Yale University Library has received a $3 million award from the Goizueta Foundation to launch a Digital Humanities Laboratory in Sterling Memorial Library.
The award, which the Library received in late November and announced mid-December, will fund the lab’s facilities and new equipment, such as a small lab of computers, specialized software such as a technology that identifies the language of scanned text, Geospatial Information Systems and digitization equipment to turn out-of-copyright books into digital texts for research purposes. But the new equipment is “secondary” to the increased collaboration among expert faculty from various fields which the new space will foster, said Peter Leonard, librarian for digital humanities research.
Of the $3 million, 20 percent will go toward equipment and facilities while another 25 percent will go toward hiring three new librarians. Other substantial parts of the award will go toward funding scholarly projects.
“We will have an assortment of people who can answer questions and can help you find out where to go on campus to get the right answers,” Leonard said. “But what we really hope to build is a nexus, an essential meeting place for a continually shifting mix of projects that go anywhere from an idea that a graduate student wants to try out all the way up to full-fledged big projects.”
American Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies professor Laura Wexler, who is also the primary investigator on Photogrammar — which maps and visualizes 170,000 photos from the Great Depression and World War II on a public website — said the atmosphere in the digital humanities at Yale has been “gaining electricity” for a number of years, given the presence of a digital humanities working group and numerous faculty and student projects. But prior to the establishment of the lab in Sterling, she added, there had not been a central hub where everyone could “share in the excitement.”
Beginning this spring, the laboratory will be housed in several rooms on the third floor of Sterling Memorial Library, Leonard said. In spring of 2016, the lab will be moved to its permanent home on the first floor of Sterling Memorial Library in the Franke Family Reading Room, according to Amanda Patrick, director of communications for Yale Library Administrative Services. Starting in May, when the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library undergoes renovation, that room will be the temporary reading room for the Beinecke, she added. While they are still in the planning phases and trying to attract the best people, Leonard added that as soon as the center is ready for use, it will be accessible to all Yale students and scholars.
Computer science professor Holly Rushmeier said the lab’s location in Sterling Memorial Library is particularly exciting. Because the library enjoys a central position on campus, it will foster interdisciplinary collaboration within areas such as the physical and social sciences at the lab.
Leonard said the center will help to support and expand current projects at Yale. Last year, results were released from a project, led by Leonard and Public Services Librarian Lindsay King, that used data mining tools to analyze the extensive digital archives of Vogue magazine. Leonard said this project is a great example of how computer science techniques can be used to reveal patterns in cultural data. Rushmeier said the research projects on the Vogue archive are “just small initial steps” in the exploration of the humanities with computer science.
Jacob Lassin GRD ’19, a graduate student organizer for the Digital Humanities Working Group, said that in the past, the lack of programming skills has deterred students from becoming more involved with the digital humanities. To assist students who are unfamiliar with some of the technological tools used in the digital humanities, a programmer will work at the lab, he added.
The large-scale project Photogrammar is another example of the types of projects the digital humanities laboratory can support, co-director of the Photogrammar project Lauren Tilton said.
“These Yale scholars from various fields of expertise can work with our amazing collections and make a project like Photogrammar which reaches audiences beyond Yale,” Leonard said.
Tilton said the laboratory will be put to immediate use this spring in her “Introduction to Digital Humanities” seminar, in which she teaches students to apply computational methods to answer questions in the humanities.
Assistant professor in Slavic Languages and Literatures Marijeta Bozovic, who taught a course this past fall on the digital humanities and Joseph Brodsky — a Russian and American poet and essayist — said she plans to expand the “experimental” seminar to a larger research project. The project, which will make use of the technology in the lab, will be called “Avant-Gardes and Émigrés: Digital Humanities Lab.”
STEAM education — Science, Technology, Engineering Arts and Mathematics — is a new comprehensive initiative launched by the founding of the lab. Tilton said the STEAM initiative is an interdisciplinary project that encompasses all of the fields using different modes of inquiry and analysis. She added that the digital humanities are highly apt at expanding and developing STEAM education at Yale.
“It’s amazing that over five years ago when I first started here barely anyone knew what the term digital humanities meant,” Tilton said. “Now we actually have full funding for an entire center dedicated to the digital humanities. It’s quite incredible and wild to watch.”