UMKC to receive $45,000 of a $2.5 million (Canadian) partnership grant; Dr. Virginia Blanton will lead team of student researchers

Antiphonal from the Colonel Greene Collection, University of Marquette. Photo by UMKC Student MaAh Kyi.

UMKC is one of multiple participants in a $2.5 million (Canadian) partnership grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Led by Dr. Jennifer Bain of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, the Digital Analysis of Chant Transmission (DACT) project aims to facilitate large-scale study of the development of plain chant (often termed Gregorian chant) after the European Middle Ages. Focusing on the movement of Latin liturgical chant beyond Europe into Indigenous and Settler communities, the project seeks to document sources through the digital platforms CANTUS Database and CANTUS Index.

Virginia Blanton, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of English, is co-applicant and will lead an international working group of musicologists, students, and volunteers to investigate Cantorales in the Americas and Beyond, which seeks to preserve data about chant books produced in the Spanish diaspora between 1350 and 1800. Blanton indicates that “there are a number of Spanish liturgical manuscripts in North, Central, and South America, many of which have never been catalogued, much less studied. Our group aims to make these resources known.” Such books are often very large manuscripts that were used by a choir in liturgical performance. There are two in LaBudde Special Collections at Miller Nichols Library, one donated by Conservatory alumnus James Adair and another saved by librarians who literally “passed the hat” to buy it from a Mission, Kansas frame shop, where it was being dismantled and sold leaf by leaf. “UMKC students have been hard at work investigating both of these manuscripts, providing inventories of the chant in them and researching their histories. The results of their multidisciplinary work are now preserved in the CANTUS Database,” Blanton said.

In developing learning opportunities for UMKC students, Blanton has collaborated with Bain at Dalhousie, as well as Dr. Debra Lacoste at the University of Waterloo, where the CANTUS platforms are maintained. When Blanton suggested that they might ask a group of musicologists to identify similar books for DACT, they asked her to lead the project into future discoveries. “Jennifer and Debra were so excited by the work UMKC students are doing—and by the mentorship I was providing. They emphasized that our collaborative model is the ideal scenario for the project I had suggested. Working with students on these books has been so rewarding, so I jumped at the chance.” The working group includes academic researchers from Spain, Guatemala, Australia, and North America, who will develop a crowd-sourcing document that will allow librarians and archivists, as well as musicians, Roman Catholic clergy, and nuns to share data about books in their collections. Largely, such books have been shelved since the early nineteenth century and forgotten. Their work aims to make digital entries for the resources they find so they can become known to the international community for future scholarship. Students will be a key part of that endeavor.

A group of seven UMKC student volunteers worked last year to trace manuscripts across the US, using print and digital indices. As Blanton notes, “We have only scratched the surface and have yielded over one hundred books. There are, most certainly, many more that have not been catalogued.” One, for example, Blanton found while visiting colleagues at Benedictine College to look at another manuscript. “It was such a lovely surprise but not a surprise,” she says. “Wherever I go, I learn about similar books and it seems important to document them and think about what they reveal about why these books were so important in the Americas. There is the dark side of this story—the history of colonization, in which Spaniards forced conversion of native peoples to Roman Catholicism—and there are fascinating results, such as books that illustrate how indigenous peoples adopted, transformed, and sustained chant in their native languages as well as in Latin. This revelation is at the heart of what we hope to understand as this project moves forward.” UMKC will receive $45,000 of the partnership grant to support student research over a three-year period. By studying the transmission of chant, the team will help uncover economic, social, cultural and intellectual values through the stories of chant manuscripts, and the human stories that accompany them.

The CODICES Digital Humanities Lab, founded by Blanton, Dr. Jeff Rydberg-Cox (English and Classics), and Dr. Nathan Oyler (Chemistry) in 2011, will provide imaging support for the Cantorales project. The Lab’s investigation of the Adair Chant Book is part of a current Digital Advancement Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, in which the team, along with colleagues Yugyung Lee (Computer Science) and Zhu Li (Computer Science), is using the palimpsests in the book as a testbed for an alternative deep learning model to multispectral imaging.

UMKC Students Create Digital Exhibit Analyzing the Rhetorical Performances of Women Garment Workers

The Center for Digital and Public Humanities is delighted to announce the launch of Unraveling Workers’ Letters: The Voices Behind Nelly Don, a digital exhibit that brings forward the voices of women who worked at Kansas City’s Donnelly Garment Company (DGC) in the 1930s and resisted unionization by the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU). The Donnelly Garment Company was one of the foremost producers of modestly priced dresses for American women in the early decades of the twentieth century. The company was founded and operated by Nell Donnelly, a highly successful businesswoman who undermined attempts to unionize her workers by implementing business practices that ensured their loyalty. The exhibit draws upon some 700 letters written by DGC employees in support of Donnelly and the working conditions she provided that are now archived at the State Historical Society of Missouri-Kansas City Research Center. The website interweaves images of the original letters written by historic Kansas City women and the research and writing of UMKC students, who examine the women’s experiences working at the Donnelly Garment Company and how they represented their work and relationship with the company’s owner in their writing.

The digital exhibit is a product of a course taught by Dr. Jane Greer, University of Missouri Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor of English and the director of the UMKC Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship, on Rhetorics of Public Memory in Spring 2023. UMKC undergraduate students served as the exhibit’s curators. Students in the class were excited to work on a project that brings their research and writing to a public audience. Ella Whitfield (English BA, 2026) observed, “It was amazing to see all of our hard work put up for people everywhere to see.” Other students were pleased that they learned important practical skills through their work on the project. “Being able to do such an in-depth analysis of an incredible event in this city’s history provided me with skills I have never received in another class. Being immersed in the lives of these women was an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world,” explained Lauren Leetch (Communication and English BA, 2025). The Unraveling Workers’ Letters digital exhibit was supported by a Center for Digital and Public Humanities fellowship in 2022-23.

Dr. Greer’s research focuses on the rhetoric of American women and how they represented themselves and their identities and concerns through their writing. Dr. Greer recently published Unorganized Women: Repetitive Rhetorical Labor & Low-Wage Workers, 1834-1937 with the University of Pittsburgh Press. The book profiles case studies that “reveal noteworthy patterns in how these women’s words helped to construct the complex web of class relations in which they were enmeshed. Rather than a teleological narrative of economic empowerment over the course of a century, Unorganized Women speaks to the enduring obstacles low- and no-wage women face, their creativity and resilience in the face of adversity, and the challenges that impede the creation of meaningful coalitions.” Dr. Greer shared her research shortly after her book’s publication at a talk at the Kansas City Public Library to an audience of over 100.