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HathiTrust award goes to UMD researcher, team developing digital humanities software

Posted: Oct 12, 2020

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Even when the coronavirus pandemic struck, and access to physical library resources came to a halt, Matt Miller and his research team didn’t have to hit pause on their project. Aided by the digital collections and research support available through the University of Maryland Libraries’s membership with Hathitrust, they could continue  moving forward with their work detecting and transcribing Persian and Arabic texts. 

Miller — a professor at the Roshan Institute for Persian Studies in the University of Maryland’s School of Languages, Literatures and Culture —  leads a team of global scholars working to develop a user-friendly software that can create digital text using scans of Persian and Arabic books. Their enterprise is supported by an $800,000 grant Miller received from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation back in 2019. 

This spring, the researchers were set to begin scanning Arabic texts from various libraries and campuses to use in the project. But then, academic institutions across the globe shut down — and with them went the access to the physical texts Miller’s team needed. 

Luckily, the team had already applied for an Advanced Collaborative Support award from HathiTrust’s Research Center that would allow them support from research center staff and access to the more than 17 million digitized works the consortium maintains — including the Persian and Arabic books Miller’s team wanted to use.  

This summer, they won that award. Now, they’ll work with HathiTrust research center staff as they incorporate HathiTrust texts into their project. “

We’re now going to be able to access a lot of these great digital scans and use those to help with the research, in a time when it’s just not possible, right now, to get these things done,” Miller said. 

Having access to HathiTrust’s digital library and computational resources through the University of Maryland’s Libraries, Miller said, was a “huge benefit” to his project.

When interlibrary loans weren’t possible, HathiTrust’s globally-sourced digital collection came in handy — especially since many standalone libraries don’t have the kinds of texts Miller and his team needed. 

And text repositories in digital libraries like HathiTrust serve as more than reference material and historic record. They’re also tools for computational analysis, which Miller — as the associate director of the Roshan initiative in Persian Digital studies — has a real interest in. 

Miller’s excitement about partnering with HathiTrust goes beyond the access he gets to the consortium’s vast collection. He hopes to ultimately contribute to the collection, using the software his team is developing to provide HathiTrust with digital transcriptions of its Persian and Arabic works. 

“That completely changes how scholars all over the world in HathiTrust member institutions are able to research these works,” Miller said. “We’re grateful to be working with HathiTrust, we’re very grateful they’re running a program like this.”