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Bringing James Hearst to the Digital World

Thanks to a collaboration between Rod Library and the Department of Languages and Literature, the poems, audio files, photos, and interviews of James Hearst have been added to a digital archive accessible to the public online.

The Life of James Hearst

James Hearst was a Cedar Falls native and had Photo of James Hearst significant ties to the area. His mother was the first secretary at the University of Northern Iowa (known as the Iowa State Teachers College). After graduating early from high school, Hearst began taking classes at the Iowa State Teachers College. When a swimming accident left him partially paralyzed, James Hearst turned to writing about plants, animals, and people through the eyes of a Midwestern farmer. He also became a creative writing instructor at the University of Northern Iowa, holding classes in the basement of his home on West Seerley Boulevard, which is now the Hearst Center for the Arts. He is sometimes even referred to as the “Robert Frost of the Midwest.” During his life, Hearst wrote hundreds of poems that were published in many magazines and newspapers, and he authored 10 volumes of poetry and two books of prose.

Digitizing Hearst’s Work

Special Collections and University Archives at Rod Library has in its possession the Hearst Family Papers, a collection of items detailing the lives of James Hearst and his family. Recognizing that these items are an important part of UNI and Iowa history, Associate Professor Jim O’Loughlin of the Department of Languages and Literatures decided to undertake a massive effort to digitize these items to make them accessible to the public alongside hundreds of James Hearst’s poetry and prose. With the help of Rob Green, web developer at Rod Library, as well as many of O’Loughlin’s students, an online collection of James Hearst’s life and literary work was created. This massive digitization process allows UNI students, Cedar Valley community members, and people all over the world to access biographical information about James Hearst, hundreds of his original poems, and even recordings of Hearst reading his own poems. The online collection even features 19 poems written by James Hearst that have never been seen in publication before this project.

Student Learning through Digital Humanities

Throughout the course of this long-term project, not only has Jim O’Loughlin collaborated with Rod Library staff, but undergraduate and graduate students alike have also played a major part. Because of the nature of the project, students were able to gain a great deal of hands-on experience with humanities research.

Jim O’Loughlin, associate professor, Department of Languages and Literatures

"It is very difficult to involve students in a substantial manner in traditional humanities research, which takes the form of articles or monographs. Such work is time-intensive and involves a substantial amount of background knowledge in a specific area.  However, the range of work involved in the James Hearst Digital Archive (including the creation of multimedia interpretive exhibits, the tabulation of data sets, and the remastering and cataloging of audio files) has led to a number of smaller, discrete projects that are well within the purview of a dedicated student/scholar. Like labs in the sciences, Digital Humanities can introduce students to the workings of a field and provide them with experiences that lead to the development of transferable skills.”

Hannah Lane, graduate student, English Literature

"I created an annotated bibliography of scholarly works that focused on James Hearst, both as an author and as a man, and, although the bibliography is still an evolving document, I was able to fine tune some of my research habits while working on it, as well as learning new skills in creating the web page to house it. This was an entirely new experience for me, as any annotated bibliographies I had done before were for specific papers I was writing, but I was able to gain some new insight into what a more general scholarly annotated bibliography can look like, as this was created to be of use to fellow Hearst scholars.”

Polly Alfano, graduate student, English Literature with an emphasis in creative writing

Photo of Polly Alfano, graduate student in English literature"As Dr. O’Loughlin’s graduate assistant, I participated in the James Hearst Archival project by creating an interpretive exhibit about James Hearst’s poem “Three Old Horses” published in Man and His Field (1950). The exhibit explores three versions of the poem composed by Hearst at different times--judging by the variations of the drafts. It also includes original scans of these drafts and an interpretation of Hearst’s creative process. By being in the midst of the making of such a comprehensive archive in which a few people were able to participate, I was able to admire the process and effort it takes to complete a task of this magnitude. Despite my minor role in this project, having contributed to it was a fulfilling experience.”

To learn more about the life and work of James Hearst, visit the James Hearst Digital Archive, live now!

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