NEH grant brings Medieval literature to life at NKU

For immediate release…
Tuesday – April 8, 2014

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. - Northern Kentucky University has been selected to receive a $59,924 Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant effort, led by principal investigator Dr. Tamara O’Callaghan of the Department of English, is titled “The Augmented Palimpsest: Engaging Students through AR Encounters with the Past.”

Digital humanities is an established academic discipline of study that explores advanced computer applications in the humanities and their implications for the field. In collaboration with Dr. Andrea Harbin (SUNY Cortland) and under the guidance of Dr. Alan Craig (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), O’Callaghan will explore how the medium of Augmented Reality (AR) can be used in the teaching of medieval literature.

The goal is to create a digital humanities tool based on Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a 14th-century poem written in Middle English. The tool will deliver digital enhancements that emerge from the printed page via a smart device, such as an iPad, iPhone, or Android. The printed text of Chaucer’s poem will be surrounded by a medieval manuscript border coded so that, when scanned by one of these devices, various enhancements will appear on the screen to provide the reader with linguistic, historical, and cultural context. Because the enhancements emerge from the printed page, the tool will maintain a pedagogical emphasis on close reading while encouraging students to develop their skills in textual analysis, critical thinking, transdisciplinary study, and new media literacy.

“This technology is just now coming to the public’s attention with such AR-enhanced publications as the 2014 IKEA Catalogue,” said O’Callaghan. “We want to create a highly immersive learning experience for students with 3D enhancements large enough to be walked around and viewed from multiple angles.” One planned example is a 3D model of Canterbury Cathedral with a roof that can be removed so that the viewer may explore the building’s interior. Further, there will be space in the medieval manuscript borders for students to develop their own enhancements related to medieval material culture and history.

As noted by Provost Sue Ott Rowlands, “Tamara’s research is a wonderful example of the university’s new strategic plan coming to life! This innovative work is an inspiration to us all as we begin to build a culture that is supportive of transdisciplinary initiatives.”  

This Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant is the largest NEH grant awarded to NKU to date.

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