CIRCA:Scholar's Lab


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Scholar's Lab at the University of Virginia Library.

Scholar's Lab is based out of the Alderman Library at the University of Virginia. It was established in 2006 "as a site for innovation in the humanities and social sciences." [1] and specializes in geospatial humanities research. The Lab provides bookable rooms, equipment, digital resources, and consultation services to faculty and "advanced students in the humanities and social sciences" [2].



Within its physical space, Scholar's Lab offers a variety of resources to its users. Staff provide consultative assistance in the areas of project management, electronic text encoding and its qualitative analysis, and the digitization of texts and images.[3] The space also includes high-end computers with high resolution monitors for digital research. These computers are equipped with specialized software of relevance to digital humanities scholars.

These tools include:

For a full list of tools and resources available at Scholar's Lab, visit the What is Scholar's Lab page.

Workshop Series

Scholar's Lab provides significant support to its local users through hands-on workshops in its areas of specialty. In the Fall of 2011, Scholar's Lab is offering workshops in statistics (specifically in SAS, SPSS, and R, among others) and GIS (ie. making maps using ArcGIS, Google Fusion Tables, or GeoCommons).


The projects produced by researchers associated with Scholar's Lab are diverse. These projects include (but are not limited to) the Collective Biographies of Women (a prosopographical exploration of women's lives), The Mind is a Metaphor, and the Geospatial Data Portal.

Collective Biographies of Women

An image of Elizabeth I of England from the Collective Biographies of Women project.

Multidimensional outreach of the Collective Biographies of Women makes this project especially interesting for digital humanists. The database became home for many biographies of Anglo – Saxon women for the period between 1830 and 1950. The zest of the archive is in its collective bibliographical as well as biographical nature. This bibliography lists all books published in English between 1830 and 1950 that "approximately 1200 items."

In addition to the rich content of UVA library, the project’s team uses such digital resources as Google Books, Gutenberg Project, Open Library etc. Step by step the Collective Biographies of Women will turn into a huge library whose collection excels all those libraries taken together.

Narrative detail and prosopography make this online collection different from other online resources like or

Technological side of this archive helps “to examine a complex rhetorical communication in words and images, from presenters (biographers, editors, illustrators, publishers) to subjects, the historical individuals as portrayed in the texts, to audience, that is, the readers implied or addressed by the presenters as well as the actual people encountering the books.”

The Mind is a Metaphor

The Mind is a Metaphor represents an electronic database of metaphors across various themes. Metaphors are collected based on the following rubrics:

Animal Architecture Body Fetters Garden Government Light Liquid Machine Mineral Optics Population Visual Arts War Weather Writing Miscellaneous or "Uncategorized"

There are 9,249 metaphors in the database as of August 24, 2011.

The goal of this project is to analysis metaphors, their meaning and significance within the history of English speaking culture. Although the online archive encompasses Literary Period from the Middle Ages (500-1500) by Post-WWII (1945-1989), the deepest insight is given to the thoughts of Renaissance and Victorian age as the authors consider this period a very momentous in the formation of modern cultural history. You may ask how humanists may reap from this database? The Mind is a Metaphor serves a very bright example of correct and reasonable technology use in the humanities. Thanks to faceted browsing and automated classifiers you may make smart search of metaphors based on some key words, you can compare the metaphors from period to period, from author to author (authors are sorted out according to gender, genre, age, political and religious views.) Here is the illustrative example of metaphor analysis.

Geospatial Data Portal

Settlements and lakes in Afghanistan, as viewed using the Geospatial Data Portal.

The Scholar's Lab Geospatial Data Portal is a repository created by Scholar's Lab of GIS data sets. Users can search for terms within a specified geographical locale, and can view the returned data sets either within their browser or in Google Earth. According to the project page, "[t]he Geospatial Data Portal is an application for searching and displaying spatial metadata records from a GeoNetwork catalog. Geospatial Data Portal is written in Ruby and is available in both the Sinatra and Ruby on Rails frameworks."

The Geospatial Data Portal is intriguing, as it allows for the layering of multiple datasets for a geographical region, enabling researchers to compare and analyze the relationships between these layers. However, the data available for viewing through this tool appears to be limited at this time, and is heavily skewed towards American (specifically Virginian) data. Available data appears to be limited to approximately 70 "data stacks" at this time. Additionally, data from different stacks for the same region (ie. the City of Chesapeake GIS datasets and the Chesapeake Bay Program datasets) cannot be combined in the browser (though they can be within Google Earth).

The Geospatial Data Portal appears to be in beta, as the help page states that "Scholar's Lab cannot guarantee stability at this time."

Significance to the Digital Humanities

The Scholar's Lab is of particular significance to the digital humanities due to its focus on geospatial information and data, thus serving as a hub of activity in this research area. Scholar's Lab employs two GIS specialists, both of whom are certified GIS specialists. Additionally, the Lab created and supports the Geospatial Data Portal, a free tool for researchers around the world exploring spatial metadata.

Another value of Scholar's Lab is in its power to address topical issues of science today, for example a very active penetration of technology in the humanities. Built upon the principles of two-way critical approach both to technology and humanities Scholar's Lab makes technologists be more sublime and humanists be more down to earth. These fair rules of game help mathematicians, translators, geographers, physicists and many other specialists get along with each other very well in various interdisciplinary projects!

NEH institute for GIS scholarship

Scholar's Lab's influence in the area of GIS scholarship in the humanities is evidenced by the fact that it hosted an NEH-funded Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship in late 2009 and early 2010. This institute had wide appeal due to its three-track approach to the topic:

  • Track 1 - Stewardship - focusing on geospatial content and access, targeted towards library, museums, and GIS professionals
  • Track 2 - Software - focusing on "[s]patially enabling web projects and building service-oriented GIS infrastructure"[4], target towards web developers, sysadmins, and other IT scholars and professionals
  • Track 3 - Scholarship - focusing on how "space and place" as concepts in digital humanities research, targeted towards current digital humanities scholars and graduate students.

Graduate Fellowship in Digital Humanities

Scholar's Lab furthers the progress of the digital humanities as a whole by providing financial support to UVa researchers working on digital humanities projects through its Graduate Fellowship in Digital Humanities program. Successful applicants to the program "receive $5,000 at the beginning of the fall semester and, after demonstrating progress toward stated goals, $5,000 at the beginning of the spring semester."[5]

Praxis Program

In recognition of the variety of skills needed by graduates in order to achieve success in the area of digital humanities research, Scholar's Lab is experimenting with a new pedagogical process entitled The Praxis Program. It aims to create "humanities scholars who are as comfortable writing code as they are managing teams and budgets." [6]



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