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Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia

DH Certificate Proposal

The University of Virginia has a 25-year history of institutional investment and faculty success in the Digital Humanities. We propose offering a certificate in the Digital Humanities for MA and PhD students, in order to encourage and reward student involvement in the Digital Humanities, with a transcriptable graduate credential. The certificate would be hosted by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and administered by the Library, as a cooperative venture that takes advantage of resources already in place.

Definition of Digital Humanities

Digital Humanities (DH) seeks to understand human life and culture using critical and computational methods in concert. It employs technology for research and teaching in the humanities, arts, and interpretative social sciences. It is often interdisciplinary and collaborative, involving innovative methods and tools that advance a field in ways not otherwise feasible. Its practitioners tend do this work reflectively, with a commitment to critical engagement. “DH” as a term refers both to the use of computational methods in the humanities and to research on technology itself; in both senses its investigations are framed in a manner consonant with the questions that humanists find most pressing.

The “computational methods” tradition in DH has a surprisingly long history, one that arguably goes back to the beginning of the 20th century, given that computational methods preceded what we now think of as computers. Much of that history has been philological and linguistic in its research orientation. Digital humanists normally date the field to the work of Father Busa, who in 1949 conceived of using an IBM computer to conduct philological research on the works of Thomas Aquinas. Current DH research in text mining, often found in literature studies and exemplified by the work of scholars such as Ted Underwood (Illinois), is built on this tradition. Sometimes, this work looks like corpus linguistics or information science.  Other DH threads—practiced in disciplines such as archeology, history, and landscape architecture—include versions of spatial representation and analysis that augment scholarship and teaching. In language departments as well as departments of history, anthropology, and sociology, DH work can involve linguistic data, oral histories, studies in sound, network analysis, and multi-media storytelling. Across the disciplines, DH practitioners perform information design and network analysis, and develop the vital digital archives that underpin a good deal of scholarship done in the academy today.

More specifically, the technical approaches used in this computational-methods tradition of DH include modes of textual study such as markup, which indicates metadata about literary form or other features; natural language processing (NLP), which teaches the computer to detect proper names and other entities; stylistic analysis for author attribution; and distant reading methods, which use statistical approaches to identify and interpret the collocation of words across many segments of texts. Spatial approaches include GIS, 3D modelling and printing, and visualizations of dynamic data on populations or events across time.  Databases and content management platforms are the workhorses of DH scholarship, and their architectures and interfaces are ever increasing in sophistication.

The “critical methods” tradition of digital humanities also has a long history—critiques of the value of quantitative approaches in the humanities go back to the 18th century.  This tradition looks more like cultural criticism, and it emphasizes understanding the social impact of technology, the way human bias affects the design of technologies, the genres of experience that we have when interacting with different technologies, etc.  

Adjacent fields such as infrastructure studies and humanities informatics intersect productively with the critical methods tradition in DH, bringing ethnographic tools and information theory, respectively, to help defamiliarize and interrogate interwoven cultural and technological formations.  Critical studies of software, AI, and games can help bring to the surface the hidden cultural norms that metadata and algorithms embed in daily life. 



Graduate students have been important members of the digital humanities community at the University of Virginia since the field’s inception. In positions as fellows, research assistants, and collaborators in the Scholars’ Lab, the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH), and SHANTI, students have made significant intellectual contributions and gone on to notable permanent positions related to the digital humanities. This history of involvement is the foundation for a certificate program that provides students with advising, curricular structure, and committee oversight. A graduate certificate will help its recipients demonstrate digital humanities experience, something that is potentially relevant to a broad range of futures, including further graduate study, postdocs, “alt-ac” and library positions, as well as work in the tech sector, in publishing, and in media more generally.  

Faculty across the disciplines will benefit from increased collaboration and community as they develop and extend pedagogies for interpretive and computational DH. And as supervisors of research projects providing DH practicum experience, faculty will also find value in the expertise and commitment of graduate-level research contributors. Additionally, the university community as a whole will benefit from the events programming and communication efforts that underlie the program’s practicum requirements.

In the US and around the world, institutions are offering graduate programs and (more commonly) certificates in the Digital Humanities. While UVa’s strong DH reputation and Scholars’ Lab fellowships currently attract graduate students to our humanities departments, this certificate program will ensure that we continue to offer the strongest qualifications to students who have overlapping commitments to studies in the humanities and the digital.



Graduate students (MA and PhD) in Arts and Sciences may apply to this certificate program with the permission of their director of graduate studies, and may enroll if their application is accepted by the DH certificate committee. Graduate students from other UVa schools may enroll with permission from their academic dean or dean’s designee and acceptance by the certificate committee.  At the time of application to the DH certificate program, doctoral students are expected to articulate a plan approved by their DGS for completing the certificate requirements within the standard candidacy deadline and graded credit requirements for their program.



·         One core course (three credits) on the history and theory of digital humanities. A new DH mnemonics will be created for this course (see attached syllabus)

·         One practicum course (three credits) to focus more specifically on the hands-on work—often but not necessarily technical—that is usually involved in DH projects. Each practicum will have a faculty supervisor of record and a new DH mnemonic will be created for this course. The practicum course includes attendance at the DH colloquium, 60 hours of hands-on work in DH, and a portfolio.

o    The practicum course may include (but is not limited to) a research assistantship on a faculty DH project, participation in fellowships from Scholars' Lab, an independent study with an instructor of record, or participation in a DH summer institution such as the Digital Humanities Summer Institute or the Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching workshop.

o    The 60 hours of practical work for the practicum course must be approved by the student's departmental advisor and the DH certificate administrator, who will consult regularly with the DH committee. While the core course and electives are expected to involve a significant intellectual contribution from the student, practicum work will focus more specifically on the hands-on work—often but not necessarily technical—that is usually involved in DH projects. Each practicum will have a faculty supervisor of record. The portfolio will document students' DH work done throughout their time at the university and will require a reflective portion and a presentation.

·         Two electives (three credits each) with a significant DH component, either intrinsic to the course or as an instructor-approved project by the student. Departments may develop specific standards regarding these electives in collaboration with the DH committee. Certificate-qualifying elective courses will retain the mnemonic and instructors of their home departments. Qualifying electives are:

o    ​A course in the student’s home department or an outside department designated in advance by the DH committee as qualifying for the DH certificate.

o    A course within the student's home department or another department that does not have the DH certificate designation but for which the student completes a DH assignment. Permission of the instructor and the DH committee is required.  

o    An independent study with an instructor of record who agrees to oversee a DH project either in the student's home department or outside, with the permission of the student’s director of graduate studies and the DH committee.


The DH certificate will be hosted in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and administered through the Office of the Dean of the Library. A DH committee provides the academic oversight to the certificate (see membership below), while a small faculty advisory committee will be appointed to run the certificate. An administrative director of the program will support the activities of the DH committee and of the faculty advisory committee, maintain an events schedule to provision the colloquium portion of the practicum course, encourage collaboration among DH and related organizations at the University, and advance the DH certificate program’s interests in terms of funding and promotion.

Students in master’s programs will apply to the certificate program by the conclusion of their first semester of enrollment, and doctoral students will apply by the conclusion of their first year of enrollment.  Waivers for later application may be granted in some circumstances (such as for those students who have achieved high levels of DH proficiency and experience before the official start of the certificate program), as long as they can incorporate the DH requirements into their master’s degree or PhD candidacy requirements.


John Unsworth, Dean of Libraries and University Librarian

Francesca Fiorani, Associate Dean for Arts and Humanities and Professor of Art

Alison Booth, Academic Director of Scholars’ Lab and Professor of English

Worthy Martin, Acting Director, Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities and Associate Professor of Computer Science

David Germano, Director of SHANTI and Professor of Religious Studies

Ron Hutchins, Vice President for Information Technology

Mark Saunders, Director of the University of Virginia Press

Rafael Alvarado, Research Faculty in the Data Science Institute

Amanda Visconti, Managing Director of Scholars’ Lab

Daniel Pitti, Director of Social Networks and Archival Context Cooperative, UVa Library

Rennie Mapp, Project Manager for Strategic DH Initiatives, Office of the Vice President for Information Technology and the Office of the Dean of Libraries


  This proposal is not final and will go through several stages of University approval.  Please contact Rennie Mapp, DH certificate project manager, at if you have questions or comments.


September 2018

Last updated 25 January 2018