New Graduate Fellowship Supports Diverse Voices in Humanities at UConn

Two graduate students in UConn CLAS are the first recipients of a new grant in digital humanities, given to historically underrepresented groups to develop their scholarly perspective through hands-on interdisciplinary experience.

Graduate student Luisa Arrieta

Luisa Arrieta, one of two doctoral students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to have been awarded a Graduate Student Diversity Fellowship in Digital Humanities. (Courtesy of Luisa Arrieta, taken by the Fellows at the Smithsonian Latino Center. )

Two graduate students in the UConn College of Liberal Arts and Sciences have been awarded a new fellowship that supports underrepresented humanities scholars for two years of hands-on experience in digital humanities research and methods.

Kenia Rodriguez, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in English, and Luisa Arrieta, a doctoral candidate in history, are the first recipients of the Graduate Student Diversity Fellowship in Digital Humanities.

“In collaboration with CLAS and Greenhouse Studios (a joint effort of the School of Fine Arts (SFA), the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), and the University Library), the fellowship is designed to support emerging professionals who identify as being a Person of Color, Indigenous, LGBTQI+, having a disability, Immigrant/Refugee or as members of another underrepresented group.”

Graduate student Kenia Rodriguez
Kenia Rodriguez (Courtesy of Kenia Rodriguez)

The fellowships are intended to enhance students’ academic and professional experience by providing hands-on, interdisciplinary experience in lieu of their regular teaching assistant duties. Digital humanities refers to researching, teaching, and learning about the humanities using emerging digital methods such as data visualization, websites, and software.

“As a first-generation college student who is the daughter of two Mexican immigrants, I cannot be more grateful for this opportunity and where it will take me,” says Rodriguez. “Digital humanities is a predominately white, male field, and for that reason I am honored to win this diversity fellowship. It is so important that any scholar can see themselves as capable of doing the kind of research that I plan to do.”

“Working closely with the experts at Greenhouse Studios, the Fellows will gain the practical experience and training necessary to develop their own innovative perspectives and distinctive scholarly contributions,” says Katharine Capshaw, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion in CLAS. “This program is essential to advancing the field of Digital Humanities, and we are excited to see the work of these dynamic scholars.”

Rodriguez’s research aims to answer questions about citizenship and adolescents in contemporary young adult literature written by Latina authors. She plans to use the fellowship to incorporate digital humanities research and methods in her dissertation. For instance, during her first semester at UConn, Rodriguez created a website that can be used to study crime in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.

“Digital humanities research and methods excite me because I know there is so much that has yet to be done, especially when it comes to digital humanities and children’s literature,” she says.

Previously, Rodriguez worked as a research assistant for WhatEvery1Says, where she used digital humanities methods such as collecting and visually mapping data to study how news media portray the humanities. This sparked her interest in digital humanities. She plans to continue working with WhatEvery1Says this summer.

“Greenhouse Studios is also great place for me to meet fellow digital humanities scholars, so I am super excited to see what opportunities await in this type of environment,” she says.

Arrieta’s research concerns how Latin American and Caribbean narratives appear in U.S. national images and how they are represented in national museums. She also explores how Afro-Colombians historically had to negotiate their appearance in public spaces and portray themselves as related to whiteness, she says. This stems from her experience as a black woman growing up in Cartagena, Colombia.

“Cartagena has a history of colonial dynamics of class, gender, and race,” she says. “There were some places where you’re not allowed as a black woman. It was difficult for me and my sister, not being allowed to even enter a bar in Colombia. I’m very proud of being black.”

In 2018, Arrieta was a fellow at the Smithsonian Latino Center, a part of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., where she participated in the Latino Museum Studies Program. Her work involved analyzing digital experiences and installations in D.C. museums to determine their public engagement strategies, and developing narrative content in the Molina Family Latino Gallery at the National Museum of American History, which opens in 2021. The Gallery is the first dedicated space on the National Mall celebrating the U.S. Latino experience.

Arrieta sees digital humanities as an opportunity to include more people by making research, galleries and historical artifacts more accessible to people.

“I was interested in the ways in which you can find inclusion on the internet and with digital platforms,” she says. “Not everyone can go to a museum or national mall in the U.S., so I wanted to ask, how do you involve more people?”

Arrieta applied for the Greenhouse Studios fellowship because she was interested in their Museums and Civic Discourse project.

“They realize that museums are increasingly trying to represent minorities and incorporate indigenous cultures into their galleries and narrative, but often museums still don’t know how to do that effectively,” Arrieta says. “I think minorities, any minorities working within the system, have to find inventive ways to do things. Public history and digital humanities have been two perspectives that I’ve been working with since I was a museum guide in Colombia.”