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Stepping into the Digital Age

Stepping into the Digital Age

One NKU professor brings Melville’s art experience to life.
Robert Wallace Photo credit Karen Almond
Dr. Robert Wallace is not only a Northern Kentucky University professor but a Herman Melville expert. As he continues to chase his own “great white whale,” Wallace will bring a full exhibit of Melville’s art to life online. 

The site will display, contextualize and interpret 425 prints from Herman Melville’s personal collection of art that Wallace discovered in 11 private collections and four public institutions beginning in 1984, when he found the first large batch in the storage room of a Massachusetts public library. 

“Digital technology will enable us to display the collection more fully, and reach a much wider audience, than could have been possible in a published book,” he says.

With this display, Wallace hopes that people will learn that Melville was a sophisticated collector of art. 

“They will learn that artistic representations of the history of human culture from the ancient Greeks and ancient Persians up through the English Victorians and French Impressionists of his own day deeply enriched his life a writer,” he says. 

Melville has been life changing for Wallace and his students. In 1994, one student changed his perspective on how to appreciate Melville’s works.
Gustave Greux after Antoine Watteau. L’Île Enchantée. Paris: L’Art. 1882. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. 

“Digital technology will enable us to display the collection more fully, and reach a much wider audience, than could have been possible in a published book."

During one of Wallace’s literature classes, student Fred North asked if he could do a painting as his final project since he was an art major.

“His question changed my life as a teacher and a scholar,” Wallace says. 

Since his first class in 1996 about Moby-Dick and the arts, students and international artists have expressed their own visual responses to Melville’s life and writing. Melville’s Print Collection Online reveals the degree to which Melville’s artistic life was inspired and informed by the visual art of his own and previous generations.

Now, Wallace is ready to bring these pieces of art to life with the help of computer science major Emily Farrell. In his class, she presented six accomplished paintings so he knew she would be the perfect partner for his upcoming project. 

“When I had an opportunity over the summer to convert some of my previous research about Melville’s print collection into a Digital Humanities project, I asked if she would like to be the webmaster,” he says. “She has the perfect background for a project integrating the literary, visual, and digital worlds.”

Emily’s work has been supported by the Faculty Development grant from the College of Arts and Sciences. She will continue to support much of her work during the 2021 spring semester and summer session from a grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation. 

Emily, a Newport, Kentucky, native, is a junior computer science major with a minor in English. Learn more about her and her time as student below:

Tell me about life pre-NKU. Where did you grow up?
I was raised by my older brother in Newport, Kentucky. I graduated from Notre Dame Academy in 2018. While I was there, I played brass in the marching band and jazz band, participated in chorus and theatre and met my best friend through the archery team. Our senior year we led the school's Creative Writing club together. We had a great time cheering on our underclassmen and helping them workshop their creative pieces.

Why did you choose NKU? What kept you here?
I chose NKU so that I could stay near Newport and be with my family. I also wanted to go to the same university as my best friend, so we applied together and got accepted together. I really like northern Kentucky. It's comfortable and friendly but still close to a large city, so there's a lot to do. NKU is the same. It's not so large of a campus that you get lost or are constantly out of the loop, but there's a lot going on for any given day.

Can you tell me a little about what you're studying?
I'm studying computer science. For my major, I've learned some basics about computer networks, web design and how to work with databases, but primarily what we learn about is computer programming. The Computer Science program helps students develop the skills you need to work in software development.

Describe NKU in one word.
Generative. A college education from NKU is a valuable form of self-improvement. NKU helps students develop into capable and productive graduates.

What’s your favorite class?
My favorite class this semester has been Computer Systems. It's a challenging class because so much material is taught together. Each week, the lessons rotate between lectures on computer organization, programming in the C language and computer systems topics. I liked learning more about how the hardware components of a computer function together and interpret instructions.

Where is your favorite spot on campus? What makes that spot so special?
I like the patio on the fifth floor of Founders Hall. It's empty most of the day except for around lunch, so it's very quiet and peaceful. You can see over most of campus. On sunny days, the benches are warm and it's a great place to study, listen to music and relax between classes.

Where’s the best place to study on campus?
I like to study on the fifth floor of Founders Hall. There are also a few nice lounges for students at the end of each hallway in Griffin Hall. If I really can't focus, I'll study on the bottom floor of the library at the wooden tables in the very back behind the last row of bookshelves.

What is your greatest passion?
This is a really tough question! I'm passionate about most of the things I do. My greatest passion that fuels the other passions is probably self-improvement. It's easier to get out of bed in the morning if you believe you can do a better job today than you did yesterday. I like to learn new things and push my own limits. I pick up lots of hobbies just by thinking, "That looks difficult! I wonder if I can do it."

What’s a favorite NKU memory you’ll never forget?
Some of my favorite memories at NKU have been rounding up my friends for Super Smash Bros. tournaments when we all lived in the dorms. It was great to stay up late passing off controllers and joking around with each other. I had a particular rivalry with my friend Nora; I'd make it to the final round or second-to-final round of our tournaments, but she beat me every time we were in a game together. I think to this day I haven't won against her, but I love to play with her whenever possible.

What is your favorite way to spend your free time?
I spend most of my free time practicing taekwondo. After spending so much time at my computer each day, it's great to get in some physical activity and loosen up. Practicing my forms helps me calm down and regain my focus when I'm feeling nervous or stressed out. When I have a few days to myself, I also like to make paintings and draw comics.

Who’s your favorite professor (or staff member)? Why?
My favorite professor is Dr. Wallace. He was my favorite professor before we started working on this project together; I always enjoyed taking his literature classes as part of my honors minor because they gave me the opportunity to be creative and enjoy humanities topics that don't come up in my major. He's my favorite professor, though, because of something that happened during the first few weeks of our Moby-Dick class. While he was reading a poem to the class written by one of his students, his voice broke and he was visibly holding back tears. I was shocked that he had such a strong candid reaction to student work. Since that time, I've really respected him because he cares sincerely about connecting with his students and finds so much meaning in what he does.

What advice would you give to a first-year student?
Take classes in different departments, and find out what you really like. Even if you've finished a lot of your gen eds, find excuses to try new things. During your first and second year, you might change your mind a lot. Expect to change your mind a lot, embrace the opportunity to learn more about yourself. Some of my favorite classes had nothing to do with my degree at the time I took them, and one of my favorite classes was the reason I changed my major. Studying broadly and not getting caught up in preconceptions for what your future should be like will benefit you in your first year.

What are you most looking forward to after graduation?
I'm looking forward to finding a steady job and saving up for a house. I think I'll always want to keep studying, taking interesting classes and keeping my skills current, but once I have my bachelor's degree I can find work in my field and begin my career. I look forward to using what I've learned over the course of my education to build a better life for myself.

What kind of job would you like to have after you graduate?
I'd like to find a job somewhere in the field of software engineering. Right now, I'm especially interested in getting involved with testing software. My main goal is to find a job where I can use my programming skills and build on what I've learned at NKU.

What does getting your degree mean to you?
Getting my degree will be a great accomplishment. Not everyone in my family was able to go to college or to finish school, so I feel very privileged for the opportunities I've had in life. When I have my degree, I will feel comfortable that I'm able to meet the challenges ahead of me.

What are a few things every NKU student should do here before he or she graduates?
I would recommend you join a few clubs! It's one of the easiest ways to find new friends with similar interests. Even if you just attend a meeting or two until you find a good fit, you can make your world a lot larger. I would also recommend sitting in on one of the English department's open mic nights before you graduate, regardless of your major. It's really fun to hear your peers' work. And definitely if you have time, go to see a show in the SOTA building. The theatre department at NKU is full of talented people.

About This Article

Lizzie Kibler Wallace ('16)
Contributor. NKU Magazine
Published April 2021
Photography provided

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