The Virtual Humanities Lab and the Evolution of Remote Collaboration

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Vika Zafrin

Vika Zafrin

Brown University
MITH Conference Room
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
12:30 pm

The Virtual Humanities Lab was a two-year project, generously supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities for 2004-06. VHL was housed in Italian Studies at Brown University; we have collaborated with scholars at Brown, and throughout North America and Europe. First, we employed humanities scholars previously unfamiliar with semantic text encoding. The scholars were tasked with studying two information-rich primary sources — by encoding them using idiosyncratic encoding structures. This required training and various types of support, and was complicated by the scholars’ disparate geographical locations. We also made contact with a group in Mexico that is studying one of our texts, Giovanni Boccaccio’s _Expositions on the Divine Comedy_. We’ve set up a discussion forum for them to do their work using our encoded text. Finally, we collaborated amongst ourselves across three continents on writing papers, designing the VHL interface, and further textual analysis.

At MITH, I will talk about the results of these different types of collaboration. I will relate what worked well (a strategic blend of facetime and online communication) and what could have worked better (training humanists in the fundamentals of humanities computing). I will stress and illustrate the importance that collaboration has begun to play in the humanities, and propose to introduce collaboration more substantively into humanities research, arguing for its benefits over our usual solitary work.

Vika Zafrin is a PhD candidate in Special Studies (Humanities Computing) at Brown University, expecting graduation next spring. She was Project Director for NEH-funded Virtual Humanities Lab in 2004-06, and actively participated in the development of the Decameron Web at Brown. Besides collaboration, Zafrin’s interests include intercultural transmission through art, idiosyncratic XML encoding of cultural artifacts, web delivery technologies for semantically encoded materials, the usage of internet resources for teaching, and science fiction as a source of inspiration for humanities work.

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