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Yale Historian Heads New Digital Public Library of America

June 11, 2013

Daniel J. Cohen (PhD 1999, History) became the founding executive director of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), which opened its virtual doors in Boston in April.

The DPLA will connect the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums so that the public can access all of those collections for free in one place. Its links will include the written word, works of art and culture, records of America’s heritage, and scientific data.

Cohen brings to the DPLA a wealth of experience and a commitment to the evolving future of public collections. He was a tenured professor in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason University and, beginning in 2007, the director of that university’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (CHNM). At the CHNM, he oversaw several major projects, including PressForward and the September 11 Digital Archive. PressForward developed effective methods for collecting, screening, and highlighting scholarly blogs, digital projects, and other non-traditional web-based genres, as well as conference papers, white papers, and reports. The September 11 Digital Archive collected, preserved, and provides access to the events of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath. In 2003, the Library of Congress accepted the Archive as its first major digital acquisition. Cohen directed additional archival projects, including ECHO: Exploring & Collecting History Online and the free, open-source Zotero software for managing and sharing scholarly research sources.

It is a tremendous opportunity and honor to be the founding director of the DPLA,” Cohen says. “I take with me the experience of running a large digital humanities center at George Mason, as well as an intellectual interest in the sharing of knowledge that began when I was a graduate student at Yale, and which I pursued initially by looking at the religious and scientific culture of knowledge-sharing in the Victorian age.” While earning his PhD, Cohen worked part-time at the Yale Computer Support Center and paid close attention to the rise of the web.

He is author of Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006, with Roy Rosenzweig) and Equations from God: Pure Mathematics and Victorian Faith (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).

Among his many honors, Cohen was an inaugural recipient of the American Council of Learned Societies’ Digital Innovation Fellowship, and in 2011 he received the Kilgour Award for Research in Library and Information Technology from the American Library Association for his groundbreaking work in digital humanities. In 2012 he was named one of the top “tech innovators” in academia by The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle called him “a leading architect in the design of a parallel academic universe,” who has found “new ways to do humanities research using digital tools, and give even non-techy scholars the ability to use them.”

Cohen earned his undergraduate degree in Religion and History of Science from Princeton, and his Masters in Theological Studies from Harvard. After graduation from Yale, he joined the George Mason faculty, where he taught for thirteen years.

As a graduate student, Cohen was mentored by the late Frank Turner, who also became interested in the nature and management of libraries and evolved from scholar to University Librarian. Cohen fondly remembers the 1990s cohort of PhD students who studied intellectual and cultural history with him under Turner’s guidance and who explored together the historical relationship of religion and science.

Cohen, his wife Rachel Chazan Cohen (PhD 1998, Psychology), a psychology professor and researcher, and their twin 9-year-olds Eve and Arlo will move to Boston this summer.