Guest Blog: A Few Words about the Digital Humanities

Posted on November 19, 2015 by J. Gerald Kennedy, Boyd Professor of English

Humanities research has long been solitary work, tied to reading, writing, and studying paper artifacts—books, newspapers, letters, manuscripts, documents, etc.—preserved in physical archives. This kind of work will continue: often, there is no alternative.

But new technologies are already transforming the work of young scholars in every humanities discipline, and that work is typically collaborative. Under the “Digital Humanities” banner, computer-based projects have created new ways to study old materials and different ways to ask questions. As electronic media replace print materials, humanities scholarship has adopted technology to produce reliable digital texts that make it possible, for example, to study—and search—rare books wherever internet access exists. The scanning and digitizing of fragile print editions has become crucial to both preservation and accessibility. My colleague Lauren Coats has created an online magazine, Archive Journal, to showcase exemplary DH projects. Some of these involve the aggregation of digital materials around a rich topic (see the Walt Whitman Archive) or the creation of impeccably edited, annotated digital editions. The same expertise that produced authoritative print volumes is wielding new tools to create texts for the next generation.

At LSU, Middleton Library has launched a digital scholarship lab to help faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates develop research projects using electronic tools. Several humanities faculty have initiated collaborative digital studies. With key support from CCT, my own interdisciplinary group is building an archive devoted to antebellum print culture and Edgar Allan Poe. A prototype appears at “Poe’s Magazines” will make accessible, searchable, and intelligible every issue of every magazine Poe helped to edit. His connection to American literature has long seemed problematic, but to read his tales as they first appeared—alongside other pieces—reveals intriguing connections to the preoccupations of Jacksonian America. No print volume could contain this material; our Poe project could only have been born digital.


Dr. J. Gerald Kennedy was named a Boyd Professor in March 2011. Prior to becoming a Boyd, he was the William A. Read Professor of English. He has won two of the university’s highest awards for faculty: the LSU Foundation Distinguished Faculty Award (1993) and the LSU Distinguished Research Master Award (1999). Moreover, he was selected in April 2012 to receive the first-ever Southeastern Conference Faculty Achievement Award. Kennedy has garnered national and international recognition in his field. As one of the world’s leading scholars of 19th and 20th century literature, he has edited a number of works, such as “The Life of Black Hawk,” “The Portable Edgar Allan Poe” and “A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe.” He has received several prestigious grants in support of work, most notably a Guggenheim Fellowship. In addition to his many professional projects, Kennedy is firmly committed to the university community, his department and, above all, his students. He led the Department of English as its chair from 1995 to 1998. To read more about Dr. Kennedy, please click here.


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