Purdue Libraries and School of Information Studies News

The Rise of Digital Humanities at Purdue University

March 1st, 2021

By: Matthew Hannah

To go so far as to call this a “rise” may be a bit of exaggeration. After all, Purdue is well known for its commitment to innovative methodologies and cutting-edge areas of study. Certainly, this is true of the STEM disciplines, but it is also true of the humanities, social sciences, and information studies. Digital humanities, or “DH” as it is known to practitioners, is but one area that humanities, social sciences, and information researchers and students have been exploring and expanding for some time, and Purdue boasts a long history of important DH innovators and initiatives, from Kim Gallon’s groundbreaking work in Black DH to Sorin Matei’s innovative use of GIS maps to study historical topographies, from grant-winning projects such as Dino Felluga’s BRANCH and COVE projects to Bradley Dilger’s CROW. The humanities and social sciences at Purdue are always breaking new ground, expanding the boundaries of academic research.

students share their digital humanities research with one another
Above: research for a COVE exhibit by student in Rebecca Mitchell’s class at the University of Birmingham, UK, based on material in Cadbury Research Library’s conservation studio (pictured)

And yet it feels like something is happening here. When I arrived at Purdue as an Assistant Professor in the Libraries and School of Information Studies nearly three years ago, I was given a broad mission: build on existing efforts to develop a DH curriculum through collaboration with scholars across PULSIS and the College of Liberal Arts. I began collaborating with Erla Heyns, who had already been working tirelessly to promote and foster DH in the LSIS, to establish networks and find collaborators who might be interested in such a project, and we immediately began working closely with Venetria Patton, the head of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, to design and implement undergraduate and graduate certificates in digital humanities. We identified stakeholders, hosted informational sessions and call outs, and designed and identified courses for this new certificate initiative. Dr. Patton tackled the undergraduate certificate, and I handled the graduate, in what has been a fruitful multi-disciplinary, multi-college collaboration in keeping with the very ethos of collaboration inherent in DH itself.

I am happy to announce that our efforts have launched two brand new certificates in DH to be offered at Purdue. Graduate students will now have the opportunity to complete a 12-credit certificate, comprised of two required core seminars and two elective seminars, which will cover important aspects of the field such as computational text analysis, digital archives, geospatial analysis, data management, and various other topics, with an eye toward developing a toolkit for their own disciplinary graduate research. Many of these seminars are regularly available in both LSIS and the College of Liberal Arts to provide flexibility for students. By the end of a graduate certificate, students will have designed, implemented, and launched an original DH project of their own. Undergraduates can expect to complete a 16-credit certificate, with four possible tracks (three of which must be completed): culture and society, digital literacy, programming, and visualization. This important set of topics will provide students a well-rounded set of technical skills and, at the same time, a critical apparatus with which to think about technology from a humanistic perspective.  

Digital Humanities graduate students with Professor Matt Hannah
Above: Cohort of graduate students with Dr. Hannah (center) in Digital Humanities Foundations (Fall 2019)

In teaching my graduate seminar, Digital Humanities Foundations, over the past few years, I find that graduate students at Purdue are hungry for innovative digital methods to apply to their research in the humanities and social sciences. Certificates provide formal recognition that students have developed important digital skills and thoughtfully applied them to their research in the humanities and social sciences. For many graduate students, an official accreditation can provide important recognition on their CVs and resumes, especially if they pursue careers outside the tenure track, in libraries or cultural organizations. For undergraduate students, a DH program offers the opportunity to combine their interests in the humanities or social sciences with interests in technology, data science, or computation. For some undergraduates, DH may even provide a vocabulary for meaningful careers after college in tech startups, non-profits, cultural organizations, or industry, which value the combination of liberal arts training and technical literacy. In essence, a formal education in DH seems like a perfect fit for a place like Purdue.

The hard work of our Purdue community—the exciting projects, innovative methods, grants awarded, and courses taught—have culminated in these new certificate programs, a recognition that Purdue will continue its leadership toward innovative educational offerings across campus. Certificates in DH will offer students exciting new avenues for study, and I have already seen how impressive their work will be. Thus, we rise.