Coding for Community

Middle School Students Feature Local Culture and History Through SIUE “Digital East St. Louis” Project

Rachel Pehle works with two participants to upload photos for the walking tour of East St. Louis.East St. Louis middle school students are looking at their city through a camera lens, capturing images that help provide a deeper understanding of the culture and history embedded in their local streets. Their photographs will be one portion of a website that includes content-rich digital maps the students are creating through Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s “Digital East St. Louis” project.

The three-year project, which began this summer, is using digital humanities, a field that uses digital technologies to study questions related to history and culture, to generate interest in computing and information technologies among minority middle school-aged students. It is supported by an $846,000 Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) grant awarded to SIUE from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The multidisciplinary effort is being led by Sharon Locke, director of the SIUE Center for STEM Research, Education and Outreach; Jessica DeSpain, English professor and co-director of the Interdisciplinary Research and Informatics Scholarship (IRIS) Center at SIUE; and Liza Cummings, professor of curriculum and instruction at SIUE.

“Research shows that middle school is when children begin to lose interest in STEM fields,” said Locke, principal investigator. “This study is examining out-of-school learning and what role it can have in shaping students’ STEM interest, attitudes and educational choices.

“The average American spends less than five percent of their life in a classroom,” she continued. “We need to understand what types of programs best complement classroom learning and promote lifelong learning in STEM. Our research will examine changes in student interests as well as their gains in technology skills over time.”

Students will gain knowledge and experience relative to careers in a variety of fields including IT, web development, information science, graphic design and mass communication.

During the project’s tenure, participants will produce a comprehensive website of artifacts that will be an ongoing resource for the community. They will use GIS (geographic information systems) technology and database design and management to create content for the site, including a walking tour of East St. Louis neighborhoods. Students will also interview community members, photograph historical sites, write stories about the region and film important cultural events.

Amanda Garner-Brooks instructs “Digital East St. Louis” students.“Our research goal is to gauge whether the use of humanities-based and place-based learning will increase student interest in technologically advanced fields,” DeSpain said. “We also hope to encourage students to take ownership and develop pride in their community and motivate them to pursue a college education in a STEM field.”

“The students will feature their project at Coding for Community Showcases,” Locke added. “We also will have a parent advisory group that will help us connect to individuals in the community who can contribute their time and expertise.”

Area middle school teachers and an after-school/summer program coordinator are teaching the curriculum. Their participation allows for the spreading of the humanities-based approach to STEM learning in other academic environments. The program model will be made widely available to educators nationwide.

“This project is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished when people from different disciplines come together to tackle a problem,” Locke said. “We have faculty and staff with expertise in STEM, digital humanities, history, African American studies, curriculum and instruction, K-12 teaching and informal learning.

The three-year program will run all week for four weeks through the summer, as well as 15 Saturdays during the school year. Through the NSF grant, up to 50 students can participate. Students receive breakfast, a snack and lunch, along with free transportation to a local middle school.

Interested sixth through ninth graders can apply for the “Digital East St. Louis” project by contacting Dr. Liza Cummings at

Photo: Rachel Pehle works with two participants to upload photos for the walking tour of East St. Louis.

Amanda Garner-Brooks instructs “Digital East St. Louis” students.

The Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House and the IRIS Center

Howard Rambsy II

Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House

As part of my work with the Institute for Urban Research, I received a small grant to begin scanning hundreds of photographs documenting activities of the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House, a social service organization in East St. Louis. The organization began in the early 1900s, and the photographs span much of the 20th century.

When I first received the batch of photo albums, I was excited about the possibilities. Early during the Fall semester of 2014, I met with SIUE’s metadata librarian Mary Z. Rose and then Digital Imaging Specialist Virginia Stricklin to get a sense of direction and guidance on how I might approach organizing and labeling the digital files. I was almost ready I thought, but I was concerned that I might not have a place on campus where my graduate student Jeremiah Carter could devote the necessary time to scan the documents. IRIS Center to the rescue.

Kristine Hildebrandt gave Jeremiah and me a brief lesson on utilizing the equipment and software that would relate to our current project. Later, after Jeremiah and I had a couple of strategy sessions on his approach, he set about the task of scanning documents. Each week, during the Fall semester and over the first month when we returned, Jeremiah spent hours in the IRIS Center scanning and producing notes and preliminary metadata for the images.

So far, we’ve expanded a collection of photo albums into more than 500 scanned images with corresponding images. And there’s much more to do. Next up, we’ll have to transfer and label slides. We also want to figure out how to utilize some of the items for public humanities programming.

The IRIS Center will serve as a vital space and base for our preparations and next steps.

The Gyalsumdo Language Archive: Have a Look!

Dr. Kristine Hildebrandt and URCA Assistant Tiffany Downing have been working to upload and encode content and also technical and thematic metadata for several transcribed and translated videos of the Gyalsumdo language, a highly endangered variety of the Tibetan language spoken in central Nepal.


These videos were recorded by SIUE Geography professor Shunfu Hu (with help from Dr. Hildebrandt’s fieldwork team) in the summers of 2012 and 2013 in Nepal. These videos will be permanently stored, and publicly available in a special archive at the University of Virginia’s Tibetan and Himalayan Library, specifically from their SHANTI platform (Sciences, Humanities and Arts Network of Technical Initiatives).gyalsumdo

Dr. Hildebrandt plans to archive with THL and SHANTI similar materials from three other languages of the same region of Nepal: Manange, Gurung and Nar-Phu.

SIUE IRIS Users & Groups 2014-2015

We proudly present the 2014-2015 users and groups of IRIS.


Exploring Nationality Through Landscape Illustrations

My research project, “Exploring Nationality in the Illustrations of Nineteenth Century Transatlantic Landscapes as a Part of The Wide, Wide World Digital Edition,” is in full swing. The project, made possible through the URCA Associate program at SIUE, is working to analyze illustrations depicting landscape found throughout the more than 150 versions of The Wide, Wide World. The illustrations and their placement in the text vary widely due to the novel’s publication during a time when there was no international copyright law between Britain and the United States. Publishers in both countries were free to alter the text and its illustrations with little to no restrictions, resulting in forty-seven sets of variant illustrations and over fifty different versions of the text. The illustrations include depictions of landscape ranging from pastoral ideal, such as the illustrations of Mr. Van Brunt tending his flock, which first appeared in an 1853 James Nisbet, Sampson Low, Hamilton, Adams, and Co. reprint (see below), to unkempt wilderness, such as the illustration of Ellen and Alice caught in a snow storm as they are searching for Captain Parry, which first appeared in an 1888 J. B. Lippincott Company reprint. Throughout the project, I will be attempting to connect those representations to issues of nationality as I analyze the ways reprinters chose to portray and position the landscape, which will help to explain how segments of the population defined British and American identities between 1850 and 1950. Reprinters were aware that their readers would come from both Europe and the United States and that issues of nationality could not be ignored; the illustrations of landscapes they chose to include in their versions of the novel helped to define what it meant to be an American man, woman, Christian, and child. The illustrations depicting landscape also present an opportunity to analyze the impact of sentimentalism, broadly defined as the power of feelings to serve as a guide to moral conduct, as a political and cultural movement during the nineteenth century. Specifically, sentimentality becomes of great importance when looking at the illustrations of Alice and Ellen on the Cat’s Back as these particular illustrations pair the emotions of a distressed Ellen and the comforting presence of Alice with the open, sometimes rugged, often sublime landscape of the mountain. Emotion, and its ability to influence the reader, is here paired with the developing ideas of landscape in America, which helped to link the nation to ideas of emotional and spiritual awareness. My work with the project is currently focusing on theories of nationality, landscape, and spatial relations, as well as working with the digitized versions of the illustrations to prepare them to be placed in galleries in the project’s Omeka site. This includes working extensively with Dublin Core, a controlled set of standards and vocabulary used on the website to describe each item, in order to provide thorough descriptions of each illustration. Once this step is completed, I will move on to analysis and to the creation of the galleries, which will include sub-galleries on watery expanses, American and British landscape, and character interactions in landscape. The sub-gallery on watery expanses will focus specifically on illustrations of ships crossing the ocean (see below), and the brook, a location made important through a scene in the novel that describes how Ellen attempts to cross and ultimately falls in after losing her balance, both of which become important when analyzing transatlantic relations. The sub-gallery on American and British landscapes will look at illustrations depicting landscapes from both countries in order to analyze the ways publishers from America and Britain were choosing to portray each nation; this will lead to conclusions about how each country was attempting to define and influence nationality, which will allow us to understand the development and refinement of nationality in America and Britain. The final sub-gallery will focus on illustrations that include representations of character’s interacting with each other and with the landscape. The movement and interaction of these characters will provide an opportunity to analyze the ways in which publishers were seeking to define Americans’ and Britons’ place in and development of nature. Jennifer Roberts Project Participant URCA Associate

Mr. Van Brunt Tending His Flock

Ship at Sea

Digital East Saint Louis set to begin its Early Developmental Processes !






Digital East St. Louis is an Innovative Technology Experience for Students and Teachers strategies project that will develop and test a model of urban place-based learning to increase STEM aspirations for minority students. Beginning in the 6th grade, a cohort of 40 middle-grade students will progress through a three-year, out of school program in which students will use information technology and computing tools to learn about their community. Supported by a team of East St. Louis teachers and project partners, the students will produce a richly annotated web-based map accompanied by a collection of text, image, audio, and video files that highlight sites and events essential to the community’s history and culture.

The project’s larger goal is to use place-based learning as an inspiring and motivational context for reshaping student thinking about STEM careers. We want to determine through research if learning to use technology through a personal and collective examination of a community’s cultural history, urban development, and environmental challenges changes how students think about STEM and points them towards information technology and computing careers.

This project is a collaborative effort of the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) center for STEM Research, Education, and Outreach, School of Education, and IRIS center, with support by faculty in the Department of Historical Studies, Department of English Language and literature, the Institute for Urban Research, Virtual East St. Louis Historical Society, Harris Stowe State University, and the East St. Louis School District. The timing for this project is optimum and the need is urgent.

Current Goals and Objective?

  • We are developing an Annotated bibliography with research covering other methods used to interest women and minorities in computing.
  • We are researching other digital humanities projects of a similar focus.
  • We are looking at other NSF/NEH funded work that might relate to our project.
  • We are building an instance of Omeka that will serve as the public face for digital East St. Louis and gives students the shell from which to build their project.
  • We are also working on finding a hosting company for the web server space.
  • We are developing activities for spring recruiting events to interest students and teachers in East St. Louis.