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K-State Today

December 2, 2015



Digital artist, photographer joins Chapman Center for Rural Studies as visiting instructor of digital humanities

By Allie Lousch

Kansas photographer and digital specialist Tom Parish, a Kansas State University Master of Fine Arts alumnus, joined the Chapman Center for Rural Studies as visiting instructor of digital humanities in August 2015.

Parish supervises a major update to the digital archive for the center's undergraduate research, conducts field research related to rural Kansas people and places, and instructs students and the public in digital humanities best practices and the electronic preservation of artifacts and ephemera representing Kansas' rural history.

He also will take a lead in the design of the Chapman Center's upcoming exhibit at the Flint Hills Discovery Center scheduled for September 2016. Parish's love of the Kansas Flint Hills shows through in his photography, which focuses on people and places whose memory is at risk of being forgotten.

"The centerpiece of the Chapman Center is our online archive of student research," said Chapman Center executive director Bonnie Lynn-Sherow. "That research is 'born digital,' which means we utilize content not found between the covers of conventional books. Tom Parish's extraordinary vision and technical skill gives us new ways of presenting historical information to a wider audience in formats that are contextually deeper and more compelling. We are extremely fortunate and excited to work with someone as talented as Tom."

Parish's signature 360-degree photographs of Flint Hills' arched-roof native stone cellars, or caves, represent countless interviews and hours of research dedicated to preserving what are likely the work of the earliest Kansas homesteaders. The hand-built root cellars functioned as home, hearth and storage; reflecting the resourcefulness and everyday experience of their builders. These arched-roof structures were not large scale projects. Rather, they were built by individuals or families to sustain lives and provide security in times of crisis. Often all that is left of the people who relied on these structures are the remains of their hand-dug shelters.

Parish's work is displayed in several regional venues and he has won commissions from major galleries and museums including The Box Gallery in Kansas City and K-State's Beach Museum of Art. He was the keynote speaker at the 2015 Kansas Preservation Alliance Conference in Manhattan.

A major grant from the Kansas Humanities Council made it possible for him to create an impressive and unique collection of photographs, audio, video and historical/archaeological research regarding the native stone dugouts and root cellars that dot the Flint Hills of Kansas.

Parish has already conducted three workshops over the fall semester to students, faculty and the public in optimizing research using photography, the preservation of historic photographs and artifacts, and best practices in photographing historic sites. Another round of workshops is scheduled for spring 2016 and are open to anyone both on and off campus.

Learn more about the Chapman Center for Rural Studies. Find us on Facebook, Twitter and RuralTelegraph.wordpress.com.