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UNC’s Innovate@Carolina opens virtual lab

A team of professors and students is trying to make sure Innovate@Carolina isn’t just about science.

UNC’s Digital Innovation Lab, a part of UNC’s $125 million effort to spur innovation, launched Monday, aimed at sparking collaboration in the digital humanities.

The virtual lab features projects and resources that can be easily used and accessed by large audiences. It will encourage the creation of public projects that have social value.

Brett Bobley, director of the Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities, said at the lab’s kickoff that he is pleased with the initiative.

“This is terrific,” Bobley said at the lab’s kickoff Monday.

Bobby Allen, co-director of the lab, said this is a modest project compared to UNC’s investments in the sciences.

Lab manager Pam Lach said members of the project are interested in the kind of scholarship that reaches out to the community.

The 24 undergraduate and 12 graduate students in the lab will make an impact on the conceptual level, Lach said.

“It really goes beyond those concrete numbers because what we’re really trying to do is change how the humanities are taught, and that’s at every level,” Lach said.

Lach said the team is seeking additional funding for the lab, which was created with a startup grant from the College of Arts and Sciences.

“We are actively pursuing just about every grant we can,” Lach said.

Students working at the lab will have to sift through an abundance of available data in their projects, Allen said.

“When you move from 100 newspapers to a million, what do you do?” Allen said.

“How do we adjust to a landscape that is very different than what has been the assumption in humanities?”

Allen said the current generation was born into and will forever live in a world with a big question mark. In such a world, it is often difficult to find, use and distribute data, he said.

He said that problem will not be solved but rather negotiated.

Those using the lab might work with other scholars from different domains of knowledge, Allen said.

Students at the lab are using materials that can only be accessed digitally, Allen said. They are writing blogs and contributing to discussions on Blackboard.

The initiative is affiliated with the American studies department, which is interdisciplinary.

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