Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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Digital scholarship

Wheaton faculty member named to national leadership effort

History professor Kathryn Tomasek has been named to a newly formed national leadership council for promoting the practice of digital scholarship in the humanities.

The Digital Humanities Council was formed by the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, an organization that seeks to improve liberal arts education through the strategic use of technology.

Tomasek's appointment to the 14-member panel represents national acknowledgement for the leading role she has played in promoting the use of technology in teaching and learning in the humanities.

"I've been interested in how digital tools can enhance students' learning experiences since I arrived at Wheaton in 1992," says the associate professor of history, who also serves as co-director of the college's Digital History Project. "At that point, faculty members were exploring the use of email discussion lists as a way to encourage students who were uncomfortable speaking in classroom discussion to find a different way to participate in courses."

The conversation has changed radically in the intervening years. Faculty members in the humanities employ technology to analyze images and texts in increasingly sophisticated ways that enable students to get involved in original research and scholarly work.

Tomasek's scholarship exemplifies the trend at Wheaton and elsewhere. In 2004, she began working with students to digitize and encode historical documents—diaries from the 19th century written by a woman from Maine. Since then, Tomasek has collaborated with students and LIS staff to digitize and encode primary sources related to the founding of Wheaton, including diaries and financial ledgers.

Students who study with Tomasek also get involved in contributing to the History Engine, an online resource of original articles on historical events.

These projects have led to the publication of numerous articles on methods in digital humanities teaching and learning, including an essay in the forthcoming volume, Writing History in the Digital Age, which will be published as a digital book by the University of Michigan Press later this year.

The digital humanities projects in which Tomasek has been a leader also have received several grants, including recent awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Members of the team also collaborate with Brown University researchers, winning additional grants to power this work.

"The idea is that students learn best when they are actively engaged in real research that adds to the sum of knowledge that exists in the world," Tomasek says.