Digital Humanities Summer Institute Inspires a Diverse Array of Projects

Many projects centered on assets found in Drew’s Special Collections & University Archives

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Maura Kelly C’24 and Avianna Miller C’23 inspect the binding of Drew's Shahnama

September 2021 – Students participating in Drew’s Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) this year produced an impressive range of research projects.

DHSI, funded by a major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is a summer research program that pairs students with faculty mentors to conduct primary research in the digital humanities.

The four-week program allows students to work together on their projects, with all project groups meeting weekly to share the tools, techniques, and results they’ve encountered during their project work.

“DHSI creates unique opportunities for student-faculty collaboration and for sharing of expertise among the participating research teams,” said Wendy Kolmar, professor of English and co-director of the digital humanities program. “Students not only rapidly develop new digital skills, they also learn to work together to conceptualize the project and grapple with the challenges that present themselves as they work.”

Many participating students presented their projects at the 2021 Launch Expo.

“The response to the call for DHSI projects has always been enthusiastic and this year is no exception,” said John Muccigrosso, professor of classics and co-director of the digital humanities program. “We’re proud to support a range of projects from traditional academic areas like classics, to majors like communications, all the way to human interest documentary video work chronicling our lives during COVID.”

Digital humanities integrates digital tools and approaches into the ways students and researchers study texts, images, maps, and historical chronologies. Drew expanded its digital humanities course offering last spring, and is working to further integrate it into the core curriculum to meet the growing interest of the program from both students and faculty.

Here’s a sampling of the varied range of DHSI projects from summer 2021.

Pope Joan Project
Student researchers:
Zoe Bowser C’23, Sam Zatorski C’22
Faculty mentor: Candace Reilly, Manager of Special Collections

In Drew University’s copy of Liber Chronicarum (Latin, 1493), held at Drew’s Special Collections & University Archives, the image and accompanying text of Pope Joan has been modified by past readers. This is cited as a common occurrence in surviving copies of this text. The research group studied and recorded the different types of user engagement of Pope Joan from the surviving 1493 Latin copies to understand the iconoclastic treatment that this subject has suffered.

The goal of the project is to host a comprehensive database of Pope Joan imagery through a collaboration with special collections, libraries, and museums worldwide.

The Drew Shahnama
Student researchers:
Maura Kelly C’24, Avianna Miller C’23
Faculty mentor: Rita Keane, professor of art history

The Shahnama, or Book of Kings, is an epic poem written in 1010 by Abu Al-Qasim Firdausi. The research team sought to identify the date and place of production of the Shahnama held in the Special Collections and University Archives, as well as analyze the degree to which the book is a composite manuscript.

By using visual analysis of Shahnama manuscripts that are accessible online, and close physical study of the manuscript itself, the research team determined that the Drew manuscript was assembled from at least two Shahnama manuscripts. This combination occurred after the manuscripts had been created and used by owners in the 15th century, and perhaps as late as the 19th or 20th century. These conclusions were based on analysis of art, study of the composition of the paper used in different parts of the manuscript, and analysis of paper damage patterns.

OurStory: Conversations in the Time of COVID
Student researchers:
Erin Gruodis-Gimbel C’22, Tess Needham C’22
Faculty mentors:
Kimani Fowlin, visiting assistant professor of dance, Chuk Obasi, adjunct professor of theatre and dance

OurStory: Conversation in the time of COVID is a research and virtual documentary project created to connect Americans through stories and artwork that reflects on personal experiences lived throughout the early stages and peaks of the “COVID Era.”

Individuals and families across the country offered their stories on how this period has impacted their lives—encompassing profound health, social, economic, and political challenges. This diverse collective candidly shares enduring concerns and hopes for our future, and messages of support, inspiration, and solidarity for the nation.

More digital humanities projects can be found here.


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