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Winter 2016

Inquiry Magazine Archive

  • Spring 2016

    Spring 2016: Premium Blend

    Found in everything from space shuttles to dental fillings, composite materials have thoroughly infiltrated modern society. But their potential is still greatly untapped, offering researchers ample opportunity for discovery.

  • Fall 2015

    Fall 2015: Collision Course

    Within the particle showers created at the Large Hadron Collider, answers to some of the universe’s mysteries are waiting.

  • Spring 2015

    Spring 2015: Almost Human

    Model systems like pigeons can help illuminate our own evolutionary and genomic history.

  • Fall 2014

    Fall 2014: Small Wonder

    UT Arlington's tiny windmills are bringing renewable energy to a whole new scale.

  • Winter 2014

    Winter 2014: Overdue for an Overhaul

    The stability of our highways, pipelines, and even manholes is reaching a breaking point.

  • 2012

    2012: Mystery solved?

    Scientists believe they have discovered a subatomic particle that is crucial to understanding the universe.

  • 2011

    2011: Boosting brain power

    UT Arlington researchers unlock clues to the human body’s most mysterious and complex organ.

  • 2010

    2010: Powered by genetics

    UT Arlington researchers probe the hidden world of microbes in search of renewable energy sources.

  • 2009

    2009: Winning the battle against pain

    Wounded soldiers are benefiting from Robert Gatchel’s program that combines physical rehabilitation with treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • 2009

    2007: Sensing a solution

    Tiny sensors implanted in the body show promise in combating acid reflux disease, pain and other health problems.

  • 2006

    2006:Semiconductors: The next generation

    Nanotechnology researchers pursue hybrid silicon chips with life-saving potential.

  • 2005

    2005: Imaging is everything

    Biomedical engineers combat diseases with procedures that are painless to patients.


Democratizing the Humanities

Photograph By Gallery Stock

A new initiative of the College of Liberal Arts is expanding access to historical documents and using big data to analyze everything from medieval texts to Jay Z lyrics.
by traci peterson

Sam haynes wants to change the way students see Texas history—literally. “When we think about Texas history in the early 19th century, we think about narratives that are very Anglocentric in nature,” says The University of Texas at Arlington history professor. “We think about Steven F. Austin coming to Texas. We don’t think about the extraordinarily complex set of indigenous societies who were living here as well.”

By providing students with an interactive, online map that places the largely ignored story of Native Americans in geographical context, Dr. Haynes and his co-researcher, Ramona Holmes, department head of Digital Creation for the UTA Libraries, hope to change that. Called “Border Land: The Struggle for Texas, 1821-1846,” the project is collecting data about sites of conflict between Native Americans in Texas from the creation of the First Mexican Republic to the outbreak of the U.S.-Mexico War, then overlaying that info onto both historical and current-day maps to show where these conflicts cluster.

“The data we collect for ‘Border Land’ will be particularly valuable in allowing researchers to learn more about the mobility patterns of the nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes of Texas, and how these patterns changed over time,” says Haynes. “This digital map will also give us a more complete picture of the wide-ranging nature of inter-ethnic conflict in Texas.”

Old Texas Map

“border land” is one of more than a dozen endeavors that are helping the College of Liberal Arts make its mark in the emerging field of “digital humanities.” By exploiting the intersection of humanities and computer science, digital humanities expands access to historical documents and broadens their interpretation. It also gives voice to populations whose experiences may not have been preserved in traditional ways.

According to Elisabeth Cawthon, the college’s interim dean, digital humanities is a natural focus for the University, as researchers can take advantage of the wide range of archival materials at the UTA Libraries and the expertise of faculty already using technology to enhance their work.

“We thought we had reached critical mass to make the College of Liberal Arts a center for digital humanities research,” explains Dr. Cawthon, who credits former dean Paul Wong with spearheading the effort. “We’re a large college. We’re a diverse college. We wanted to bring in all of those things, and I think there is already quite a bit of depth over a number of departments in this.”

The College of Liberal Arts formalized its Digital Arts and Humanities Initiative in early 2016 by announcing $100,000 in grants to fund 11 research teams with varied themes. Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs Les Riding-In and Chunke Su, associate professor of communication, are working with Cawthon to create an infrastructure for success.

View the Project

w. marvin dulaney has already seen the positive side of embracing digital tools. The history associate professor is working with researchers from Texas Christian University and the University of North Texas to document the oral histories of Texans during the civil rights and labor rights movements starting in the 1950s. The Civil Rights in Black and Brown Interview Database is a free, online repository that will eventually include more than 400 interviews and thousands of keyword-searchable clips. The project is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

“If you just produce transcripts, a limited number of people are going to look for them,” Dr. Dulaney says. “Whereas if we upload them online, then anyone in the world can have access to them.”

Roman Catholic Church records

Fellow historian David LaFevor echoes Dulaney’s enthusiasm. The assistant professor has been working for several years on a digital archive of Roman Catholic Church records that document the African slave trade through Latin American countries like Cuba. His work, which recently received a $50,000 grant from the British Library Endangered Archives Programme, not only preserves these fragile documents, but also makes them widely available to researchers and family historians.

“One of the ways we envision the project is as a democratization of historical research,” Dr. LaFevor says. “Having it online has opened it up to more interpretation, to more involvement.”

View the Project

in addition to increasing the reach of UTA scholarship, the Digital Arts and Humanities Initiative aims to spark interdisciplinary collaborations, the kind of work that is encouraged by funding agencies such as the NEH and the National Science Foundation.

Examining an old book

David LaFevor is creating a digital archive of Roman Catholic Church records on the slave trade

Laurel Smith Stvan’s project, one of the 11 Digital Arts and Humanities Initiative grant winners, demonstrates the benefits of such an approach. She is leading a multidisciplinary team that includes Jacqueline Fay from the English Department and Sridhar Nerur from the College of Business in using software to compare discussions of health and nutrition from more than 3,000 medieval texts with modern media such as newspapers, blogs, websites, novels, and movies. The results should provide perspectives on how the language of illness and health influences people’s well-being.

Dr. Stvan, who is chair of the Department of Linguistics and TESOL, says linguists have been using digital instruments for several decades to examine large bodies of literature. Now, the technology is better than ever.

“If we want to see larger patterns, patterns across time with different authors using the same words and constructions, then it’s really helpful to let the software aid you,” she explains. “You still have to use your brain to do the interpretation, but it lets you move through a lot more material and see patterns you wouldn’t have caught on your own.”

Assistant Professor Kenton Rambsy is putting digital tools in his students’ hands by teaching them to use text analysis systems such as Voyant. In his class, “The Life and Times of S. Carter,” students investigated rapper Jay Z’s work for recurring words and phrases, geographic markers, and social references. They compared what they found with classic African-American literature.

“One of the ways we envision the project is as a democratization of historical research. Having it online has opened it up to more interpretation, to more involvement.”

“I said, ‘Why not use big data to try to examine some of these things?’” says Dr. Rambsy, who in 2016 served as co-director of an NEH summer institute on digital pedagogy at Howard University. “We can cover so many more writers just by using the data.”

Like others at the forefront of digital humanities research, Rambsy and his students shared their work online in dynamic presentations available worldwide. (Read more about Dr. Rambsy’s class in this Dallas Morning News article).

That element—the sharing of information—is key. As Holmes notes, delivering research and scholarship in a visual, digital platform is essential if UTA wants to connect with today’s information-seekers.

“To ignore that intersection of computer science and the humanities would be to confine something like history or other liberal arts to the classroom,” she says. “We want to push it beyond that. We want to push it to a global community.”

View the Project