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'Mapping Freedom’ Project at USM Receives NSF REU Site Grant

Fri, 04/29/2022 - 11:18am | By: Margaret Ann Macloud

National Science Foundation

National Science Foundation

A digital humanities project at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that will make it possible for 30 students to live and work in Hattiesburg over the course of three summers to map the granular process of emancipation in Mississippi during the Civil War and through the period of Reconstruction to visualize freed-people's paths to citizenship.

The project, titled “Mapping Freedom,” combines digital humanities with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), by focusing on the use of mapping technology, including geographic information system (GIS). The $352,596 Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site grant from the NSF allows for a paid, eight-week research experience ($600 per week + $250 in travel expenses per person), in addition to provided housing and dining, for 10 undergraduate humanities students from any Mississippi school starting Summer 2023 and continuing through Summer 2025. The experience will both expose undergraduates to significant research and help them visualize the role STEM can play in humanities projects.

"We are fortunate to host this REU at a university that is so supportive of the collaborative research that defines the digital humanities,” said Dr. Susannah Ural, project lead and Director of USM’s Center for Digital Humanities. “My colleagues and I are excited to start working with undergrads from across the region and are grateful to the NSF for the support that makes this possible.”

Courtesy Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Courtesy Mississippi Department of Archives and History

While “Mapping Freedom” is a standalone project, it is an extension of Dr. Ural’s “Civil War and Reconstruction Governors of Mississippi” (CWRGM) digital documentary project that is digitizing more than 20,000 letters written to Mississippi governors during the Civil War and Reconstruction period. The records of emancipation used in “Mapping Freedom” will be taken from the available documents in the CWRGM project.

At least half of the students working on this research will be from underrepresented groups across Mississippi, including racial and gender minorities, first-generation college students, military veterans, or other minority groups. There is a need for more individuals from economically underprivileged backgrounds in computer science and digital humanities, and there is also evidence that underprivileged students are more likely to enter and stay in science and engineering fields if their first interaction is with material they recognize and find socially significant.

“NSF-REUs are extremely competitive and very prestigious to obtain,” said Dr. Janet Donaldson, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education in USM’s College of Arts and Sciences. “The students that will be participating in this REU will have the unique opportunity to learn about Digital Humanities in a STEM-related aspect. This is a novel approach that is very specific to the program funded for Dr. Ural. We are very proud of her accomplishments and look forward to welcoming the students on campus for the program.”

In addition to Ural, other project leads include co-PI Dr. Beddhu Murali, associate professor in computer science; Elizabeth La Beaud, Digital Lab Manager and assistant director of the Mississippi Digital Library; and Dr. Joslyn Zale, Research Associate & manager of USM’s Certified Sport Security Professional program.

Learn more about “Mapping Freedom” and submit interest in applying to the research experience by visiting: