The Wired Academic

With help from a quintet of graduate students, digital technologies are transforming scholarship.
Using Phone and Laptop

Old-school scholars buried themselves in the archives where they pored over primary sources and rare books.

Today, they’re just as likely to turn to digital technologies to ask, and answer, research questions. Among the tools that have become a fact of scholarly life are online exhibitions, 3-D mapping, illustration software, and data management programs.

To help its scholars keep up in a rapidly expanding field, Bryn Mawr College has launched a Digital Scholarship initiative, staffed by five current graduate students. Charged with learning the range of tools available, they meet weekly in Carpenter Library’s Digital Media and Collaboration Lab and take what they learn back to their peers in the Graduate Group in Archaeology, Classics, and History of Art.

The five come from each of the three Grad Group disciplines—Stella Fritzell from Classics; Elena Gittleman and Nathanael Roesch from History of Art; and Rachel Starry, M.A. ’13, and Andrew Tharler, M.A. ’13, from Archaeology—and their interdisciplinarity is a boon as they set out to understand the scope of digital methodologies available.

Even though a fairly recent arrival on the academic scene, digital scholarship has already made an appearance at Bryn Mawr. Using online digital exhibition platforms such as Omeka and WordPress, history of art students are building virtual exhibitions that bring together objects in previously unthought-of ways. But students often need technical assistance, and that’s where Gittleman’s experience with both tools has been a godsend.

Roesch is also thinking about exhibitions, specifically how the 3-D modeling software SketchUp can help curators plan a physical art exhibition. Currently, he’s mapping the Rare Books Room in Canaday Library in order to help students troubleshoot different gallery configurations during the planning stages of exhibition projects.

In addition to these visualization resources, the group is spreading the word about data management. Starry, who has a background in computer science, has used the programming language R to organize and visualize data from her dissertation research. To share what she’s learned, she has hosted several seminars for those interested in statistical analysis, computer graphics, and mapping.

Tharler's contribution to the group has focused on bibliographic management tools by giving classroom tutorials on Zotero, a powerful tool that allows researchers to archive and organize resources, store notes, and automatically generate citations and references when writing papers.

“One of our main challenges,” says Roesch, “has simply been raising awareness about the benefits of digital scholarship.” As part of their efforts, they’ve surveyed fellow graduate students to get a sense of what digital tools they’re already using and what methods they’d like to learn. Based on the response, they will put together new programming for the next academic year.

And they'll be reaching out to the undergraduate community as well. Over the summer, Fritzell and Bryn Mawr's Digital Scholarship Specialist Alicia Peaker organized a selective, intensive fellowship program to train undergraduates in digital scholarship methodologies. Like their graduate student counterparts, the undergraduate specialists will then share what they've learned with other students in the coming academic year.