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Digital Scholarship Profile: University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Center for Digital Research in the Humanities

Established in 2005

Staff: 5 + 2 co-directors, a named professor in the English department and a professor in the libraries

Faculty Fellows: 14, with tenure homes in the following academic departments: anthropology, art and art history, classics and religion, English, history, and the libraries

Center for Digital Research in the Humanities

From 1995 to 1997, the Text Studies Committee in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) discussed how the Internet was changing reading, studying, and research, and brought in many well-known speakers. In their final report, the committee recommended to the deans of the UNL Libraries and College of Arts and Sciences that an electronic-text center be created in the UNL Libraries to support faculty research based on humanities computer technologies. The deans concurred, and consequently, the E-Text Center was created in 1997 and worked with individuals and groups to create SGML encoding and web interfaces for electronic resources. By 2004, the work of the E-Text Center had so successfully garnered faculty and grant support that a proposal for recognition as a Program of Excellence was made and accepted by the university administration. The following year, E-Text was officially designated the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities (CDRH) by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska and approved by the Nebraska Post-Secondary Education Commission. The CDRH, reporting to the dean of UNL Libraries and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, has promoted interdisciplinary, collaborative research through the contributions of its faculty, staff, and students. Beyond collaborative projects, the center builds specialized tools and platforms, and sponsors workshops, speakers, and other activities to support digital humanities research and teaching.

For the last 10 years the staff and affiliated faculty and students of the CDRH have advanced interdisciplinary, collaborative research by working with 85 faculty across 13 departments and 5 colleges at UNL and on multi-institutional projects. At UNL, interdisciplinary projects involve collaborations among faculty members from multiple disciplines, graduate students, the libraries, and special study centers or clusters, such as 19th-century studies and the Center for Great Plains Studies. Since 2000, for example, the CDRH has worked with the University Press on particular projects beneficial to both. While most collaborations have been with faculty within the humanities, several projects have included faculty from the STEM disciplines. Although STEM faculty at UNL are often already conversant with digital tools and methods and have other labs on campus to support their research, with the CDRH they are able to create more sophisticated narrative content that draws on humanities disciplines for philosophy, ethics, and historical context and argument. Particular examples of fruitful collaborations include the Nebraska Portal’s Birds of Nebraska, an archive of history for birdlife in the state. CDRH staff teamed up with an ornithologist and environmentalists while developing the database, HTML, and XML for the project. CDRH often works with geography graduate students to develop maps for projects, such as Civil War Washington, http://civilwardc.org/.

Besides supporting collaborative research, the center supports the university’s teaching mission by providing a range of opportunities for students. Academic programs cross-listed among the departments of anthropology, English, history, and modern languages and literatures include a graduate certificate in digital humanities and an undergraduate digital humanities minor. These courses are taught by CDRH faculty fellows. A more informal Digital Humanities Workshop series offers training each semester, such as HTML and CSS, data management, digitization fundamentals (text, image, and sound), 3-D research and data-visualization methods, and integrating digital humanities into the classroom. With support from a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Challenge grant, the center built an endowment to mentor the next generation of humanities scholars. This funding supports interns, graduate research assistants, an occasional postdoctoral fellowship, and the Nebraska Forum on Digital Humanities—an annual theme-based event. CDRH also supports students in other ways. For example, graduate students collaborate with faculty on faculty-driven digital humanities projects, while the UNL Libraries and CDRH support a Digital Scholarship Incubator program to promote student-led research projects as intensive summer fellowships. The center itself employs undergraduate and graduate students to serve as part-time staff.

As a designated Program of Excellence at UNL, CDRH has received significant funding for its operations from the university administration since 2005. Funding from the university has been matched by the College of Arts and Sciences and the UNL Libraries, thus allowing the CDRH to focus, support, and sustain digital humanities scholarship. Faculty fellows of the center have expanded CDRH’s work from English, libraries and history to include big data, data visualization, photogrammetry, 3-D reconstructions, GIS, and LiDAR used more commonly in digital cultural heritage projects. The CDRH has remained quite successful in receiving external support for many of its projects and has successfully built relationships with other universities across the US and in other countries. The CDRH is a member of the Humanities Without Walls consortium, which is led by the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; a founding member of centerNet, the international network of digital humanities centers; and a member of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI).

An ongoing goal of CDRH is to maintain an institutional culture that values and rewards digital scholarship as much as traditional scholarship (typically seen as publications). In 2006–2007, CDRH developed a guide for promotion and tenure committees evaluating digital scholarship. This document was approved by the College of Arts and Sciences Executive Committee and by the UNL Libraries’ faculty. As new disciplines are represented in CDRH, this guide will need to be continually revised to reflect the professional standards for disciplines in addition to English and history.

Featured Projects

Willa Cather Electronic Archive


The Willa Cather Electronic Archive is a rich, accessible resource for the study of Cather’s life and writings through digital editions of her works and other material. The archive now includes fully searchable digital transcriptions of Cather’s pre-1922 books; all of her pre-1912 short fiction; nonfiction and journalism; interviews, speeches, and public letters; and a gallery of photographs, as well as multiple biographies. With NEH funding, the site is currently working to add the Complete Letters of Willa Cather, a project that also maintains a Twitter presence (@hastilycather) and whose first installment is scheduled for January 2018. Work on the archive began in 1997, and the site has just completed its first redesign since the CDHR formed in 2005. Rather than a static website, the archive serves as a portal by maintaining a blog of changes to the site and links to an e-mail discussion list, seminars, calls for papers, and other resources. This resource employs text digitization and encoding, provides a repository for images and media, and enables ongoing scholarly discourse.

Walt Whitman Archive


Although started in 1995, the Walt Whitman Archive is a relatively recent addition to the projects sponsored and hosted by the CDRH. The archive was originally created at the College of William and Mary, and hosted by the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) at the University of Virginia, moving to the CDRH in 2007. This ongoing project is a major teaching and research resource that strives to make as much of Whitman’s work as possible available and accessible to scholars, students, and the general public. The archive includes printed texts, audio, photographs, reviews, and an extensive annotated bibliography of critical commentary on Whitman created since 1975. The archive makes available all six editions of Leaves of Grass, as well as extended biographical materials and links to short essays about others in Whitman’s orbit and the historical context surrounding his life and work. Ongoing projects include editing Whitman’s poetry and prose manuscripts, a systematic effort to collect and study these works. The archive also offers a fantastic array of transcriptions and page images of manuscripts, letters, and marginalia and annotations Whitman added to other texts, as well as a selection from his notebooks. Funding from NEH, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) have supported the development of the archive.

Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Online


The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Online began as a collaboration between the University of Nebraska Press, the E-Text Center, and the Center for Great Plains Studies at UNL. In 2002 a pilot site featuring 200 pages from the Nebraska edition of the Journals of Lewis and Clark was launched, while behind the scenes the project team dealt with technical issues, including which international encoding standards to follow, how to enhance search capability and results, and using XSLT style sheets to display results as tabular data at the height of the browser wars. A full-scale project was funded by the NEH in 2003. This site presents journal entries, additional articles, and multimedia content for context and extension, with examples such as audio recordings by former Nebraska state poet Bill Kloefkorn and Native American elders. Beyond XML-encoded text and multimedia assets, the project can use XML to enable new digital publishing formats and its search interface can help users find information from texts that used nonstandard spellings for people, places, and Native American tribes. These online resources have proven of interest to the public, scholars, and Native Americans, and those interested in their cultural heritage.


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