Published: Aug. 12, 2019

The University Libraries welcome Alicia Cowart as a new postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Open and Digital Scholarship Services (ODSS) and in the Center for Research Data and Digital Scholarship (CRDDS). Cowart, who earned her Ph.D. in Geography at the University of California, Berkeley, will provide support for geospatial research at the University of Colorado Boulder. 

Alicia Cowart stands on quad.

In this role, Cowart will work with researchers across disciplines who are interested in using geospatial data and creating maps, in collaboration with colleagues in the Earth Sciences & Map Library. She will also lead workshops and teach a graduate-level course this academic year. Cowart said that her background in art history and museology complements the way she teaches and explores cartography. 

After finishing her degree, Cowart worked as a lecturer and cartographer in the Geography Department. In this role, Cowart said she found herself working more intensively with geographic information systems (GIS) data, as well as with the Map Library and the Bancroft Library. 

CU Boulder is a host institution for this fellowship, which is part of the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The CLIR Postdoctoral Fellowship Program offers recent Ph.D. graduates the chance to explore career opportunities while developing research tools, resources, and services to aid them in the process. Cowart is CU Boulder’s first CLIR postdoc. She said that when she learned about the fellowship, she knew it would be a natural fit for her unique skill set. 

“Working with [the Libraries] is exciting because I get to work with people on different sorts of projects, which I find very interesting,” said Cowart. “It’s nice that libraries are very versatile in terms of what they can do to support research.”

Cowart recognizes that Digital Humanities and academic uses for geospatial technologies in disciplines outside of the geosciences have exploded and keeping up with that growth requires integrating new tools that can support these developments. 

“The demand on campus for incorporating geospatial approaches into teaching and research at CU has increased exponentially in the last few years,” said CRDDS director Thea Lindquist. “In the center, we have worked with students and faculty from disciplines as disparate as history, business, and biology who are interested in analyzing and visualizing data on maps. That can sometimes be the best way to understand how dense the population was in Elizabethan London or where a new restaurant franchise is likely to succeed.” 

The focus ODSS and the CRDDS has placed on digital scholarship is quickly positioning work from students and faculty that represent the Libraries and CU Boulder as leaders in this growing academic field. Last year, CRDDS launched the Digital Humanities Graduate Certificate, which allows students to study the field’s theories and practices with affiliate faculty from more than a dozen departments. 

“There is a lot of room in libraries to support students and faculty and doing any kind of research because of the way that technology is changing so quickly,” Cowart said. “This position is going to allow me to delve deeper into that world so that I can help people using these tools as they are updated and the technology continues to evolve.” 

Being the first CLIR fellow at CU Boulder, Cowart hopes to make geospatial approaches more accessible to faculty and student researchers across campus. 

“We are fortunate to have a CLIR fellow, and Alicia in particular, to work with these users,” Lindquist said. “She brings the perspective of a researcher and instructor as well as an interdisciplinary background combining the humanities, social sciences, and geosciences to all of her interactions. I fully expect that our students and faculty will gain new insights into their work when Alicia helps them view this work through a geospatial lens.”

We look forward to going down this path with you, Alicia!