The Wenger Center Digital Humanities Hub is a dedicated space on the Elizabethtown College campus where faculty and staff members and students, looking beyond the perceived boundaries of their majors, can come together to collaborate on projects and share resources.
Imagine a room full of computers, white boards, intimate gathering areas, comfortable furniture, quiet workspace and students busy with archiving, video production, analysis, interviewing, research and project planning.
The collaborative energy is practically palpable.
The DH Hub, in existence thanks to fall 2017 Mellon grant, certainly lives up to its name. Rather than approach a project with a shotgun effect, where one student researches in the library, another writes in his residence hall and, yet another edits video at a table outside the Jay’s Nest, the Hub brings them all together in one common space, where they can troubleshoot and share ideas.
All four humanities departments — history, English, religious studies and modern languages—use the Hub and its equipment. However, the connections don’t stop there. Students from other majors collaborate on digital assignments with Humanities students, as well. “They each have their own way of looking at a project,” said Carol Ouimet, an administrative assistant for humanities and Scholarship and Creative Arts Days. “A biology student is going to approach something differently than a history student or an art student. Each is an asset to the group.”
Archiving of the Puffenberger religious artifacts collection is an accurate example.
The Digital Curation of the collection is a Summer Scholarship, Creative Arts and Research Projects venture begun in May, which explores the religious artifacts given to the College by William V. Puffenberger, professor of religion emeritus.
“The main goal of the project was to create a digital companion to the physical collection; an interactive and informative online website toenhance the study of world religions,” said Ouimet. Therefore, the artifacts needed to be cataloged, photographed, videoed, dated and described. Students came together from several majors due to a common interest. The concept is to make these archives accessible on and off campus through 360-degree visuals, video descriptions and internet connections to supporting and complementary material.
“It’s not just data processing,” said Ouimet. “The students first discussed what they wanted to create. They explored the hows and the whys for the decisions they made about each method they used. They agreed upon a research question and all of their theories and methods supported their choices. The process through which this project was created,” she said, “is as important to me as the final product.
Students mentioned in their project blog that the project intimidated them, but they did it anyway because it sounded interesting to them. The professor, the department assistant and the student researchers worked together as a team. “We wanted them to elevate their experiences from being passive students soaking in the information given to them, to being active learners. We wanted to prepare them in their transition from college students to professionals.”
With this in mind a committee was formed — Ouimet; David Kenley, director of the Center for Global Understanding and Peacemaking;
Matt Skillen, associate professor of English, and Jean-Paul Benowitz, director of student transition programs and prestigious scholarships — to write a Mellon grant proposal and look at the possibilities of a room that was originally set up as a lounge.
The first phase of the DH Hub — to introduce the purpose of the Hub and its possibilities to the Wenger community, establish dedicated space and plan it out — is complete, said Ouimet. The next stage, she said, is to continue to make personal connections among students and faculty and staff members to encourage creativity and scholarship. The addition of more equipment and technology will enhance the experience of this collaborative space.
“Since the room has been changed from being a lounge to being the Hub, I have noticed a different energy in the building,” said Ouimet. “Students are coming in and staying to work. They have volunteered to help with open house and have called the space their home. Students from different majors are spending time in the hub and even teaching each other.”