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A Collaborative DH Spirit Buoys IATH Through COVID challenges

Slavic Languages and Literatures Professor Edith Clowes's project, "Mapping Poetic Geographies of Russia," features a 1919 propaganda poster, “Admiral Kolchak’s Army: The Armed Forces of the South of Russia.” This anti-Bolshevik agitation poster shows the Volunteer Army in southern Russia aligned with other parts of the White Army, suppressing Bolshevik forces throughout Russian territory.

A Collaborative DH Spirit Buoys IATH Through COVID challenges

By Logan Heiman and Sarah Wells

COVID-19 and Alderman Transition

At the outset of the 2019-2020 academic year, IATH was girding itself for a transition out of Alderman Library, while maintaining its usual digital humanities partnerships both within and beyond UVA.  As the University prepared for the Library's complete renovation, the emergence of COVID-19 presented a second, unwelcome upheaval.  The collaborative spirit that suffuses IATH’s mission left them well-prepared to surmount the challenges to come, however; and IATH continues its commitment to DH innovation through its Fellowships, grant-funded activities, and ongoing cooperative research projects.

Academic year 2019-2020 began with IATH welcoming Susanna Klosko, as a project designer and manager who soon proved herself a welcome addition to several projects. Klosko and Lauren Massari, IATH’s multimedia specialist, led the planning and execution of the vital tasks of measuring, counting, packing up, and reusing equipment and furniture in IATH’s new space in Zehmer Hall, where the IATH team will remain until the completion of Alderman’s renovation in 2023. The IATH team made quick work of assembling boxes, labels, and packing tape throughout the fall and into the spring semester, leading to a smooth and painless move. Before anyone had a chance to unpack any boxes however, COVID-19 compelled the University to enact work-from-home measures in March, so after a few mad dashes to retrieve laptops and office plants, IATH began its remote operations. System Administrator Shayne Brandon kept digital and physical resources running and accessible, a critical task that took on particular significance as IATH’s community relied solely on virtual networks to maintain collaborations.

Residential Fellows

Edith Clowes, the 2019 IATH Residential Fellow, began regular meetings with IATH and her project staff to develop and plan Mapping Poetic Geographies of Revolutionary Russia: 1914-1922. This collaboration began in 2018 with an Associate Fellowship, developed out of meetings between IATH Director Worthy Martin and Prof. Clowes, and now includes graduate students and Cindy Girard, an IATH IT Specialist. This particular collaboration looks to build databases and maps to explore multi-lingual textual and emotional artifacts from another time of dramatic political, social, and cultural change.

IATH’s first-ever dual Residential Fellowship, awarded to Mona Kasra and Luke Dahl in 2018, has supported ongoing work on Experiencing Embodied Cultural Practices through Motion Capture and Immersive Media: A Hybrid Research/Practice Collaboration Across Disciplines. In the midst of its second fellowship year, the team was preparing for a long-planned trip to Australia to work with an aboriginal community in the Northern Territories. Funds had been secured, calendars had been painstakingly aligned, and equipment was being purchased, all of which came to an abrupt halt in the wake of COVID-19, much to everyone’s dismay.

Other pandemic frustrations beset the Digital Yoknapatawpha project, which had planned to officially launch its project web site at the University of Mississippi’s 47th Annual Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference in July. The event was cancelled, although the project was able to participate in a virtual reading initiative with the William Faulkner Society, and — thanks in part to dedicated work from Programmer Analyst Doug Ross — announce a new index for locations in Faulkner’s fictional Yoknapatawpha County.

Scholars’ Lab, Woodson, and Collaborations Beyond Grounds

Beyond its fellowship program, IATH collaborates with their counterparts in Scholars’ Lab and other Library units as well as with faculty and staff across Grounds. Shayne Brandon has been working with Will Rourk from Scholars’ Lab on several 3D projects, most recently a 3D visualization effort of University Hall, the former athletic arena demolished in 2019. Lauren Massari contributed digital models of the UVA Academical Village to the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, VA, as part of an exhibit on “Thomas Jefferson, Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles, and the Conflict of Ideals.” The models came out of her visualization work for the JUEL project (Jefferson’s University—Early Life Project, 1819-1870), which is taking an in-depth look at the theory and the practice of Jefferson’s vision. These models have been critical in understanding how the architecture both supported and tainted the ideals of his new secular university. 

Professor Marlene Daut has been collaborating with IATH since 2018 (initially as an Associate Fellow) on her La Gazettte Royale d’Hayti: A Digital Journey Through Haiti’s Early Print Culture research, and that project received a Garfinkel Prize in Digital Humanities from the American Studies Association.

Two external collaborations with independent scholars secured grant funds to continue their work. The Virginia Emigrants to Liberia site began work in 2006 with Virginia Center for Digital History, looking at the American Colonization Society’s work in 19th century Virginia to encourage and support emigration of enslaved and free African Americans to the new colony of Liberia. The project directors, Deborah Lee and Jane Ailes, have been working with IATH to revitalize the project for the past few years, a partnership that yielded a $126,000 NEH award to improve and expand on the original project.

Independent scholar Anne Leader first brought her study of tomb registries and the social and economic underpinnings in medieval and Renaissance Florence to IATH in 2016 as a Visiting Fellow, and since then has worked closely with their staff to migrate her project data to a more stable and accessible platform and database. In 2019, Digital Sepoltuario: The Tombs of Renaissance Florence received grants from the Kress Foundation and the Richard Lounsbery Foundation for both technical development and collaboration with scholars at Washington & Lee University.

Editor's Note: September 2, 2020

A previous version of this article was published on Monday, August 31, 2020. The article has been updated to reflect the contributions of IATH Programmer Analyst Doug Ross to the Digital Yoknapatawpha project.