Working Groups Build Community Around DH Research

[Note: This post is part of our series on multilingual DH at the CDH. The series kicked off with our announcement that the NEH had awarded funding to “New Languages for NLP: Building Linguistic Diversity in the Digital Humanities,” which will be hosted by the CDH beginning in June.]

What is a “digital humanities project”?

The phrase might bring to mind interactive websites, like the Shakespeare and Company Project and the Princeton Prosody Archive, or even the development of DH tools or the curation of datasets for computational research.

At the Center for Digital Humanities, the phrase “digital humanities projects” also encompasses another kind of initiative: DH working groups. Currently, there are four CDH-affiliated groups representing a broad range of languages and geographies: the Slavic DH Working Group, the East Asian DH Working Group, the South Asia DH Working Group, and the Indigenous Studies DH Working Group. All of the groups are supported by, or were initially supported by, CDH seed grants.

“Working groups reflect the dynamism of the DH community at Princeton,” said CDH Associate Director Natalia Ermolaev. “They provide a space for truly interdisciplinary conversation—with input from faculty, librarians, curators, technologists, postdocs, graduate students and undergraduates. By hosting workshops, lectures and conferences, DH working groups animate digitally-inflected research and teaching on campus, and create opportunities for scholars to engage in cutting-edge collaborative projects with partners at Princeton and beyond.”

Ermolaev is co-chair of the Slavic DH Working Group, founded in 2017. The group brings together faculty, graduate students, and staff interested in Slavic DH for events and workshops and maintains several international partnerships, including a collaboration with the Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe in Marburg, Germany. In 2018 and 2019, the working group hosted summer interdisciplinary workshops alongside partners from the Herder Institute, Haverford College, and Stanford University. The group plans to resume the series in summer 2022.

A large group of people gather in front of a screen that reads "Princeton Slavic Digital Humanities"

Members of the Slavic DH Working Group and friends attend a 2019 workshop on “Digital Humanities and Visual Resources: The Material and Digital Lives of Eastern European and Russian Artifacts.” Photo by Shelley Szwast.

For this academic year, the working group is meeting online. Group members are also at work on the NEH-funded New Languages for NLP: Building Linguistic Diversity in the Digital Humanities project, co-led by Ermolaev and Andrew Janco (Haverford College), as well as Pages of Early Soviet Performance. The goal of the latter project is to use computer vision to generate multiple datasets of Soviet performing arts periodicals from the Princeton University Library collections (read graduate researcher Alexander Jacobson’s reflections on the project). Ermolaev co-directs Pages of Early Soviet Performance alongside Thomas F. Keenan (Princeton University Library), and Katherine Hill Reischl (Slavic Languages and Literatures), both of whom are also co-founders and co-chairs of the Slavic DH group.

The CDH’s other three working groups launched in the digital environment, with the South Asia group hosting its inaugural Zoom event last June and the East Asian working group kicking off in September.

“There is a growing interest in the digital humanities on campus and in the field of South Asian studies more broadly so the goal for the group has been to bring together people with different knowledge and skill levels to discuss challenges and ways forward,” explained Ellen Ambrosone, South Asian Studies Librarian at Princeton University Library and a co-convener of the South Asian group. “We also aspire to host hands-on workshops so that South Asia DH enthusiasts can learn about DH technologies available for their projects and the practical skills for using those technologies.”

So far, the South Asian DH Working Group has also hosted a conversation with Professor Sean Pue (Michigan State University) on Urdu poetry and digital humanities, as well as a discussion about mapping and GIS featuring 2020 CDH Graduate Fellow Meher Ali (History) and Tsering Wangyal Shawa (Princeton University Library). On February 19, the group held a discussion with Professor Andrew Ollett (University of Chicago), moderated by Nataliya Yanchevskaya, lecturer in Sanskrit at Princeton.

Both the East Asian and South Asia groups welcome participants from throughout the University and from beyond Princeton, with Ambrosone noting that her group hopes to be “as inclusive as possible.”

“We want to capitalize on how fortunate we are to be located close to several research universities and hope that Princeton will become a DH hub that brings together practitioners across the tristate area,” she said.

The newest DH working group, the Indigenous Studies DH Working Group, hosted its first event in January. The group, led by Professor Ryo Morimoto (Anthropology), includes undergraduate researchers working on the Nuclear Princeton project, which examines the impact of nuclear science and other technology on Indigenous lands and communities.

The working group is unique among the CDH’s working group for its emphasis on undergraduate research. It thus complements the CDH’s other undergraduate engagement initiatives, such as the Humanities Computing Curriculum Committee (HC3).

At the inaugural event, members of the working group met for a virtual introduction to digital humanities to familiarize them with the DH tools relevant to the project. The goal for the semester is for undergraduates to use data from Nuclear Princeton for their research, which they will share at Princeton and beyond.

More recently, the group partnered with Princeton University Library to host Trevor James Bond (Washington State University Libraries), who spoke about Mukurtu, a platform by which communities can share cultural materials. Bond focused on the Nez Perce content on the Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal, which uses Mukurtu (read a recap of the event). The group has also worked with Bill Guthe (Research Computing) and Tsering Wangyal Shawa (Princeton University Library) to learn about geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing.

“The working group has given students the opportunity to explore the intersection between Indigenous Studies and the digital humanities and use the skills they have acquired to pursue their advocacy and research goals,” said Keely Smith, Graduate Administrative Fellow for the CDH Indigenous Studies DH Working Group.

The Indigenous DH Working Group, thus, seeks both to build communities and to better them.

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