CDRH celebrates 10 years of growth, digital scholarship

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CDRH celebrates 10 years of growth, digital scholarship

Students (from left) Kevin McMullen, Brian Sarnacki and Rebecca Ankenbrand work in the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities incubator in fall 2014. The CDRH is celebrating its 10th anniversary in April.
Courtesy photo
Students (from left) Kevin McMullen, Brian Sarnacki and Rebecca Ankenbrand work in the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities incubator in fall 2014. The CDRH is celebrating its 10th anniversary in April.

In the 1990s, personal computers were becoming ubiquitous in homes and schools, the web was delivering information with the click of a mouse and the seeds for a new form of humanities scholarship were being planted at UNL.

The Center for Digital Research in the Humanities is celebrating its 10th anniversary in April, denoting its official approval as a center by the Nebraska Board of Regents in 2005. Digital humanities were gaining traction and success at UNL well before the CDRH was established, however.

Katherine Walter, co-director of the center, said UNL scholars were using computer tools for humanities research in the early 1990s and formed the electronic text center in 1998. Soon, large and notable digital projects, such as the Willa Cather Archive and the Walt Whitman Archive, were attracting attention and grant dollars. UNL administrators took notice and Digital Research in the Humanities was named a Program of Excellence, which provided new funding and the ability to expand the center.

“The Center application went through various university committees and administrators as we sought official approval. In all, it took about one-and-a-half years,” Walter said.

Since its establishment, the center has attracted more than $10 million in grant funding. It’s been in a constant pattern of growth and has put UNL in the forefront of humanities scholarship.

“You could argue that the center has changed the culture at UNL,” Ken Price, co-director of the center, said. “Prior to the center, very few people were thinking about digital humanities within the humanities. Now, it’s on everybody’s radar. Not everyone is heavily involved in it, but everybody realizes that it’s something special.

“It’s a strategic advantage that we have that enables us to compete effectively with other peer, and possibly, even better institutions for graduate students to come here.”

Price and Walter have worked to expand the center’s reach. Seven faculty members have been added since 2011, bringing the total to 16. Also, the center hosted the 2013 Digital Humanities Conference, an annual international gathering. The center has also successfully established an endowment for the Walt Whitman Archive and is raising funds for an endowment that will help train the next generations of digital scholars.

“It focuses on supporting early career scholarship, such as graduate students, internships and post-doctoral fellowships,” Walter said.

Mentoring future scholars also took a new shape with the addition of a graduate certificate in 2012 and adding an undergraduate minor in 2013.

Price and Walter said they’re excited about upcoming additions to the Center. While continuing to build on the strength of numerous highly-regarded digital archives, the Center is also fostering new tools for analytical scholarship and will expand its reach into new disciplines, such as digital archaeology.

But those first large digital projects put the Center on the map and are still receiving thousands of new visitors each year. Because of interactions Price and Walter have had, they know the scholarship the center is doing is not only changing research in the humanities but is also making a difference in everyday lives, by making accessible information that used to sit on dusty shelves in isolated archives.

“We digitized emancipation petitions for the 3,000 slaves that lived in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War,” Price said. “It’s been moving to get mail from people seeking family connections or making corrections to our records. It’s particularly moving when we receive correspondence from African-Americans because it is well-known that it is much harder to track your family history as an African-American.”

The center will officially celebrate all of its accomplishments with an open house April 1, 3-4:30 p.m. in 319 Love Library. It will also be hosting several other events throughout the month:

April 2, 4-5:30 p.m.: “Integrating Digital Humanities into the Classroom,” a workshop by assistant professor of English, Adrian Wisnicki, in 111 Love Library South

April 8-9: Digital Humanities Bootcamp, sponsored by the department of history and history graduate students, details at

April 9, 3-5:30 p.m.: Nebraska Forum on Digital Humanities keynote speakers on this year’s theme, Digital Cultural Heritage, in Hewit Place in the Great Plains Art Museum. Speakers are: Maurizio Forte, William and Sue Gross Professor of Classical Studies, Duke University; Robert Leopold, deputy director of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian; Cecilia Lindhé, director of HUMlab and associate professor of comparative literature, Umeå University, Sweden.

April 16, 3:30-5 p.m.: CDRH Faculty Fellows Forum with presenter assistant professor of Classics and Religious Studies Sarah Murray, 110 Love Library.

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