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Code the Ode: Center For Digital Humanities Marries Technology and Humanistic Studies

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Princeton University history professor Emmanuel Kreike and his team are using digitization and geographic information systems to create a visual and spatial database of the entire Namibia-Angola border across time.

These overlaid aerial photos of Ovamboland, North-Central Namibia dated 1970 (top) and 1943 demonstrate how the field boundaries remain virtually unchanged over the period even as the location of the homestead has moved about 120 feet.

Credit: Office of the Surveyor General, Republic of Namibia

Princeton University's new Center for Digital Humanities was born out the opportunity that computational tools offer to enhance traditional humanities scholarship, according to center director and Princeton professor Meredith Martin.

The facility will nurture and support interdisciplinary initiatives across the humanities, computer sciences, and library sciences, and Martin sees computers' rapid digestion and storage of massive volumes of data as essential to such projects. "Instead of digging through archives trying to find the answer, in collaboration with a computer scientist, the humanist can come up with ways of using existing or new tools to generate a lot of answers very quickly," she says.

Among the projects the center will support in its first year is a comparison of the Namibia-Angola border over time using aerial photos, employing digitization and geographic information systems to integrate qualitative and quantitative data into a layered visual archive.

Other projects will focus on digitizing early alphabet books, and a "virtual archeologist" system that can restore ancient frescoes through a combination of algorithms and a processing system mimicking the procedures traditionally followed at excavation sites.

"The next generation of humanists will need to be equipped not only with a classically humanistic framework...but also with the practical and intellectual tools of digital analysis," Martin says.

From Princeton University
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