Craft and Joseph-Nicholas named first DIL/IAH Faculty Fellows

The Digital Innovation Lab and the Institute for the Arts and Humanities are pleased to announce the first recipients of the new DIL/IAH Faculty Fellowship in Digital Humanities: Renee Alexander Craft, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, and Tessa Joseph-Nicholas, Lecturer and Director of Digital Arts and Humanities Projects in the Department of Computer Science.

Part of the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative, the fellowships allow outstanding faculty at all ranks to explore the possibilities of digital humanities for extending their research, teaching, and engagement with humanities audiences beyond the university. These new fellowships will encourage research at the intersection of traditional and engaged scholarship, the effective use of digital technologies in research and teaching, and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Craft and Joseph-Nicholas will work with the DIL to complete and launch a digital humanities project by December 2013. They will be able to access Lab resources, and will each receive a modest digital project fund.


Renee Alexander Craft: Portobelo Digital Oral History Project

“I am ecstatic to work closely with the DIL and IAH as my team and I prepare to launch a beta version of the Portobelo Digital Oral History Project.”

An Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies and the Curriculum in Global Studies, Renee holds a PhD in Performance Studies from Northwestern University. She earned a MA in Communication Studies and a BA in English, both from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Her research analyzes dialectical constructions of “blackness” and performances of black cultural nationalisms in the Americas. Her work is centered on an Afro-Latin community located in the small coastal town of Portobelo, Panama who call themselves and their performance tradition “Congo.” Enacted through embodied storytelling, costumed dancing, singing, and drumming, the tradition honors the history of the cimarrones, runaway enslaved Africans who fought for and won their freedom during the Spanish colonial period. The main drama of the tradition takes place during carnival season, which peaks on the Tuesday and Wednesday before the beginning of Lent. She is currently completing two manuscript projects. The first is an ethnographic monograph entitled When the Devil Knocks: The Congo Tradition and the Politics of Blackness in 20th Century Panama. The second, My Father is a Country, is a novel based in part on her field research. Both projects engage the Congo tradition through fluctuating discourses of race, culture, and nationalism in Panama’s first century as a republic. Renee was recently on WUNC’s The State of Things; you can listen to the interview here.

Renee’s team includes Andrew Synowiez (technical lead); Rachel Cotterman (K-12 curriculum design); and Lindsay Foster Thomas of WUNC (design and creation of a Portebelo studio).

Her project, The Portobelo Digital Oral History Project, is a cultural preservation and collaborative research initiative focused on Portobelo’s Congo tradition. It responds to a call from the community for greater cultural preservation, and addresses a need from researchers to have a better platform to share and expand upon existing research. As a collaborative interdisciplinary digital humanities initiative, it seeks to make the process and products of research more available and accessible beyond the academy—especially to the communities represented by and invested in them.

The larger goals of Renee’s project will extend beyond establishing a digital space for researchers to return the stories and interviews they have collected to the population most intimately connected with them. This project will foster a collaborative digital environment in which community members and researchers may share information, correct absences and errors, and create on-going dialogues related to Congo traditions and culture. Ultimately, this project, which will likely be built with diPH, will serve as a mechanism for local community members to archive and share their cultural practices and memories.

“The opportunity to learn about and test appropriate digital tools for this project in a reflexive, interdisciplinary community, especially at this early stage, is a gift,” Renee says. “I look forward to the incubator moment that the fellowship provides to blend my current performance-centered research and pedagogy with tools and methods in the digital humanities to see what possibilities develop. It is empowering to step into this new arena with such solid support.”


Tessa Joseph-Nicholas: IVI (Inquire, Visualize, Interact): Collaborative Course Development for the Humanities

Tessa is a Lecturer and Director of Digital Arts and Humanities Projects in UNC’s Department of Computer Science. Tessa holds a MA and PhD in English and Comparative Literature from UNC, and a MFA in Creative Writing from Cornell University. She did her undergraduate work in English Literature and Creative Writing at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY.

“It is an honor to be among the first generation of DIL/IAH fellows, and I look forward to a productive year.”

Tessa’s past research has focused on digital literature, e-poetries, and the function of online communities and forums in the development and promotion of movements in avant-garde or experimental poetry and poetics. Currently, she is conducting research into best practices in digital humanities instruction and instructional technologies. She is interested in the development of the digital humanities community and in working through the relationship between many DH scholars’ inquiries into human beings in the digital age and the digital tools and methods they use to conduct and present their research. She is currently developing curricula that use creative, accessible, free digital tools like App Inventor and Unity 3D to teach programming concepts to humanities students.

As Tessa explains, “The DIL/IAH fellowship will allow me to synthesize my investigations into instructional technology, digital literacies and pedagogies, and the way online communities are formed and sustained into an application that I hope will both offer a useful, practical service and help clarify the potential of text mining and visualization in learning and scholarship in the humanities.” Tessa recently presented in the “Caucus: Digital Humanities: Digital Shorts: New Platforms of Knowledge Production and Resistance” at the American Studies Association Annual Meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The IVI (Inquire, Visualize, Interact) project will design and develop a suite of simple digital humanities-inspired tools that utilize text mining, data visualizations, and social tools to enhance the functionality of existing course and content management systems (CMSs). Two linked tools will comprise IVI’s initial design: a graphical, unit-based course creation and scheduling tool that enables student and instructor inputs and a data mining and visualization tool that draws on the Syllabus Finder database, the Internet Archive, and the Common Crawl tool and corpus to produce within-system and broad visualizations of syllabus and course content data and connections between courses and syllabi on the system. IVI will be designed for initial implementation in Sakai, with an eye to wider CMS and standalone adoption.

Tessa’s project seeks to transform static, hierarchical learning management systems into innovative and interactive spaces of exploration. Course development on IVI will emerge flexibly: instructors will design sequenced units—arranged chronologically, thematically, or based on other criteria—while students will be empowered to comment on, contribute to, and investigate their instructors’ suggestions. The application will provide links to syllabi of interest from the corpus; these links can be saved in the users’ profiles and made public. On-demand data visualizations can be used to analyze within-system and general patterns of usage, language, and interest in syllabus and course content; to reveal unexpected connections between courses; and to suggest related topics and readings.

“Digital humanities projects are exciting because, among other things, they invite humanities scholars to take part in the collaborative, synthetic, project-based methodologies that are common to many of the sciences and in software development,” Tessa recently reflected. “Such collaborations have the potential to influence, even transform, the way research in the humanities is conducted, presented, and valued.”


Next Steps

These projects represent two important approaches in the Digital Humanities. Renee’s project is a cultural preservation and access project which seeks to connect researchers and community through digital technologies. With a strong public engagement component, this project provides the community with the training and tools for recording and preserving their own oral history/tradition. Tessa’s project, in contrast, seeks to build a tool for harnessing big data for pedagogic purposes. Hers is a highly computational project aimed at facilitating connection-making and analysis across very large data sets. Together, these two projects encapsulate the DIL’s and CDHI’s broader goals of creating digital humanities as public goods, as well as finding ways of processing and using big humanities data.

Work will begin in the spring semester, as the Fellows coordinate with the DIL to lay the groundwork for their projects, including finalizing the scope and scale; determining a project budget; and acquiring the requisite skills, training, and staff to complete each project. The fellows will be relieved of all teaching duties in the Fall 2013 semester in order to complete their projects. At the same time, they will serve as IAH Fellows, participating in an interdisciplinary intellectual community with the other IAH Faculty Fellows.

Renee and Tessa will blog about their experiences as the inaugural DIL/IAH Faculty Fellows. Stay tuned to learn how you can follow their progress!

Postdoctoral Position in Digital History

The History Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill invites applications for a two-year postdoctoral position in digital historical research and teaching, beginning July 1, 2013. Applicants should have received the PhD in History or a related discipline within the last five years, but the position is not limited to a specific chronological era or field of research.  This position is part of the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative, which is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


We seek a scholar who applies digital technologies to research, graduate and undergraduate teaching, and engaged scholarship.  Such technologies might include the use of large data sources, database creation and management, data visualization, digital mapping, text mining and mark-up, and other related activities.  Duties for the position will include the teaching of one graduate and one undergraduate course per year, interdisciplinary collaboration, and the sharing of scholarship with non-academic audiences.  The person in this position will also contribute to ongoing projects in the Digital Innovation Lab.


To apply, please write to and submit a cover letter, CV, and writing sample from a research project.  Applicants must also provide a 2000 word statement about the project that would be pursued during the term of the postdoctorate, noting the role of this project in future career plans and how the work might be completed over a two year period; and it should include links to an example of the applicant’s previous work with digital technologies.  Please include the names and contact information for four recommenders.


Inquiries may be directed to Professor Richard Talbert, Chair, Digital Humanities Search Committee, at    Review of applications will begin on December 14, 2012 and continue until the position is filled.  The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is an EOE.

Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities in American Studies to be Hired

UNC’s Department of American Studies will be hiring an Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities for the coming academic year (expected start date: 1 July 2013). The first of three anticipated DH hires at Carolina over the next several years, this individual will be a part of, and contribute to, the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative (CDHI).

Among other things, this individual will contribute to the new Ph.D. program in American Studies, graduate program in Folklore, and to a broader graduate curriculum in digital humanities, training students both for traditional academic jobs as well as a variety of new professions in the public sphere; develop innovative graduate and undergraduate courses exploring the methodological and intellectual diversity of the field;  further the work of the department through effective engagement with cultural organizations and non-academic audiences, particularly around issues affecting the state and region;  and participate in interdisciplinary research collaborations. The position carries a $50,000 start-up fund with the expectation that the candidate arrive on campus prepared to pursue a robust and innovative digital research agenda.

The full job posting, as well as the online application, may be accessed here.


About the CDHI

Catalyzed by a $1.39 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the CDHI represents a major university-wide commitment to the digital humanities, underwritten by the Office of the Provost, College of Arts and Sciences, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, Information Technology Services, and the Institute for the Arts and Humanities. Its goal over the next five years is the development and testing of an adaptable and sustainable model of transformative academic practice that embraces faculty research, graduate and post-doctoral training, undergraduate learning, and engaged scholarship in the humanities.  The CDHI will also bring the humanities into the “big data” conversation going on across our own campus as well as among other leading research universities, federal agencies, and foundations.  It is essential that humanities questions and concerns—about knowledge, meaning, value, and representation—be reflected in rapidly unfolding efforts to organize research, graduate training, and general education in relation to the data and information landscape of the 21st century.

This new faculty position is part of a targeted hiring of 3 new tenure-track digital humanities faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences between 2013-2014 and 2015-2016. The College of Arts and Sciences aims to hire the brightest and most promising young scholar-teachers in their fields who are pushing the intellectual boundaries of their disciplines and who appreciate the transformative potential of digital technologies for their own research and teaching agendas. These new hires will also appreciate the role digital technologies can play in expanding the audience for humanities scholarship and in engaging a wider public. Each position will carry significant start-up funding.

DIL/IAH Faculty Fellowship Workshop Presentation Online

For UNC faculty who were unable to attend our DIL/IAH Faculty Fellowship workshop on Thursday, August 30, the PowerPoint presentation is now online here.

There’s still time to schedule a one-on-one consultation with a DIL staff member. Email

Members of the Digital Innovation Lab met with interested faculty about the new DIL/IAH Faculty Fellowship, part of the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative.


Digital Innovation Lab to be involved in new Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative

Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative expanded with Mellon grant

A $1.39 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will expand digital humanities in a transformative way at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, including the hiring of new faculty and the support of graduate students in this emerging field.

Digital humanities is an area of research, teaching and knowledge creation at the intersection of computing and humanities. It is interdisciplinary and embraces a variety of topics, ranging from curating online collections to mining information from large data sets.

The grant will help UNC create the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative, a $5 million effort that will explore the application of cutting-edge digital technologies to humanities research, teaching, graduate training and public engagement.

The new initiative will build on the work of the Digital Innovation Lab, co-directed by Robert Allen, James Logan Godfrey Professor of American Studies, and Richard Marciano, professor in the School of Information and Library Science. The lab was launched last summer in the College of Arts and Sciences and is affiliated with the college’s American studies department. Marciano will head the initiative’s infrastructure taskforce.

Among other things, the new Mellon grant will help support the following in digital humanities:

  •    Targeted hiring of three tenure-track faculty members;
  •     Joint faculty fellowships with the Digital Innovation Lab and the Institute for the Arts and Humanities;
  •     Graduate and postdoctoral fellowships;
  •     Grants for developing new courses;
  •     Workshops for faculty and graduate students;
  •     A graduate certificate for Ph.D. students.; and
  •     Exploration of an undergraduate minor in data studies.

“Digital humanities is not just about individual scholars using computers in their research,” Allen said. “It represents a potentially transformative change across all the ways we work as academics: from the questions we ask, to the kinds of people we work with; from the ways we communicate knowledge to our peers and our students, to the ways we relate to the world beyond the University.”

UNC’s 2011 Academic Plan calls for a renewed investment in both interdisciplinary research and engaged scholarship that benefits the public good. The Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative also supports the Innovate@Carolina Roadmap, UNC’s plan to help Carolina become a world leader in launching University-born ideas for the good of society.

For a story on the creation of the Digital Innovation Lab, and examples of ongoing projects, visit and “Going to the Show,” a digital humanities collaboration between Allen and UNC’s Wilson Library, was awarded the 2011 American Historical Association’s Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History.

College of Arts and Sciences contact: Kim Spurr, (919) 962-4093,

Originally published at UNC News. Additional reporting of this announcement can be found at: