Shira’s Trip to UNRH

I was lucky enough to get to present at the Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities conference a few weekends ago. I am a history major, and my research was therefore historical. Given the nature of history research, it is rare that undergraduates are able to assist in research, much less present it. I have a few friends who’ve presented psychology and chemistry work, but I figured that there wouldn’t be similar opportunities for undergraduate work in history. Work in the field specialized, and there isn’t much for a research assistant to do besides organize papers—the researcher has to actually read everything and write about it. That’s why I was so excited to work for Professor Nunley on her DC Criminal Court records project over the summer. Also, Professor Nunley is a wonderful educator and I loved the class I took with her, so working for her was a privilege.

I didn’t expect to get to do history research, much less present it, but Professor Nunley informed us of the UNRH Digital Humanities conference and my coworkers and I applied. We were accepted, we sent in our various logistical information, and after a five-hour drive, made it to Michigan and the conference. The people were friendly and Michigan was nice, if cold. The schedule was pretty straightforward—student presentations, a keynote speaker, and various workshops. My group had to leave before the proper end of the conference, considering the five-hour drive, but we were there for most of it.

The presentations of undergraduate research were diverse and fascinating. A few were history-related, but there was work on education, activism, infrastructure, accountability, and culture. Getting to see the range of digitally based research was eye-opening, and I got to see digital mapping techniques and record collection used in ways I hadn’t considered before.

Getting to present my own research was really invigorating. The exhibits my coworkers and I created over the summer were drawn from a base of 1840s DC criminal court records we transcribed into more legible, easily preserved digital documents. We then each picked a few document that we found interesting and wrote about them. My exhibit analyzed the language used in cases of assault on various classes of citizens in antebellum DC and the way race relations actually affected the dispensation of justice. When presenting our research, we gave some general background on the project as a whole and then delved into the specifics of our exhibits. We got some great questions, and the opportunity to explain the ‘whys’ of our project as well as the ‘hows’ and ‘whats’ helped me get a sense of the way research is presented at higher levels of academia. The whole experience was educational, both in regards to the content of student work and the insight into academic procedure, and left me excited to continue my research this summer.

Shira

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Julia’s Trip to Hope College

Shira and I headed out Friday afternoon. It ended up taking about 5 and a half hours to drive to Holland so we had a lot of time to talk, sing along to the radio, and listen to podcasts. I had never been to Michigan before and it was a pleasant change of scenery from Ohio (it’s always nice to be reminded that trees and hills exist).

We arrived at the hotel at 6 (exactly when dinner was supposed to start). The first surprise of the weekend was walking into the hotel lobby and discovering that one of the organizers (a fabulous undergraduate from Davidson) was someone I had met a year earlier, while studying abroad in Copenhagen. The rest of the group kindly waited for us to check in and put our bags down before heading to dinner. We ate in a cosy room just off the Hope College Dining Hall. Shira and I sat with Dr. Jacob Heil, the keynote speaker, and two students of his from Wooster, Tanaka and Scott, who did not have a project of their own but were interested in the digital humanities. After dinner, still a bit stir-crazy from the long car ride, and looking to make new friends, we invited Tanaka and Scott to walk around the town with us. We headed off in search of a good place for desert and found a cozy little chocolate shop a block away from the school. Everyone was exhausted from their travels so we didn’t stay out long before returning to our hotel rooms. Shira and I watched the Olympics and turned in early.

The next morning began with “speed dating” in which we were each given a minute to introduce our project before being told to move on the next person. As I talked to the other students I was surprised at the wide variety of academic backgrounds and schools represented. There were projects related to English, Historical Memory, Art History, Sociology, Public Health, and LGBT Studies, designed by students from small private colleges and larger research universities in the United States, Canada, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

What also struck me about the projects was how many of them were related to social justice issues. There was a project about using social media to mobilize women in Nigeria to fight against Boko Haram. A pair of students from Pakistan were working to use GIS mapping to inform people in Karachi where they could access drinking water. A group of students from Dickinson were collecting and sharing stories from refugees, stories meant to humanize them rather than merely elicit pity. Another project examined the successes and failures of digital tools for police accountability. Even the many projects that were not directly addressing issues of social justice, addressed an issue often neglected in academia or highlighting . For instance, one project analyzed online book clubs and forums and looked at how members discussed books that addressed more pressing social issues (such as The Handmaid’s Tale) and whether discussing or reading these books changed anyone’s perspective. Even our project was focused on highlighting a historical narrative often neglected, the experiences of ordinary women and African-Americans in 19th century Washington, DC and their attempts to navigate a system that made few provisions for their success.

Thinking about this more, it shouldn’t be all that surprising. When we were designing our projects over the summer, one thing we kept talking about was how to ensure that people outside of Oberlin would be able to understand and enjoy our exhibits. The digital humanities has the potential to reach a wider audience than many other academic research projects, so it’s not surprising that people would want to use it to not only expand the discourse surrounding a certain topic but actively work to find solutions to larger global issues. In addition, this conference was specifically for undergraduates and thus is a reflection of the concerns of driven, young people, many of whom, understandably, want to use their education to solve what they see as larger problems in the world. For me, it was most exciting to see the ways in which members of my generation are trying to expand both the possible audiences and long-term effects of their work.
Julia

Our Student Researchers Are Headed to Hope College

 

Our DHL student research team will present their most recent work on the Early DC Courts project at the Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities conference at Hope College, February 16-18, 2018. They will present their work among a great cohort with projects featuring digital tools for understanding War Memories, Police Accountability, Socially Responsible Gaming, Food Culture and the American West.

Hope College

Visit the Early DC Courts Project

Early DC Courts Project

 

Early DC Courts Project 

Students at Oberlin have worked on this ongoing project for the past two summers to showcase a court in the making. What they learned is that the court system functioned to ensure the social order of the nation’s capital. Disputes between women and men, violence against enslaved and free black people, theft among white neighbors, all illuminate the ways that categories like race, gender, and class factored in arrests, court decisions, and depictions of such cases in the locals news.

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Building Intellectual Community

 

During the spring semester of 2017, Oberlin College hosted students, staff, and faculty from the Conservatory, College, as well as various members of the Ohio Five Colleges and greater Cleveland libraries for a day-long symposium devoted to presentations and conversations about how to apply digital methods to pedagogy and research. The symposium featured award-winning projects that reflect the latest innovations in digital humanities.

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