Report from the NEH Office of Digital Humanities


Thirty-three projects including “Reading the First Books” were represented at the Office of Digital Humanities Project Directors Meeting, held last week at the new National Endowment for the Humanities headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The annual meeting brings together recipients of ODH funding from around the country to share projects and learn more about the NEH. Attendees reflected the diversity of the department’s funding priorities, which include start-up projects, international collaborations, digital humanities institutes, and implementation grants.

The keynote speaker for this year’s event was Bethany Nowviskie, Director of the Digital Library Federation. Dr. Nowviskie’s talk, “On Capacity and Care,” proposed a turn towards the feminist concept of “care” in the digital humanities as a counterbalance to the emphasis on big data that currently predominates. With the term care, which evokes pedagogy, human interaction, and a careful attentiveness to detail, Dr. Nowviskie reminded us that this kind of work is also central to digital scholarship, even when handling a massive amount of data.

In the “Reading the First Books” project, we find that the concept of care resonates with our approach to language. Ocular, the OCR tool that we are using, treats language as data; at the same time, to analyze and transcribe language properly we must be closely attuned to the fact that language is both social and cultural, even when it’s being internalized by a machine.

The afternoon featured a lightning round of presentations representing the full scope of ODH funding. One predominant theme was diversifying American history, including projects on slavery, Africana/Black Studies, immigration, and female writers. Innovative projects on the topics of medicine and music were also featured. The “Reading the First Books” project was represented by project Principal Investigator Dr. Sergio Romero and project coordinator Hannah Alpert-Abrams. [Slides]

In addition to “Reading the First Books,” two projects focused primarily on Latin American topics. Jonathan Amith from Gettysburg College presented a project on “Comparative Ethnobiology in Mesoamerica,” which seeks to develop an online database or “portal” that will bring together scholars working on ethnobiology across contexts and regions. And Steven Wernke of Vanderbilt University presented his project “Deep Mapping the Reducción,” which will use spatial representation tools to bring together archaeological, geological, and cartographical evidence of the General Resettlement of the Indians in the colonial Andes. Both projects use digital platforms as a way of bringing together fragmented information to improve opportunities for collaborative Latin American scholarship.

A full list of this year’s grant recipients can be found on the NEH website.



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