The Digital Innovation Lab (DIL) was established in 2011 under the administration of the Department of American Studies with a mission to collaborate across units at UNC-Chapel Hill in order to integrate project-based, digital methodologies into humanities scholarship and to promote public humanities through digital innovation. With the support of the Mellon Foundation, the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative (CDHI) began in 2012 as a response to national calls for the need to re-envision teaching, research, and publication in the Humanities. It offered a complex but flexible model that would fundamentally change practices within the University.
The undertaking was breathtaking in its reach: instead of focusing on just the transformation of pedagogy, or just the coordination of infrastructure, or just the facilitation of collaboration across departments and divisions, or just the creation of new public outreach programs or new hiring strategies, the Initiative set out to address all these opportunities simultaneously. The Mellon Foundation’s grants offered UNC the essential freedom to explore the unknown and adapt efforts to meet new needs that emerge. The Foundation understood the need for experimentation in such a comprehensive undertaking.
Since their inception, the DIL and CDHI have achieved their goal of catalyzing campus-wide digital humanities work. Faculty have received pedagogical training and course design support as they adopt new teaching models; students have responded with great enthusiasm to new ways of learning; new courses and programs have been developed; new faculty have been hired and a new graduate certificate in digital humanities is now offered. The “initiative” begun in 2011 is now a sustained presence on campus, Carolina Digital Humanities.
Digital humanities approaches enable a new way of creating and communicating knowledge: its visualizing tools have literally created new ways of seeing information and in particular, new ways of confronting ambiguity. Digital humanities experiences are equipping our students to function more successfully in their future endeavors, with a greater understanding of nuance and willingness to embrace diverse points of view. Faculty members from separate divisions and departments have found each other through mutual interest in these new curricular opportunities; faculty, students and members of our local communities are collaborating in new ways, resulting in deep engagement and excitement. As digital tools (including newly created open source software) have expanded access to our academic resources, some of the most innovative work done by the Initiative has been in local historical projects with groups outside the academy. This back and forth movement of knowledge between the university and the public gives a new shape and texture to the understanding of history and has resulted in strong community engagement.