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UH launches Texas Digital Humanities Consortium with four other TX universities

CLASS faculty leading digital humanities initiative on campus and organizing conference

Casey Due Hackney

Natalie Houston

Rex Koontz

Cameron Buckner

The University of Houston has joined forces with four other Texas universities to launch the Texas Digital Humanities Consortium, an organization that promotes computer-assisted database research in the humanities disciplines and connects digital researchers at universities and across the nation.

In addition to UH, the other founding members of the consortium are Rice University, Texas A&M University, University of Texas at Austin, and University of North Texas. Each institution has its own digital humanities initiative.

At UH, that initiative is led by faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, including Dr. Casey Dué Hackney, director of classical studies in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Dr. Natalie Houston, associate professor of English, Dr. Rex Koontz, director of the School of Art, and Dr. Cameron Buckner, the CLASS postdoctoral fellow in digital humanities.

“Applying computational methods to traditionally humanistic questions allows researchers to see information, data, and patterns that they couldn’t see before,” Dr. Buckner said.

He is the lead organizer of the inaugural Texas Digital Humanities Conference, which will be held April 10-12 on the UH campus. Dr. Buckner said Houston is the ideal location for this inaugural conference for several reasons.

“Firstly, UH is undergoing dramatic growth, emerging as a tier-one research university during the advent of the digital revolution,” he said. “Secondly, Houston hosts internationally important digital archives, especially on the topics of Latino and Latin American art and history. The opportunity to work directly with these types of digital archives will allow us to recruit top scholars and continue to push the state of the art in digital archiving and research.”

The consortium was formed in the fall of 2013 to increase awareness of the research and teaching in digital humanities in Texas institutions and to facilitate scholarly conversations and collaborations among faculty and students at member universities.

“Digital humanities is an inter-disciplinary area of research that brings together researchers from many different fields,” said Dr. Houston. “The Texas Digital Humanities Consortium will create opportunities for dialogue and scholarly interchange, such as our upcoming conference.”

According to Dr. Buckner, the field of digital humanities has been gaining attention in academia since the early 2000s when cutting-edge computational methods became readily available in the humanities, though it taps into a much older tradition of "humanities computing" that can be traced back to Roberto Busa, an Italian Jesuit priest who was one of the first to see the potential of computers for working with text in the 1940s.

The first international Digital Humanities conference was held in Paris in 2006, the result of an earlier joint meeting of the Association for Computers and the Humanities and the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing.

Responding to this growing momentum, the National Endowment for the Humanities began an initiative to award digital humanities grants in 2006, which later evolved into the office of Digital Humanities in 2008. Drs. Dué Hackney, Houston and Koontz are recipients of NEH digital humanities grants.

Dr. Koontz’s project, “Vwire,” is an online tool where a computer visually sorts, compares, and categorizes artwork. Currently, “Vwire” is examining ancient masks from Teotihuacan archeological site in central Mexico.

Similar to “Vwire,” Dr. Houston’s project uses modern technology for visual analysis. Her “Visual Page” project is an open source computer program which performs digital analysis of the graphic elements specific to Victorian-era texts. This program not only examines the actual text on the page, but the use of white space in these historical texts. She started with a test case of approximately 60,000 page images from 300 books of poetry printed between 1860 and 1880.

The “Homer Multitext” project, headed by Dr. Hackney, is examining the oldest complete version of The Iliad, dated around the 10th century A.D. By not only examining the text itself, but also the centuries-old, ‘scolia,’ or comments written on the actual manuscript from past scholars, the Homer Multitext offers free, digital  access to a library of texts, images, and tools which allows researchers to discover and engage with the Homeric tradition.

The Texas Digital Humanities Consortium has plans to grow and add more institutes of higher learning that host digital humanities researchers.

For more information about the consortium and the April conference, visit The registration deadline for the conference is March 20.

- By Monica Byars