DIGITAL HUMANITIES

       I became interested in the possibilities of digital humanities when I arrived at UNC-Chapel Hill and met some of the visionaries who created the Documenting the American South project, a truly pioneering undertaking that attracts tens of thousands of visitors each month. In 2009 Natasha Smith, who was then with the Carolina Digital Library and Archives, approached me about a possible collaboration. We discussed ways to translate the seemingly abstract topic of southern historical memory into an accessible site that would be of interest to the broadest possible audience, from K-12 students and teachers to history buffs and professional scholars.
       Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina grew out of these conversations.  The digital archive provides a storehouse of information on 1000+ historical monuments in North Carolina.  One of the site’s aims is to prompt visitors to reflect on what has been memorialized, by whom, and when. Visitors to use the site to explore the commemorative landscapes of North Carolina in ways that we, the creators of the digital archive, could never have anticipated.  Some of the thousands of users who visit the site each month are interested in only a specific monument. But others are interested in the architecture of monuments, the locations of monuments, when monuments were erected, or myriad other topics that could not be easily answered prior to the launch of the site. The site also has been a resource for communities across the state that are contemplating what to do with the hundreds of monuments that commemorate the Confederacy or other controversial historical topics.
       The capacity to generate new knowledge with the site is, I believe, the essential characteristic of the digital humanities. A digital humanities site is more than just another platform to publish scholarship. A static page of text and images falls short of the potential of digital humanities, which should be to facilitate the creation of original knowledge by each user.  Moreover, the content of digital humanities sites should not be static. The Commemorative Landscapes project, for example, is continually being refined and improved thanks to the contributions of users who submit additional information and correct errors.