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  • Emma Minnis

A Look into the Persian Digital Humanities: An Interview with Elijah Cooke

Art work courtesy of Rashin Kheiriyeh

The Roshan Institute for Persian Studies at University of Maryland has taken on the project of creating a digital library of Persian resources. The Roshan Initiative in Persian Digital Humanities is composed of three projects, Persian Digital Library, Persian Manuscript Initiative, and Lalehzar Digital Project. The projects will be free for public access, making it easy for anyone interested in Persian studies to enhance their knowledge and research with various poems, stories, and histories. The Persian Digital Humanities has given the opportunity for Senior Elijah Cooke to use his expertise in computer science and Persian studies in a collaborative effort with scholars from different institutions.

Elijah Cooke is a former Persian Studies student at University of Maryland with a background in computer science. He works with the Roshan Institute as a technical intern, doing computer programming and working with the digitized databases. While his role focuses on programming, he has been able to use his knowledge of Persian language and culture by normalizing the texts and correcting mistakes. Cooke says, “The biggest thing we learn from the archives is how unclean and how raw they are since a lot of work has not been done on them yet.” His proficiency with coding and familiarity with Persian has helped him work quickly and independently on many aspects of the digitizing process.

On a day-to-day basis, Cooke works with Matthew Miller, an associate director with the Roshan Initiative in Persian Digital Humanities and other universities to create the material they require for their research initiatives. His work changes according to the needs of researchers and ranges from creating a corpus, a text from different sources to creating tools to be put in on-line services. The on-line tools he creates make Persian texts easily accessible.

Cooke became interested in computer development when he was in high school, where he and his teachers realized that he had remarkable talent in computer science. His interest in government work drove him to study Persian language. After taking a poetry class with Professor Fatemeh Keshavarz, he fell in love with Persian literature and culture. He remembers instantly jumping at the chance to become the technical intern for the Persian Digital Humanities, eager to combine his love of Persian studies and his computer science skills.

Dr. Keshavarz presenting Elijah with the Certificate of Excellence for his outstanding work with the Persian Digital Humanities Project

Photo courtesy of Mojan Najmabadi

Cooke enjoys working with the Persian Digital Humanities Project because of the opportunities it will open up for students and scholars in the field. According to him, “it is cool being able to create this tool that preserves what otherwise might get lost and make it so future generations can actually learn them.” The researchers are not the only individuals expanding their knowledge, however. His experience with the project has given him one of the best learning experiences of his life. While enhancing his programming and technical skills, Cooke gained familiarity with the nature of academia and the research process as a whole. Cooke believes that opportunity to see the research and the passion of people in academics allowed him appreciate the academic side of programming. Because Roshan Institute partners with so many prestigious universities, he has been able to collaborate with some of the best developers in the world. This experience has opened up different career paths for him that most computer science students do not typically pursue.

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