History Students Use Technology to Explore 'Living Late Antiquity'
While historians can often be found in dusty archives pouring over parchment, graduate
students in a Saint Louis University history seminar could recently be found traveling
back in time using 21st Century technology as part of their “Living Late Antiquity” Website project.
Students in Douglas Boin's graduate history seminar this fall developed an interactive
Website, "Living Late Antiquity," as their final project. Submitted photo
The interactive digital humanities site launched on Wednesday, Dec. 6, at SLU’s Academic Technology Commons in the Pius XII Memorial Library. It allows visitors to explore urban life in the
fifth century CE, just as the Roman Empire crumbled. For Boin, giving his students
a chance to apply their research and writing skills to a real-world, tech-oriented
project is a way to show humanities students that the skills they develop in departments
like history have a place in the start-up world.
“I really wanted them to drive the whole thing,” Boin said. “What a humanist can bring
to those conversations in the tech world, in the professional world and the classroom,
is how do make this about people? How do we connect with them emotionally? How do
we make it relevant to our lives?”
Donal Hegarty, of the Walter J. Ong., S.J., Center for Digital Humanities discusses using
3D printing to replicate medieval seals with University Provost Nancy Brickhouse,
Ph.D., during the opening of SLU's Academic Technology Commons in December 2017. Photo
by Amelia Flood
The digital humanities have been a focus of SLU research for years and the University
is home to the Walter J. Ong, S.J., Center for Digital Humanities and projects including the center’s Broken Booksand Sounding Tennyson. SLU’s recent investment in its new Academic Technology Commons includes software
and resources for digital humanities projects including the ability to 3D print items
like medieval seals. [insert Hegarty photo from ATC opening] Research by Boin’s colleague,
Tom Finan, Ph.D., which combines unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other technology
with medieval archaeology was recently featured in a documentary, True Gaelic.
“I’m interested in the voices of people who were lost and to recover those stories,
I need a broader landscape,” Boin explained. “The city provided that. [The students]
gravitated toward it in many ways because it expressed their vision of what you needed
to make these spaces.”As a historian of late antiquity – the transition period between
the fall of Rome and the beginning of the Middle Ages – Boin designed his fall 2017
seminar course to tap into the stories of people living in urban areas and specified
that its end project would be digital.
His seven students had their own research specialties but learned skills ranging from
coding to navigating copy-right law to picking the right platform to host their final
project. The experience, Boin said, was intentionally set up to mimic what he experienced
while consulting with an tech start up based in Austin, Texas, over a summer.
History graduate student Kailen Kinsey discusses the work of the "Living Late Antiquity"
team at their Website's launch on Wednesday, Dec. 6. Submitted photo
“There’s something infectious about the tech world,” the SLU associate professor of
history recalled. While on the consulting job, Boin worked as a member of a start-up
team, stepping out of his academic comfort zone and learning along with the start-up’s
team what it took to launch a social media community for people interested in faith
“It was a transformative experience for me as a professional,” Boin explained, noting
that even though he held a doctorate at the time, he learned skills that weren’t introduced
in his own graduate work. He returned to St. Louis ready to pass those skills along
to the next generation of scholars.
Saint Louis University is a world-class Catholic, Jesuit institution educating nearly
13,000 students on two dynamic, urban campuses - in St. Louis, Missouri, and Madrid,
Spain. Founded in 1818, the University is now celebrating its bicentennial. With a legacy of innovative academics and research, compassionate health care and
faithful service, Saint Louis University attracts a diverse community of scholars
who push intellectual boundaries in pursuit of creative, meaningful ways to impact
the world, striving to serve a higher purpose and seek a greater good.