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Stanford Today

Viewing the humanities through a digital lens

At Stanford’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA), postdoctoral scholar Nicholas Bauch uses visualization technology to glean new insights from 1905 photographs of the Grand Canyon. His finished work, the interactive website “Enchanting the Desert,” will be the first of its kind to be published by Stanford University Press.

In other CESTA projects, the digital mapping platform “Geography of the Post” creates a visual record of the American West through the post offices that sprung up as settlement progressed. In “Mapping the Republic of Letters,” scholars are building a digital map of European and American correspondence networks from the time of Erasmus to the era of Benjamin Franklin.

In each project, digital tools, many developed through CESTA, enable scholars to literally see what they were not able to see before. Visualizing data using digital platforms reveals relationships and patterns not previously apparent and helps scholars raise new questions about source materials.

Stanford’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA) is an interdisciplinary hub for the digital humanities.
Stanford’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA) is an interdisciplinary hub for the digital humanities.

It also allows scholars to get a better sense of the shape and structure of an intellectual network, a main objective of “Mapping the Republic of Letters,” said French Professor Dan Edelstein in a video introducing the research. The process of digitization and of visualization brings “complexity and life” to a world lost to history, added history Professor Caroline Winterer, director of the Stanford Humanities Center.

Stanford’s synthesis of technology and the humanities creates a unique environment for the digital humanities to thrive. CS+X joint undergraduate majors link computer science with any of 14 humanities disciplines, and students can hone skills in geospatial and textual analysis through a digital humanities minor. CESTA functions as an interdisciplinary hub for this rapidly growing field of study and now offers a graduate certificate in digital humanities.

Learn more about “Geography of the Post,” “Enchanting the Desert” and “Mapping the Republic of Letters” on the Stanford Humanities Center’s Digital Humanities website, where you can watch videos about seven CESTA projects.