Digital humanities transforming class projects

Posted on Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Sarah Ruszala, Ruth Truong and Jennie Long stand in front of a large city map overlaid with a picture of modern-day Shakespearean actors on the right and, on the left, a photo of the opulent interior of a Stratford theatre with the words “Don’t forget abo

From left: Sarah Ruszala, Ruth Truong and Jennie Long stand in front of a screenshot of their project.

By Dave Weatherall

Whether it’s by creating an immersive historical mobile phone game or an online interactive exhibit, uOttawa students Kevin Da Ponte and Jennie Long are pushing the boundaries of what’s considered a class project by applying the digital humanities to their Shakespeare studies.

“Our topic would have been quite dry to write about in a standard essay format,” says Long. “But by learning to use online visualization platforms such as StoryMapJS and, we’re able to make our content more accessible to a broader public.”

She is working with fellow classmates Ruth Truong and Sarah Ruszala to create an interactive exhibit on Toronto’s historical theatre culture, from the time when Shakespeare plays followed traditional scripts to more modern Canadian interpretations.

“This exploratory way of learning makes my work more accessible,” she says. “For the first time, I’ve been able to show my friends and family what I’m learning and working on in my studies at uOttawa.”

Their assignments for their Elizabethan Shakespeare class were part of a pilot project initiated by Department of English professor Irene Makaryk to incorporate digital humanities into traditional coursework. Both students credit digital humanities librarian Nancy Lemay, subject librarian Ann Hemingway, associate University librarian for collections Tony Horava and Media Centre technician Roxanne Lafleur with helping them bring their projects to life.

“Nancy worked with me to figure out the methods I should use to create this game,” says Kevin Da Ponte. He combines sightseeing and digital storytelling in a mobile phone game that uses Shakespeare’s Richard III as a narrative as it takes gamers to Ottawa landmarks such as the Canadian War Museum and the Parliament of Canada.

“The Aris platform Nancy suggested opened up more possibilities than I had imagined,” he says. ”It allowed me to do more with my game than I had envisioned.”

Da Ponte shares Jennie Long’s interest in having their projects accessible outside the world of academia. He also hopes to expand his mobile game beyond Ottawa, with references to locations in the play matched to historical landmarks in other cities.

“We’re really just starting to scratch the surface in terms of what’s possible, as students, professors and researchers all begin to embrace the digital humanities,” says Lemay. “These students are really part of the first generation of academics working with these types of technologies, and the diversity and quality of their projects is incredible.”

You can view Long’s project here. Da Ponte’s game is called Richard III - demo available on the Aris app.

Visit the Library website to learn more about digital humanities at uOttawa. 

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