Digital Bridges for Humanistic Inquiry: A Grinnell College and University of Iowa Partnership

The Obermann Center continues to be an active partner in the Andrew W. Mellon-funded grant, Digital Bridges for Humanistic Inquiry: A Grinnell College and University of Iowa Partnership. We’re delighted to see the many new courses, research projects, and collaborations launched with the help of the grant and to cheer on the projects that we have supported in collaboration with the invaluable staff at the UI Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio.

The Digital Bridges team includes:

  • PIs Erik Simpson (Grinnell College), Jim Elmborg (Library & Information Science, Graduate College, UI), and Obermann Director Teresa Mangum (UI)
  • Postdoctoral Fellows Jen Shook (English Department alumna, now at Grinnell) and Matthew Hannah and Christina Boyles, both Obermann Postdoctoral Fellows (UI)
  • UI graduate students from the SITA (Student Instructional Technology Assistants) wing of the UI Office of Teaching, Learning, & Technology: Michael Goldberg, Trevor Templeman, and Reuben Vyn

We warmly congratulate Christina Boyles on her new position as Digital Project Coordinator at the Trinity College Library and Jim Elmborg, who is joining the University of Alabama as director of UA’s School of Library and Information Sciences.

We also share our gratitude for the many undergraduates who have worked with us and for Erin Hackathorn, Obermann Director of Operations, for her support.

A few highlights from the 2016–17 academic year


Kathy Lavezzo (English, CLAS, UI) and Tim Arner (English, Grinnell College) collaborated on a digital project titled Remappings: Christians and Jews in Early England. Placing special emphasis on pedagogical applications, the project animates Jewish-Christian interaction in medieval and Renaissance England via maps, text, video, and other media.

Paul Dilley (Classics and Religious Studies, CLAS, UI) and James Lee (English, Grinnell College) use large digital collections of Latin and early modern English literature to better understand how classical literature was received by early modern readers in their project, Mining the Renaissance through Multilingual Topic Modeling. They break new ground by using topic modeling to show how concepts like prayer and knowledge developed from antiquity to the Renaissance.

Shanna Benjamin (English, Grinnell College) and Michael Hill (English and African American Studies, CLAS, UI) are developing a web-based project to track the graduate education of African Americans in the Midwest.

Christopher Merrill (English, CLAS, and Director of the International Writing Program, UI), Nataša Durovicová (Cinematic Arts, CLAS, and the International Writing Program, UI), and Jin Feng (Chinese and Japanese, Grinnell College) are documenting Chinese writers’ visits to the UI’s International Writing Program over the 50 years of its existence, mapping the writers and creating a timeline to show the program’s influence upon a larger community of Chinese writers.

Jenny Anger (Art, Grinnell College) launched the Virtual Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon project after the 2015 Summer Institute and was joined by Joyce Tsai, Clinical Associate Professor of Art Education (College of Education, UI) and curator at the UI Museum of Art. They are developing 3-D visualizations of art exhibitions for use in their teaching. Anger’s project is a replication of an early twentieth-century art exhibit in Berlin, and Tsai’s will capture the history of intermedia arts at the UI.

A few additional projects

Matthew Kluber (Art, Grinnell College) was the Digital Bridges Obermann fellow for 2016–17. He created a digital image database of artwork by Grinnell students that will be part of Digital Grinnell, the database for Grinnell College scholarship. He also took his fellow Obermann Fellows on a fascinating tour of the studio where he produces his own digital art.

Diana Cates (Religious Studies, CLAS, UI) and her students continue to develop their virtual Medville Clinic, the heart of Cates’s course, “Hard Cases in Health Care: Ethics at the Beginning of Life.” She discusses the project here.

Kim Marra (Theatre Arts and American Studies, CLAS, UI) is producing a digital video project with the UI Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio and additional support from numerous sources, including Digital Bridges. The Pull of Horses: Embodied Interactions across Urban American Species, 1865–1930 draws on a rich archive of nineteenth-century visual sources.

Summer Institutes

2016 — Making Meaning with Data in the Humanities and Social Sciences: Five faculty members and graduate students from the UI joined fifteen Grinnell faculty members to explore ways their teaching and research could be enriched by data visualization.

2017 — Digital Storytelling: The national organization StoryCenter led an intense, powerful, and wildly successful institute for twenty faculty and graduate students.

Speakers and workshop leaders

The grant also brought leading scholars in the digital arts and humanities from across the country to the UI, often in collaboration with our generous partners, the UI Libraries, the Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio, the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology, and departments on both campuses. Just to note a few—

  • September 7, 2016: Gina Bloom, Associate Professor of English at the University of California–Davis, installed her motion-capture video game, Play the Knave, at the UI Main Library and gave a public lecture on opportunities for humanities scholars and teachers to integrate the humanities into STEAM initiatives, offering Play the Knave as a successful case study.
    Read Iowa Now story, “‘Play the Knave’ puts players in the players’ shoes”
    Watch video: “Virtual Shakespeare at the University of Iowa”
  • February 16–17, 2017: Catherine D’Ignazio, Assistant Professor of Civic Media and Data Visualization at Emerson College, gave a public talk titled “Playful Data, Empowered Publics” on technocultural practices that combine participation, creativity, and context to connect data to everyday life.
    D’Ignazio also led a workshop, “Creative Data Storytelling 101,” teaching participants how to use online data storytelling tools and engage in critical data literacy activities that they can adapt and use in their own classrooms or workplaces to teach others about data storytelling.
  • May 15–16, 2017: Leah Nahmias, Director of Programs and Community Engagement at Indiana Humanities, led a workshop, Project Management 101 for the Arts and Humanities, in which she shared expertise in project management she developed through her many years with state humanities councils. Participants learned specific strategies for planning and conducting ambitious arts and humanities collaborative projects, including effective ways to establish and maintain partnerships; use checklists, timelines, and other collaborative tools; secure stakeholder investment; design effective communications plans; create and oversee a budget; and create feedback loops to evaluate and adjust throughout a project.

“The workshop had an incredible crew assembled, and Leah fostered interconnectivity and sharing of expertise.”

—Project Management 101 for the Arts and Humanities participant


To learn more about Digital Bridges projects, we welcome you to view brief videos with participants on the Obermann Center’s YouTube channel.

About Obermann Center

The University of Iowa’s Obermann Center for Advanced Studies in Iowa City, Iowa.