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W&L Announces Digital Humanities Partnership with UVA

Washington and Lee University and the University of Virginia Scholars’ Lab have created a formal partnership that will strengthen the ties of both institutions in the area of digital humanities, thanks to a grant from the Associated Colleges of the South.

The grant fosters faculty and student relationships and provides graduate students at UVA with the opportunity to work in a liberal arts environment.

Exploring ways to introduce technology into the University’s humanities disciplines is a priority at Washington and Lee, which formed the Digital Humanities Working Group in 2012 to oversee the effort. Paul Youngman, a 1987 W&L graduate and associate professor of German at W&L, is the faculty chair of the group. “Since we’re trying to get digital humanities started at W&L, it’s really nice to be able to tap into the expertise they have at UVA,” said Youngman. “It’s so well established there.”

The partnership will provide W&L students with the opportunity to use UVA’s Scholars’ Lab facilities and learn about the cutting-edge projects UVA graduate students are undertaking. “It’s not so much the facilities of the Scholars’ Lab, since our IQ Center is second to none in that area, but more importantly the level of graduate students at UVA. They can not only demonstrate how tools are used, but also explain what’s behind the curtain,” said Youngman.

In return, UVA graduate students will be able to experience life at a small liberal arts college when they visit the W&L campus to assist with instruction in the Spring Term course “Introduction to Digital Humanities,” which will be taught by Youngman and Sara Sprenkle, associate professor of computer science at W&L. “It will give UVA’s graduate students, who presumably are going into academia, a chance to familiarize themselves with the liberal arts college atmosphere and how faculty interact with students inside and outside the classroom,” said Youngman. “Also, these graduate students have been doing really exciting new projects.”

A further project of the partnership is the development of a curriculum for a digital humanities certificate at W&L. UVA has already developed the Praxis Program, which it describes as producing “humanities scholars who are as comfortable writing code as they are managing teams and budgets.”

“It’s about developing humanities scholars who not only can use computer tools but can also write code,” said Youngman. “We’re not sure we’ll go that far, but we want to see how UVA developed the program for their graduate students and see if there’s a way we can develop the Praxis model for undergraduates here at W&L,” said Youngman. “So that’s one of the first things we’ll be doing.”

Youngman noted that employers today don’t want just an English major or just a computer scientist; they want someone with skills in both areas.

“The consensus is that employers love liberal arts graduates because they can take large amounts of data and synthesize it and be creative, but they also need liberal arts graduates who can work with WordPress and understand data mining and visualization. So we need to be able to put those pieces together at the undergraduate level so that our students can compete more effectively,” he said. “Digital humanities is about helping students be fluent in different media than just text, to be able to conduct research and present their findings in a more compelling and authentic way.”