Virtual Reality, Environmental Ethics, and More: Featured Projects at the Digital Scholarship Symposium

The Raynor Memorial Libraries hosted its third Digital Scholarship Symposium on September 28th. The Symposium is an opportunity for scholars from Marquette and other institutions to gather together and present their work or research, to explore new ideas and technologies, and to network with others in a diverse collection of fields.

One of the most exciting and engaging parts of the Symposium this year was the lunchtime poster session which offered attendees and on-lookers to learn about a variety of digital scholarship and digital media projects that campus and community members are working on. There were six projects highlighted during the poster session, with topics ranging from social justice history in Milwaukee to the Marquette Haggerty Museum’s Virtual Reality project to a environmental ethics capstone that created a report and toolkit for the Milwaukee Archdiocese to use in talking about climate change.

Here are several of the projects that were presented in the Lower Level of the Raynor Library …

The Diederich College of Communication presented a senior journalism capstone project that focused on Milwaukee’s Civil Rights marches in the late 1960s. Marching on: 50 Years Since the Milwaukee Housing Marches explores the protests and marches that brought the inequality and racial oppression of Milwaukee’s housing ordinances to light for the city and surrounding communities. Focusing in on five key elements — Housing, Protests, Counter-protests, Politics, Education, and Jobs — the team of students researched the social and cultural history of the marches. To contextualize their findings, they interviewed community members who had marched and protested, as well as current historians, educators, and community activists, exploring not only the immediate effects of the social justice movement, but the long-term legacy of the marches for equality.

Next, the group put together a large multimedia digital scholarship project to feature and share their work on the web. Each element featured includes an essay detailing the relationship of, for example, Jobs to the marches, as well as digital objects to drill deeper, contextualize, or draw attention to the most important information. These objects include interactive maps, created with Tableau, that represent the growth and movement of ethnic groups across the Milwaukee County landscape in the decades since the marches. Or a snippet of an interview or testimonial from an community member of scholar, recorded, edited, and then embedded as a Soundcloud file within the essay. Some elements feature infographics created with Piktochart or images taken from archival files or by the students themselves. But each helps the audience to interpret the story of the marches better.

The Milwaukee Housing Marches project is a wonderful example of digital scholarship for those uncertain just what that term means. It combines rigorous research and investigative work with types of digital media that enhance and help to contextualize the data into a narrative that visitors can engage with and explore in order to better understand the topic as a whole.

The Virtual Harlem Project is a digital environment and collaborative learning tool that reproduces the Harlem, NY neighborhood during the Harlem Renaissance and Jazz Age in the 1920s. The purpose behind Dr. Bryan Carter’s project is to give students an immersive experience in the historical environment that played such a large role in the development of early 20th-century African American literary history through “interactive elements, collaborative possibilities, music of the period” and more. Wearing the VR goggles, walking among the streets of 1920s-Harlem, students are able to make deep connections with the literature studied.

Virtual Harlem utilizes a combination of technologies and concepts in order to produce such a complex interactive environment. James Pyfer has written an excellent article that analyses them in depth but the most important one is the use of a CAVE, or a “Cave Automatic Virtual Environment.” This is a unique projection set-up that creates the virtual environment for the user using a combination of sensors, screens and speakers. The user wears 3D goggles which transform the 2D images into a 3D composite, and as they move within the CAVE cubicle, the images change to make it seem like they are truly moving within the scene.

An early project within the Digital Scholarship field, the Virtual Harlem Project has inspired new directions in education and research in many fields. The possibilities — backed by intense and in-depth research — are endless, and so are the applications of this kind of project.

Flipping the Default Toolkit is the culmination of a semester-long Environmental Ethics capstone seminar at Marquette, directed by Dr. Jame Schaefer. A requirement for the Interdisciplinary Minor in Environmental Ethics, the course was designed to give students the opportunity to identify and explore collectively in depth one ecological problem and design an ethical approach to its resolution that is theologically and philosophically grounded. The problem they chose was human-forced climate change.

The six students came a variety of majors and with diverse future goals, and produced a toolkit that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee could use to promote theologically motivated environmental activism. Taking Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical, Laudato si’, On Care for Our Common Home, as their spiritual guide, the students came up with a number of recommendations for actions that could be taken on the individual and family level, the neighborhood and community level, the parish and Archdiocese level, and finally, in Wisconsin at large, to flip from reliance on fossil-fueled energy to renewable and efficient energy strategies.

As part of their project, the students wrote a 50+ page report outlining the problem. They identified the theological and philosophical underpinnings of their research, and described how this prompted an ethical response. Then they presented the report and toolkit to representatives from the Archdiocese and the City of Milwaukee to much acclaim. The toolkit itself is an eight-page explanation of the climate change problem and a breakdown of the ways and levels at which action can be taken. They begin with the spiritual motivations for “Flipping the Default,” and then showcase resources that can be accessed in order to make positive and ethical changes at every level.

While the Individual Level page features information on informed voting and Milwaukee programs that can be implemented by individuals and households, the Neighborhood Level page offers suggestions for how small groups can support switching to more efficient and renewable energy. For example, the reader can click on “NeighborWorks America” and be directed to the organization’s page on making homes more energy efficient.

Right now the “Flipping the Default” is featured on several websites, including the City of Milwaukee’s page on Energy Engagement and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s social justice page, which features parish resources and discussion guides for engaging with Laudato si’. The semester-long project stands as a testament to the passion and commitment of the students who worked to create it. And will help encourage more people to make ethical choices to help combat climate change in their lives.

The Encyclopedia of Milwaukee is a website that “aims to provide comprehensive coverage of the history of Milwaukee” in the form of illustrations, maps, historical and contemporary data, and bibliographic materials. EMKE was created by Dr. Amanda Seligman and Dr. Margo Anderson, both professors in UWM’s History Department, and its Editorial Board also features Dr. Thomas Jablonsky and Dr. James Marten from the Marquette History Department as well as local historian John Gurda. Funding for the project has come from multiple sources, including a NEH Digital Futures grant, a grant from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, as well as support from UWM and Marquette University, and donations from independent organizations and fundraising campaigns.

The site covers the greater Milwaukee metropolitan area, including the counties of Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington, and aims to include 740 entries by its completion this year. Entries vary from intangible concepts like “Animal-Human Relations” to notable Milwaukee-area people to specific locations such as the BloodCenter of Wisconsin or unique events like the annual Milwaukee Highland Games. And each includes a well-researched summary of the subject as well as suggestions for further reading (when applicable). Users can find information in several different ways, including an A-Z topic list, a “Browse by Subject” feature, and a map with pinpoints indicating entries. There is also an Advanced Search option that allows users to filter their searches by a number of criteria (Entries, GIS Maps, Images & Maps, Video & Audio, etc.).

The process of creating the site has been long and included multiple stages, including data curation, data mapping, as well as building the actual final product’s website. To manage their content, the team chose to use a LAMP stack (or Linux operating system, Apache HTTP server, MySQL database software, and PHP scripting language), an open-source software bundle that can be used to create dynamic and user-friendly web interfaces. And, as project manager Ching-tzu Chien expressed in the video below, the process involved a creating a front-end (the public interface) and a back-end (the project and website’s infrastructure) in order to create a final product that could fulfill its objectives, concepts that the initial team were unfamiliar with at first. But as they navigated the long process of fitting their content and their output together, both sides of the project were able to understand how the two halves fit together to create the immensely valuable final product, the EMKE website.

This year’s Digital Scholarship Symposium was a rousing success. From the presentations to the networking sessions and poster session, a lot of great work was done and intriguing ideas passed around. But more than anything, the event highlighted the fact that there is so much more work to be done in digital humanities and digital scholarship.

So, when the Symposium comes around next year, make sure to register and attend!



News, events and resources at the Raynor Memorial Libraries’ Digital Scholarship Lab

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store