Pamela Gossin’s #DHPS2016 Presentation on the Neihardt Projects

Pamela Gossin of UT Dallas kicked off the presentations with a presentation entitled “The Neihardt Projects: Unexpected History of Science.”

 Gossin “studies the interdisciplinary interrelations of literature, history and science, especially astronomy and cosmology, from the ancient world, through the Scientific Revolution to the present.” In this presentation she discussed her own evolution as a humanist challenging the perceived boundaries between “The Sciences” and “Literature.” She related how her own research of disciplinary boundaries helped her to negotiate the evolving boundaries between the digital, the humanities, the sciences, libraries, archives, etc.

John G. Neihardt, the Nebraska Poet Laureate, was a writer of Great Plains literature. One of his best known works, Black Elk Speaks, is a biography of a Lakota holy man which has received both positive reviews for an insight into the Lakota people and critical review from Lakotas as the naive writings of an outsider. Gossin’s digital project “provides an extensive searchable digital archive of Neihardt’s collected professional and personal letters along with previously uncollected essays and reviews. Accompanying interpretative essays provide a contextual framework for the digital archive.”

Hosted by the University of Nebraska, “The Neihardt Projects,” reflects the host’s success in funding, developing, and supporting DH projects. Gossin reflected on how absolutely necessary the partnership with established digital humanists in terms of navigating TEI, markup, web coding—the translation of a project that would have been a collected book of correspondence in the past into a digital archive.

The utility of this particular DH project is in all of those things that a collected book of correspondence would have failed to do. Sharing and even teaching the Lakota language is a powerful part of the tool. This site can be used as an educational tool, as an OER tool for Neihardt’s works, and as a model for other projects.

Gossin’s message focused on her own transition from humanist as solitary thinker, into a collaborative member of a broader project with wider impact. Coming from my own support position in the Center for Teaching Excellence, I really appreciated Gossin’s public appreciation of her collaborators, the DH specialists who like early scientific assistants are often omitted from discussions of DH projects.

Humanists have long worked in a model of single authorship and their professional advancement has relied on their ability to write and publish on their own. This history has spilled over into the early years of DH as confusion over how to credit the large working groups that are often required to develop DH projects. In hiring and evaluating tenure portfolios, single-author article and monographs are still often weighted ahead of collaborative projects. Gossin’s presentation served as a reminder of how powerful collaborative research can be and how useful it can be to acknowledge this collaboration.

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