Search DH@UVA

Your Portal to the Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia

DH@UVA Externship Brings W&M Students to Grounds

DH@UVA Externship Brings W&M Students to Grounds

By Logan Heiman

The winter term offered two undergraduates from the College of William and Mary a glimpse of the robust digital humanities landscape at the University of Virginia. Wils McCreight, a fourth-year computer science major, and Sydney Kennedy, a second-year classical archaeology major, arrived on Grounds in January for a one-to-two day externship under the aegis of DH@UVA and managed by DH Communications Specialist Logan Heiman. Heiman organized the externships so that each student could participate in a shadowing experience tailored to their academic and professional interests.  Faculty, graduate students, and staff across UVA's myriad DH academic units welcomed the externs and related their own work to the externs' specific interests.   Working with Rennie Mapp, Project Manager for Strategic DH Initiatives, Heiman conceived of the externship as a prototype program that could eventually become a way to introduce DH to students from groups that are underrepresented in humanities graduate programs. 

McCreight expressed interest in digital humanities scholarship and activity at UVA’s newest school, the School of Data Science. He brought to the program extensive experience in a number of programming languages and had participated in a summer program at the University of Cambridge with a focus on Shakespeare’s Renaissance and British dialects in film and television. At the “School Without Walls,” he met with Professor and Program Director Rafael Alvarado and Master of Science in Data Science graduate student Melissa Phillips. McCreight initially conceived of the digital humanities as the use of technology to solve complex social problems such as public health and privacy and disinformation. Alvarado provided a sweeping history of the digital humanities’ origins stretching back to the 1980s, explaining that the intent of DH methodologies and approaches initially emerged as a way to preserve and extend significant cultural artifacts into the future. 

Alvarado noted that McCreight’s initial conception of digital humanities was not completely off the mark. DH tools and methods have been put to use for both scholarly and social purposes in the past, a fact that came up in discussion of a project led by Alex Gil, presently Digital Scholarship Librarian at Columbia University and a 2012 alumnus of the UVA English Department. In 2018, Gil created the Torn Apart/Separados project together with scholars, librarians, and activists to generate GIS data and visualizations documenting the Trump Administration’s “Zero Tolerance Policy” for asylum seekers at US ports of entry and the humanitarian crisis that ensued. 

Kennedy participated in the externship looking to explore UVA’s offerings in the digital humanities, particularly in classical archaeology. She first experienced the possibilities of DH tools in high school when she used 3D scanning equipment and software to build a digital collection for her high school’s war museum. At the College of William and Mary, Kennedy continued to gain exposure to DH tools including with GIS and Omeka software as she developed interest in a career in classical museum collections. Kennedy took advantage of the externship to discuss prospects for graduate school with Fotini Kondyli, Assistant Professor of Byzantine Art and Archaeology in the McIntire Department of Art. She also sat in on a work session with graduate students holding fellowships with the Scholars’ Lab’s Praxis Fellows program followed by coffee and a Q&A session arranged by Scholars’ Lab Head of Student Programs Brandon Walsh. Kennedy remarked that her externship experience exposed her to the opportunities and challenges of the digital humanities along with the ethical considerations of computing in the humanities.

"DH@UVA has encouraged me to think anew about DH methodologies and tools -- including data visualization, virtual reality as a means of site reconstruction, and 3D scanning and printing of artifacts -- and how they might be harnessed to communicate effectively with both scholars and the general public about new research. I hope to apply the insights I've gained as I continue my Classical Archaeology degree and, later, pursue graduate studies," she said.

McCreight said he was struck by the intelligence and drive of UVA's DH faculty and staff who catalyze innovation in their respective fields. "I left Grounds with a more tangible understanding of the digital humanities and a personal commitment to incorporate it into my own career," he said. 

Both Kennedy and McCreight met with representatives from constituent units of the DH community at UVA including from Scholars’ Lab, IATH, and DH@UVA.