Graduate Fellows explore DH tools, professionalization

Author’s Note: The application deadline for the fall 2020 cohort of Graduate Fellows has been extended to April 6, 2020. More information on the application process is available here.

When Kristen Starkowski, a Ph.D. candidate in English, was researching minor characters in nineteenth-century British fiction, she wondered if digital tools might illuminate a central concern of one of her dissertation chapters: the relative amount of narrative attention granted to minor characters in Charles Dickens’s novels and in their “spinoffs”—that is, unauthorized versions of the works that were published in the Victorian penny press.

In hopes of finding “a new way to quantify and measure character space in the Victorian novel,” Starkowski explains, she applied to join the spring 2019 cohort of Graduate Fellows in Digital Humanities. She was accepted.

“While the program was largely self-directed, the [Center for Digital Humanities] provided helpful consultations so that I could learn what I needed to know quickly.”

In addition to pursuing her own project, Starkowski joined a multi-disciplinary group of Graduate Fellows for a series of monthly meetings, in which she learned more about DH and engaged with peers who shared her interest in using digital tools in their research.

“Many of our meetings contained professionalization workshops,” she noted. “We did one on web presence, one on project management. I think simply networking and learning key debates in the field has been incredibly helpful.”

CDH has hosted Graduate Fellows since 2015, just one year after the Center’s establishment. So far, approximately twenty students have participated in the program, both in its earlier instantiation and in its current form. The Graduate Fellows program emphasizes inclusivity, welcoming students with a wide variety of departmental affiliations and at different stages in their graduate program. The current cohort comprises graduates from three departments (History, English, and Slavic Languages and Literatures), and includes two first-year students. No previous DH experience is required.

“We actively welcome students with no background or experience in DH, but who are curious about what it could add to their scholarship,” explains Dr. Rebecca Munson, Project and Education Coordinator at CDH. “The fellowship is meant to be exploratory, to encourage students to apply new tools and methods to their research and see where it takes them.”

Alumni of the Graduate Fellows program are an accomplished group, pursuing careers in academia and beyond. Among the program’s alumni are a tenure-track assistant professor (and winner of the 2018 CDH Dissertation Prize ), a digital pedagogy librarian, a postdoctoral fellow at a major research library, and a policy researcher at a think tank. Another alumna received the prestigious Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship.

Now in the final stages of her dissertation, Starkowski continues to pursue her work in digital humanities—with notable success. She served a second term as Graduate Fellow in fall 2019 and was awarded a CDH travel grant to attend the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) at the University of Victoria (British Columbia) in summer 2019.

As for how digital tools illuminate the issue of character space? Those who are curious won’t have to wait long to find out.

“I was able to incorporate my findings into an article that is forthcoming in Victorian Review,” she explains. “I am really grateful for all the support the CDH has provided me at such a critical time in my graduate career.”

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