SIUe THATCamp 2016

Theme: Engaging Communities through Digital Humanities Registration is open for the SIUE THATCamp 2016. The unconference will be held June 11-12, 2016 on the beautiful Southern Illinois University Edwardsville campus, located just 25 miles from St. Louis. THATCamp stands for “The Humanities and Technology Camp.” It is an unconference, which is a small, open, inexpensive meeting where humanists and technologists of all skill levels learn and build together. The breakout sessions at this unconference are loosely formed prior to the conference and finalized the first day of the unconference. This allows for a dynamic, collaborative atmosphere as opposed to a more formal, and competitive format of a typical DH conference setting. The theme of this year’s THATCamp is “Engaging Communities through Digital Humanities.” We invite you to come and share your ideas, as we investigate opportunities where digital humanities and people outside the academic world intersect. How can a digital humanities project impact, empower, or engage a person, a town, a country, or the world? Please share and invite your colleagues and students! All are welcome! For more information and to register, please visit the website: If you have any questions, please contact Lora Smallman at SIUE THATCamp 2016 Planning Committee: Lora Smallman, Humanities Librarian, SIUE Melissa Burel, Catalog Librarian, SIUE Jessica DeSpain, Associate Professor of English, SIUE Kristine Hildebrandt, Associate Professor of English, SIUE Kayla Hays, National Archives and Records Administration Follow us on Twitter: Like us on Facebook:

NSF-Funded Dictionary of Gyalsumdo Released

Of the more than 6,000 languages spoken in the world today, only about 20% of these have established and community-embraced writing systems (orthographies). The other languages have survived through time through oral traditions and transmissions to younger generations. In scenarios of language endangerment, one approach to preservation and promotion is the production of written materials that younger speakers may have access to in education environments (schools). The collaborators of the NSF CAREER (BCS 1149639) project “Documenting the Languages of Manang, Nepal” undertook such an effort to preserve and promote the Gyalsumdo language, which has just around 250 speakers, most of them over the age of 50. The IRIS Center played a big role in the production of this valuable resource. GCover_March2.jpg This Gyalsumdo-Nepali-English dictionary is identified as both “practical” and “community” in its organization and purpose. It is practical in the sense that it provides a useful introduction to the lexicon (vocabulary) of Gyalsumdo for scholars with linguistic, anthropological and taxonomic interests (e.g. plant, clothing, festival, geo-spatial and food terms, etc.) or for those who want to learn more about speaking the Gyalsumdo language. It is also a community-based dictionary in the sense that we hope it is a tool that can play a role in the maintenance and survival of the Gyalsumdo language. Many of the descriptions and analyses of languages are made for the benefit of scholars, and therefore are of little use or value to the speech communities themselves. A community dictionary, on the other hand, is constructed to be useful to semi- or passive users of a language such that they may increase their knowledge of the vocabulary. When placed amongst other curricular materials in local schools, a community dictionary also allows students to consider how the Gyalsumdo language fits into other subject areas in their education and in their larger community. This is often considered the “symbolic function” of a dictionary: it provides to Gyalsumdo equal footing in terms of the languages of wider communication of Manang and Nepal. This dictionary was published by the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies at Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu Nepal. Five hundred copies were made available to Gyalsumdo community leaders to distribute at their discretion to local primary and higher secondary schools in Gyalsumdo-speaking communities in Manang District, Nepal. IMG_0160.jpg A program was held in Kathmandu, Nepal (at the Gyalsumdo Gompa in Swoyambhu) at the time of the dictionary distribution (March, 2016), honoring this product, which was a true community effort. Community leaders played critical and regular roles in orthography creation, in lexical item selection, and in the overall dictionary structure. In particular, the authors wish to thank the following individuals, who are IRIS-affiliated and also Nepal-based: Mr. Norbu Lama, Mr. Ritar Lhakpa Lama, Ms. Ching Chippa, Dr. Joseph Perry, Dr. Oliver Bond, Dr. Shunfu Hu, Ms. Prita Malla, Mr. Prabal Malla, Ms. Yesha Malla, Ms. Kanchen Kharki, Ms. Tiffany Downing, Ms. Morgan Rogers.  

IRIS Open House January 2016

IMG_0799 On January 28th, IRIS hosted its annual open house. Faculty and students from across the university came to the Center to learn about current projects and resources for faculty and students. The event highlighted research being done by professors in the digital humanities. The presenters/presented projects included:
  • Dr. Jason Stacy, whose continuing contribution to the Walt Whitman Archive ( makes Whitman’s work freely available and easy to navigate.IMG_0783
  • Digital East Saint Louis, a collaboration between the STEM center, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Education, is a project which attempts to diminish the digital divide present in local communities where students do not have access to the technology or education needed to acquire computer literacy. The participating eighth graders create digital historical archives of their city which simultaneously teaches basic coding skills gives the students pride in their community.
  • Greg Fields, who demonstrated his monograph and audio-visual companion material on Northwest Coast tribes.
  • Johanna Schmitz, who presented her ongoing work on the Rose Theatre Trust image archive
  • Kristine Hildebrandt, and her collaborative work to document mother-tongue survivor narratives from the 2015 Nepal earthquakes.
  • Wide, Wide World Digital Edition, is a project which publishes digital copies of the various editions of Wide, Wide World (1851) by Susan Warner. This novel is exemplary of the trend of adaptation and recreation of texts according to the needs and interests of the publishers.
IMG_0797IRIS offers the technology, facilities, and support to conceptualize cross-disciplinary and collaborative projects with digital applications. It also helps to foster mentorship and collaboration between faculty and students at both undergraduate and graduate levels. If you are interested in learning more about the facility as well as faculty and student resources, please contact Dr. Kristine Hildebrandt ( or Dr. Jessica DeSpain ( (Photo credits: IRIS Center students Morgan Rogers and Alex Jackson)  

IRIS Center Open House: Thursday, January 28, 1-3pm

Join IRIS (Peck Hall, 0226) this Thursday, January 28th from 1-3pm for our annual open house showcase. Learn more about recent and ongoing projects, including: Learn more about what IRIS can offer you:
  • IRIS can facilitate the conceptualization and design of cross-disciplinary and collaborative projects with digital applications
  • IRIS can support such projects via access to specialized computing facilities
  • IRIS can foster mentorship and collaboration between faculty and students at both undergraduate and graduate levels
  • IRIS can facilitate the development of curricular innovation that makes significant use of digital and informatics applications and resources
  • IRIS can promote digital endeavors that link scholarly resources and goals with community initiatives and organizations
Snacks and beverages will be provided!

IRIS Student Profile: Sarah Song’s Work on the Manang Languages Project

Hello, my name is Sarah Song and I am a Junior Business Administration major with a specialization in Human Resources. My time as an Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) student with Dr. Kristine Hildebrandt this Fall has been an influential experience. Though not related directly to my major, I felt that my work with the Manang Languages Project would provide me with a valuable skill set that I could easily translate into the business administration world. My primary tasks this semester were to properly format and complete grammatical edits for Nepali language recordings captured by Dr. Hildebrandt and her research team during their time in Nepal. These minuscule, sentence-by-sentence edits, helped me to take a closer look at the details that make up another language, and, through that, another culture. Knowing that my work is a part of a greater goal to preserve this language for others to research and appreciate, makes each tiny edit worth it. I’m learning that a successful business model involves creating a connection with people first and foremost. As I spent time with the language, I was able to feel a kind of connection with the Nepali people and, through my work, I will also be able to provide the opportunity for others to form connections and use these recordings for their research. Communication is another important component in the business administration world and language is one tool we use in order to communicate our ideas. Having the opportunity to explore the structure of a new language helped to broaden my perspective on effective communication in different cultures. I also had the opportunity to work with technology in a new way. This semester I learned how to use tools such as: Elan, Toolbox, and Dropbox.  Working on this project has allowed me to explore a new culture, discover new digital tools, and think about different ways to use my business administration background.

Upcoming Omeka Update: A post from student, Ben Ostermeier

For about 4 years now, the Wide, Wide World Digital Edition has used the Omeka web publishing platform. We have not, however, kept up with the updates to the Omeka software, as more recent versions configure the themes and database differently. The newer version has grown increasingly tempting, as it both allows for more flexibility in creating exhibits and has a built in responsive design, meaning the website will be viewable on smaller-resolution phones and tablets. Thankfully, my growing expertise in web development has given me the confidence to attempt the update. Already, I’ve made a few minor tweaks to the websites theme this past spring, but now we’re heading for larger update to the latest version of Omeka. Thus far, I have made a newer theme compatible with the latest version of Omeka that is also responsive. Under the guidance of Dr. DeSpain and the fellow members of the project, I’ve based the theme on a prototype design for the website along with the current version. Check out the comparison below:

This is an old prototype of the website theme


This is the current theme


This is a prototype theme for the new version of the website

I’m not yet done with the theme. It is likely I will replace the blue-green book cover with a red one to tie it to the color scheme. I will also possibly add a subtle texture to the background. Still, look forward to that update sometime soon.

SIUE IRIS 2015-2016 Users & Groups

We proudly present the 2015-2016 IRIS users and groups! Stay tuned for 2015-2016 project updates and IRIS users’ first hand accounts on their research, tools, trials, and triumphs. Iris_usergroups_15-16  

Introducing the IRIS Lab Technician, Kayla Hays


Hello, IRIS Lab community. This is just a quick blurb to introduce myself and let you learn a bit about where I’m from, how the IRIS Lab and I can assist with your projects, and some of my goals during my time here.

Who am I?

I completed my BA in English with a minor in Mass Communications right here at SIUE. My undergraduate experience here was invaluable and had a substantial impact on the type of student and professional I am today.

In fact, my interest in the world of digital humanities was fostered here in the IRIS Lab. In 2011 I began working with Dr. DeSpain as a volunteer on The Wide, Wide World Digital Edition project. I continued working on the project as an URCA Assistant and then as an Editorial Assistant for a semester following graduation.

This past August I finished graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for library and information science. During graduate school, I worked as a graduate assistant in the Main Library in the Scholarly Commons and as a marketing and outreach assistant for the Student Life and Culture Archives.

How Can I Help?

If you’re interested in starting a grant-funded project, I’d be happy to meet with you to discuss potential options. I’m also available to provide guidance if you’ve already begun the grant writing process or if you’re considering resubmission.

I’m also here to provide a face for the IRIS Lab. If you’re curious about the opportunities and services this space can provide for you and your students, I’m here to answer your questions as well as assist with current and ongoing IRIS related projects.


  • Provide advice and tutorials/workshops to faculty on digital projects.
  • Cultivate faculty projects and provide assistance with each step of the grant application process: Let’s chat about the ways in which the IRIS Lab can help support that project you always wanted to tackle.
  • Develop a social media plan: It would be great to see regular posts on the blog and to consistently share our day-to-day activities in the lab! All (directly or indirectly involved with the lab) are welcome to contribute.
  • Find and research new, open source tools for the lab.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any IRIS related questions. You can also just stop in, say hello, and have a look at the space (PH 0226).

Coding for Community

Middle School Students Feature Local Culture and History Through SIUE “Digital East St. Louis” Project
Rachel Pehle works with two participants to upload photos for the walking tour of East St. Louis.East St. Louis middle school students are looking at their city through a camera lens, capturing images that help provide a deeper understanding of the culture and history embedded in their local streets. Their photographs will be one portion of a website that includes content-rich digital maps the students are creating through Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s “Digital East St. Louis” project. The three-year project, which began this summer, is using digital humanities, a field that uses digital technologies to study questions related to history and culture, to generate interest in computing and information technologies among minority middle school-aged students. It is supported by an $846,000 Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) grant awarded to SIUE from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The multidisciplinary effort is being led by Sharon Locke, director of the SIUE Center for STEM Research, Education and Outreach; Jessica DeSpain, English professor and co-director of the Interdisciplinary Research and Informatics Scholarship (IRIS) Center at SIUE; and Liza Cummings, professor of curriculum and instruction at SIUE. “Research shows that middle school is when children begin to lose interest in STEM fields,” said Locke, principal investigator. “This study is examining out-of-school learning and what role it can have in shaping students’ STEM interest, attitudes and educational choices. “The average American spends less than five percent of their life in a classroom,” she continued. “We need to understand what types of programs best complement classroom learning and promote lifelong learning in STEM. Our research will examine changes in student interests as well as their gains in technology skills over time.” Students will gain knowledge and experience relative to careers in a variety of fields including IT, web development, information science, graphic design and mass communication. During the project’s tenure, participants will produce a comprehensive website of artifacts that will be an ongoing resource for the community. They will use GIS (geographic information systems) technology and database design and management to create content for the site, including a walking tour of East St. Louis neighborhoods. Students will also interview community members, photograph historical sites, write stories about the region and film important cultural events. Amanda Garner-Brooks instructs “Digital East St. Louis” students.“Our research goal is to gauge whether the use of humanities-based and place-based learning will increase student interest in technologically advanced fields,” DeSpain said. “We also hope to encourage students to take ownership and develop pride in their community and motivate them to pursue a college education in a STEM field.” “The students will feature their project at Coding for Community Showcases,” Locke added. “We also will have a parent advisory group that will help us connect to individuals in the community who can contribute their time and expertise.” Area middle school teachers and an after-school/summer program coordinator are teaching the curriculum. Their participation allows for the spreading of the humanities-based approach to STEM learning in other academic environments. The program model will be made widely available to educators nationwide. “This project is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished when people from different disciplines come together to tackle a problem,” Locke said. “We have faculty and staff with expertise in STEM, digital humanities, history, African American studies, curriculum and instruction, K-12 teaching and informal learning. The three-year program will run all week for four weeks through the summer, as well as 15 Saturdays during the school year. Through the NSF grant, up to 50 students can participate. Students receive breakfast, a snack and lunch, along with free transportation to a local middle school. Interested sixth through ninth graders can apply for the “Digital East St. Louis” project by contacting Dr. Liza Cummings at Photo: Rachel Pehle works with two participants to upload photos for the walking tour of East St. Louis. Amanda Garner-Brooks instructs “Digital East St. Louis” students.

The Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House and the IRIS Center

Howard Rambsy II

Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House As part of my work with the Institute for Urban Research, I received a small grant to begin scanning hundreds of photographs documenting activities of the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House, a social service organization in East St. Louis. The organization began in the early 1900s, and the photographs span much of the 20th century. When I first received the batch of photo albums, I was excited about the possibilities. Early during the Fall semester of 2014, I met with SIUE’s metadata librarian Mary Z. Rose and then Digital Imaging Specialist Virginia Stricklin to get a sense of direction and guidance on how I might approach organizing and labeling the digital files. I was almost ready I thought, but I was concerned that I might not have a place on campus where my graduate student Jeremiah Carter could devote the necessary time to scan the documents. IRIS Center to the rescue. Kristine Hildebrandt gave Jeremiah and me a brief lesson on utilizing the equipment and software that would relate to our current project. Later, after Jeremiah and I had a couple of strategy sessions on his approach, he set about the task of scanning documents. Each week, during the Fall semester and over the first month when we returned, Jeremiah spent hours in the IRIS Center scanning and producing notes and preliminary metadata for the images. So far, we’ve expanded a collection of photo albums into more than 500 scanned images with corresponding images. And there’s much more to do. Next up, we’ll have to transfer and label slides. We also want to figure out how to utilize some of the items for public humanities programming. The IRIS Center will serve as a vital space and base for our preparations and next steps.