New Digital Research Commons Director

The University of Houston Libraries welcomes Claude Willan as the new director of the Digital Research Commons (DRC).

UH Libraries Digital Research Commons

Please describe your role at UH Libraries and discuss your professional goals and research areas.

My role is new to the Libraries. We’re bringing researchers into the library, and we are producing research from within the library. The DRC is a catalyst and hub for research and collaborative work among students, faculty, and librarians.

One of the things I discovered when I arrived at UH, to my delight, was the huge number of people who are already working in digital research in various forms across the humanities, social sciences, and the experimental sciences. My job is to bring all of them together and provide cohesion through workshops, reading groups, classes, and projects to build a wide-ranging and diverse intellectual community.

Part of my job as DRC director is to pursue my own research in 18th century British literature. I’m particularly interested in the circulation of manuscripts and in tracing where manuscripts went and who read them. I use visualization tools to do that. I’m also interested in more broadly how we came to think about literature in the ways that we do, and the role that the 18th century plays in that story.

Please share a bit about your background and interests. How do these inspire and shape your philosophy on digital humanities/digital research?

I came here with a PhD from Stanford in English literature. My journey into digital research began much earlier. As a kid I had that curiosity; I had tinkered with some basic programming. In graduate school I was drawn into this large project where I began to think about quite traditional humanistic questions while drawing on skills that I’d picked up as a teenager. We think of digital research as something new or groundbreaking, but a lot of the way we do our work is digital, and has been for decades. What’s new are the tools, innovations, and processes that have brought sea change. What we’re trying to do here is make good on the promise of computing power.

When I teach my students new tools to do text mining, data visualization, or network graphs, graduates and undergraduates find it to be an easy conceptual shift, because like me, they grew up thinking digitally in some sense. Digital research doesn’t have to be a big transformation in the way we do things; it’s more about seeing the potential for new avenues of inquiry and scaling our methods.

Please describe your first impressions of the University.

I’ve been incredibly excited to come to UH because it’s by far and away the most diverse university I’ve worked at, in terms of the student body and in the variety of research that’s going on. I’ve been lucky to meet with faculty who are engaged in unusual and exciting work. It’s clear that UH is being intentional and deliberate about where it’s going as a rigorous, energetic, and forward-thinking place, and it’s thrilling to build something new as a part of that vision.

For more information on working with the Digital Research Commons, contact Claude Willan.

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Posted on October 10th, 2017 by Esmeralda Fisher and filed under Announcements | Comments Off on New Digital Research Commons Director