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Certificate in digital humanities now offered

After more than a year of collaboration and development, several UNC departments have introduced the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative — a program that could potentially change the way students study the humanities.

The digital humanities movement aims to make academic material more accessible online and encourage collaboration among researchers and is a response to the growing availability of information on the internet.

CDHI will offer a graduate certificate program in digital humanities, which will give students a way to study the intersection of humanities and online information-sharing.

“(CDHI will bring) humanities into what we call the ‘big data’ conversation that most people associate mainly with the sciences, but humanities is going to be brought into that conversation too,” said Terry Rhodes, senior associate dean for the fine arts and humanities and co-principal investigator of CDHI.

Fitzhugh Brundage, chair of the history department and a member of CDHI’s faculty steering committee, said his History 292 class has already implemented some use of the digital humanities. His class uses a website called “Commemorative Landscapes,” a digital collection of essays and stories from around North Carolina.

“I think the biggest thing about digital humanities is that it creates a way for undergraduates to engage in original research that has an enduring place,” Brundage said.

As of this fall, UNC is one of the first universities to implement a graduate certificate program in digital humanities — thanks in part to a $1.39 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in June 2012. With the help of contributions from various UNC departments, the funding for the initiative totaled $4.38 million, Rhodes said.

American studies professor Robert Allen, a co-principal investigator of the initiative who helped secure the grant, said specializing in digital humanities will be particularly useful to graduate and doctoral students in their search for jobs.

Allen said there are plans to add digital humanities courses for undergraduate students in coming semesters.

Jacob Hill, one of two inaugural Graduate Fellows of the CDHI, said the digital humanities movement is about making the humanities more accessible to people outside academia via an “information hyper-abundancy.”

“Now the problems are completely different. The problem is not accessing it, but more what do you do when the canon expands from 200 books to 200,000?” Hill said.

UNC’s Digital Innovation Lab — created in 2011 by the College of Arts and Sciences — is partnering with CDHI to expand the presence of digital humanities on campus and to minimize barriers to access.

With the help of the Renaissance Computing Institute, a group that encourages research projects at N.C. universities, the lab created DH Press, a program that will help users visualize and make sense of humanistic data, said lab manager Pamella Lach.

Allen said the movement has reached not only other research universities, but international universities as well — including King’s College London.

“I think it shows what can be accomplished when the resources at the University and the expertise across the University connect … and are brought together to support interdisciplinary collaboration.”

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