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Boggs, Jeremy, University of Virginia, USA,
Nowviskie, Bethany, University of Virginia, USA,
Gil, Alexander, University of Virginia, USA,
Johnson, Eric, University of Virginia, USA,
Lestock, Brooke, University of Virginia, USA,
Storti, Sarah, University of Virginia, USA,
Swafford, Joanna, University of Virginia, USA,
Praxis Program Collaborators, University of Virginia, USA,

In September 2011, the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia Library began the Praxis Program, an extra-curricular experiment at realigning graduate methodological training with the demands of the humanities in the digital age. The Praxis Program funds six humanities graduate students from a variety of disciplines to apprentice in the Scholars’ Lab, receiving methodological training and collaborating on a shared digital humanities project for a full academic year. Our goal is to equip knowledge workers for emerging faculty positions or alternative academic careers at a moment in which new questions can be asked and new systems built – and along the way to analyze the role of library- and center-based practicum programs in the larger scene of digital humanities training.

This poster details the results of the pilot year of the Praxis Program, and explores approaches for developing and expanding the program.

Background and Goals

The Praxis Program represents a continuation of what John Unsworth (1999) dubbed ‘the library as laboratory.’ Because the Praxis Program is centered in a library-based digital humanities shop, the possibilities for exploring iterative, interdisciplinary processes in digital humanities training are greatly enhanced. The program builds on five years of experience with 20 interdisciplinary Graduate Fellows in a digital humanities fellowship program at the Scholars’ Lab. The staff involved in the Praxis Program comes from a variety of humanities backgrounds and library departments.


Our goal is to address methodological training in the humanities not just through workshops and courses, but by involving graduate students in digital projects from the ground up. The primary task of the 2011–12 Praxis Fellows is to build Prism, a web-based tool for ‘crowdsourcing interpretation’ of texts and images. For Praxis, this means learning by working with faculty, staff, and fellow students as colleagues, with all that entails: paying attention both to vision and detail; building facility with new techniques and languages not just as an academic exercise, but of necessity, and in the most pragmatic framework imaginable; acquiring the softer skills of collaboration (sadly, an undiscovered country in humanities graduate education) and of leadership (that is, of credible expertise, self-governance, and effective project management). All this also involves learning to iterate and to compromise – and when to stop and ship. In fact, collaboration and collective ownership of the work in Praxis Program is so important, the group’s first task was to compose and publish a project charter, influenced by the work of Ruecker and Radzikowska (2004) and Siemens et al. (2009).

The curriculum for the Praxis Program is evolving and iterative, and draws on staff knowledge while adapting to the changing needs of a project actually in development. Over the course of the academic year, the program will cover a variety of topics: evaluating peer work in DH; programming and open source software development; prototyping, wireframing, and user experience design; HTML and CSS; database design; project management; and budget and grants management.

Results and Continued Development

Because Praxis Program participants value publicly sharing ongoing research, our project blog is highly active, and representative of both the successes and anxieties of open collaboration. By the end of the first year, the Praxis Program team will create and release a working version of Prism for public use and critique, and work on publishing the results of their research.

Recognizing that methodological training in the digital humanities is often absent or catch-as-catch-can at the graduate level, we are using the Praxis Program to experiment with an action-oriented curriculum live and in public, hoping to attract local allies as well as partners in labs and centers at other institutions (which could, in future, work as nodes in a larger Praxis Program network).

Above all, we want to situate our contribution to methodological training within a larger debate about the changing demands of the humanities in a digital age. To that end, we are partnering with the Scholarly Communication Institute in fostering conversation about methodological training in the digital humanities with professional societies, consortia of digital and traditional humanities centers, and other library- and center-based programs.



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Leon, S. Project Management for Humanists: Preparing Future Primary Investigators. In B. Nowviskie (ed.),  #alt-academy. Available:

Nowviskie, B. (2011). Where Credit is Due. May 31, 2011. Available:

The Praxis Program. University of Virginia Library’s Scholars’ Lab. Available:

Ramsay, St. Care of the Soul. October 8, 2012. Available:

Ruecker, S., and M. Radzikowska (2004). The Iterative Design of a Project Charter for Interdisciplinary Research. Available:

Scholarly Communication Institute. New-Model Scholarly Communication: Road Map for Change. Available:

Siemens, L., et al. (2009). INKE Administrative Structure, Omnibus Document. Available:

Unsworth, J. (1999). The Library as Laboratory. Presentation at the Annual Meeting of the American Library Association, 1999. Available: