now,” Crosby said.

While the DH Center already collaborates with the Computer Science Department at K-State, Crosby hopes to recruit graduate students who already have the technical acumen to teach undergraduates and promote involvement. “One of the benefits that DH brings is offering students a skill set they wouldn’t ordinarily get if they were just, say, English majors,” Crosby said.

Currently, the Center is working on two major projects: a database on Photographer Gordon Parks, a Kansas native, and an archive of American poetry from the First World War. However, both of these projects are still on the ground floor of development, and require funding as well as increased support from the university and student body to meet their goals. Crosby is hopeful that by 2017, when the commemoration of the end of WWI ramps up, the Poetry Archive will have received funding and an MLA Accreditation—the gold standard for any research material in the literary field. While the program has received a small SEED Grant in conjunction with the University of Kansas, the Center is seeking additional funding through the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The DH Center is also an integral part in fulfilling K-State 2025, the university’s visionary plan, an endeavor to push the university into the top 50 bracket for research schools. Of the top 100 research universities, 24 have Digital Humanities Centers and 14 offer courses in the field. In that regard, K-State has both and as Crosby said, “We are doing our part.”

For anyone interested in learning more about the digital humanities in general and the work the Center is doing, a Digital Humanities Symposium is being held February 27-28. To stay up to date on the Center, follow them on twitter at @DHKState.

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