The Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges advances the aims of its member institutions and drives awareness of the value of high-quality, public liberal arts education in a student-centered, residential environment.


COPLACDigital will produce student work that is collaborative and outward-facing and that demonstrates the value of a liberal arts education at a time when it is under attack.  By combining digital fluencies with the research-based, critical thinking approach of public liberal arts institutions, these multi-campus, undergraduate research seminars help advance students who are adaptable and prepared for graduate school and the working world. High-impact experiences like COPLACDigital take them further into the reality of the workplace in the 21st century, a fast-changing professional landscape that requires the team-based habits of mind and practices at the core of the liberal arts experience. This project is scalable both within COPLAC and across the liberal arts college sector, and we look forward to sharing project outcomes with colleagues at liberal arts institutions nationwide.


Photo portrait of Ellen Holmes Pearson, one of the COPLACDigital co-principal investigators.
Photo by Audrey Keelin


Ellen Holmes Pearson, Professor of History at the University of North Carolina Asheville, earned her PhD in Early American History at The Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of Remaking Custom: Law and Identity in the Early American Republic (University of Virginia Press, 2011) and several articles and book chapters on American legal culture. Recent publications also include “Neither Here nor There: Testing the Boundaries of Place and Pedagogy,” in Roads Taken: The Professorial Life, Scholarship in Place, and the Public Good (Truman State University Press, 2014) and “Digital Liberal Arts at a Distance: A Consortium-Wide Approach,” in Change Magazine (summer 2016, with Mellon Grant co-Principal Investigator Jeff McClurken and Claire Bailey, COPLAC Program Associate). Dr. Pearson teaches Early American and Atlantic World History, Public History, and Digital History, and she is a member of the Humanities Program faculty at UNC Asheville. In 2012, she received the UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Photo portrait of Jeffrey McClurken, one of the COPLACDigital co-principal investigators.
Photo by Norm Shafer


Jeffrey McClurken is Chief of Staff and Clerk of the Board at the University of Mary Washington, as well as Professor of History and American Studies. He oversees the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies and the Digital Knowledge Center at UMW. His PhD in American History is from Johns Hopkins University. Dr. McClurken’s research areas include the history of the Civil War, veterans, families, the Pinkertons, mental institutions, the 19th-Century American South, and the digital humanities. His book, Take Care of the Living: Reconstructing the Confederate Veteran Family in Virginia, was published by the University of Virginia Press in 2009. He was the 2014 Teaching with Technology winner of the Virginia State Council of Higher Education’s Outstanding Faculty Award, and The Princeton Review named him one of The Best 300 Professors in 2012.

Photo portrait of Leah Tams, the COPLACDigital Program Associate.
Photo by Candice Candeto


Leah Tams is the COPLACDigital Program Associate at the University of Mary Washington. She graduated from Mary Washington in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in History and a minor in Mathematics, receiving the Colgate W. Darden, Jr., Award for Scholastic Achievement. Leah was a student in the first cohort of COPLAC’s groundbreaking Century America distance digital liberal arts seminar, and she has spent much of her time working on other digital history projects as well, particularly at the Smithsonian. Among her most prominent digital history work is "Women in World War I," an online exhibit for the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, and "Greetings from the Smithsonian: A Postcard History," an online exhibit for the Smithsonian Institution Archives. You can find more details about Leah's digital history and museum/archival work here.


For a complete listing of COPLAC schools, please visit

Digital Liberal Arts at a Distance (COPLACDigital) is generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.