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Building Digital Humanities Projects for Everyone

Jennifer Reut, October 2013

Detail from the interactive AfricaMap demonstrating a language families overlay. From WorldMap
Detail from the interactive AfricaMap demonstrating a language families overlay. From WorldMap.

The NEH Office of Digital Humanities (ODH) announced a new cohort of Digital Humanities Implementation grantees in late August. The implementation grants are for mature projects that have grown past the start-up phase, and typically receive funding for multi-­year development. Unlike DH Start-Up Grants, which are awarded to support planning and prototyping, the implementation grants are for projects that have developed beyond the start­up phase and reflect long-term investments by departments and staff.

The six grant awards for 2013 represent a range of developments, many of them platforms that will enhance and enable projects by scholars across the humanities. It is notable that many of these projects have built­in opportunities for users working on topics outside the subject area's geographic or temporal range, primarily through open source development and the emphasis on sharing data. For example, the WorldMap project was originally developed at Harvard as the AfricaMap, a resource for Africanist scholars. Project director Suzanne Blier noted that WorldMap has expanded into a platform that allows "students and scholars alike to explore geo-­spatial and temporal topics of their choosing.

"Dan Edelstein, a project director for Mapping the Republic of Letters (MRL), which received a grant to develop visualization and analytical tools, emphasized the different audiences that the project team identified. In addition to early modern scholars, who would be MRL's expected users, he pointed out that, "scholars with their own data about intellectual networks (of any period) can visualize it using our open-source software; and the general public, as well as teachers, can use our maps and networks graphs as visual aids for explaining how the Republic of Letters functioned and evolved over time."

Brett Bobley, director of the NEH ODH, concurred in an e­mail, noting that the projects highlighted "research methods that can be used not only by historians but by scholars and educators across numerous disciplines.

"Read more about all the DH grant winners, including interviews with project directors and features on winning projects, and for information about applying.

Read a list of all of the grantees.

-Jennifer Reut is the associate editor of Perspectives on History.