My latest at NITLE’s Techne blog: A Digital Humanities Center for Small Liberal Arts Colleges?

September 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

Originally posted on September 27, 2010 at NITLE’s Techne blog,

Hamilton College Digital Humanities Initiative

Last week Hamilton College rolled out the new and improved version of its Digital Humanities Initiative (DHi), funded by an $800,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation. DHi, founded in 2009, is co-directed by Angel Nieves, Associate Professor of Africana Studies, and Janet Simons, Associate Director of Instructional Technology. They have also recently hired Gregory Lord as Lead Designer and Software Engineer.

With the new grant, Hamilton plans to build the first comprehensive digital humanities initiative at a liberal arts institution. While DHi models itself, in part, on the idea of a digital humanities center, a common structure to support digital humanities at large research universities, DHi differs with its focus on connecting digital humanities to the undergraduate experience. Faculty research projects will engage undergraduates through collaborative investigation, and undergraduate fellows will have opportunities to pursue their own research. All projects of the initiative must demonstrate a clear connection to the undergraduate curriculum, and these courses will, in turn, advance new or ongoing research.

DHi is also developing a standardized cloud-based infrastructure to support its projects. Standardization, rather than custom development, will allow DHi to support more projects. Infrastructure in the cloud will enable collaborative scholarship across institutions. Building on Hamilton’s internal strength in digital humanities, as well as  HILLgroup and Information Commons collaborations, the initiative will reach out to other small liberal arts colleges to collaborate on digital scholarship with the ultimate goal of creating a consortium of liberal arts colleges collaborating in the digital humanities.

Can Hamilton create a digital humanities center for liberal arts colleges? We’ll have to wait and see on that one, but I do think that DHi is a clear indication that the digital humanities have arrived at small liberal arts colleges. In the past, there have been digital humanities projects, but once their grant funding ended, sustainability of these projects was not always clear. Hamilton’s DHi, however, has built in plans for sustainability of its projects by creating a standardized infrastructure and, more importantly, by integrating them into the curriculum. DHi ties the digital humanities to the mission of the liberal arts college: teaching students.

By modeling itself on digital humanities centers, DHi also takes on a structure familiar to the larger digital humanities community as a center of collaboration. In 2008, Diane Zorich completed A Survey of Digital Humanities Centers in the United States for the Council on Library and Information Resources. She describes the centers as entities

“where new media and technologies are used for humanities-based research, teaching, and intellectual engagement and experimentation. The goals of the center are to further humanities scholarship, create new forms of knowledge, and explore technology’s impact on humanities-based disciplines.”

DHi’s recognized structure as a Digital Humanities Center will highlight the contribution that small liberal arts colleges can make to the digital humanities by engaging undergraduates both in courses and in collaborative research. It also provides a way for digital humanists to connect with those with the same goals at other small liberal arts colleges.

I’m happy to say that Hamilton is not alone when it comes to creating connections. Ryan Cordell, Assistant Professor of English & Director of Writing-Across-the-Curriculum at St. Norbert College in DePere, Wisconsin, is planning “THATCamp Liberal Arts Colleges,” which will focus on a particular academic setting—the liberal arts college—rather than a particular geographic region. Check out the website and follow @thatcamplac for updates. Also, this morning I started following @THATCampVA on Twitter.THATCamp Virginia 2010 is a regional THATCamp to be held on Saturday and Sunday, December 18th and 19th, 2010, at the Scholars’ Lab, University of Virginia Library, in Charlottesville, VA.  THATCampVA is organized by digital humanities collaborators from UVA, Mary Washington, Monticello, and other central Virginia institutions. This collaboration between a research institution like UVA and a liberal arts college like Mary Washington models another type of collaboration that small colleges need if they want to successfully engage in the digital humanities.

Since most small liberal arts colleges don’t have the resources of Hamilton’s DHi, it just makes sense to work with entities like DHi or the Scholars’ Lab. I’ve seen this pattern in several cases where small colleges have established digital humanities activities. For example, those at Wheaton College have engaged with TEI through the Brown University Women Writers ProjectOccidental College has tapped into the energy of the Southern California digital humanities community. They hosted the regional THATCampSoCal last year and will do the same this year. At NITLE, we are using events like the Digital Scholarship Seminar series to connect the dots of digital humanities at small liberal arts colleges, but we also want to connect them to the digital humanities in general and especially at research institutions. As Derek Bruff noted in a comment on one of my previous blog posts, one of the key ways that the digital humanities transforms the traditional humanities is the collaboration among faculty, staff and students. I believe it can do the same for collaborations among small liberal arts colleges and large research institutions.

Find out more about the digital humanities at small liberal arts colleges by reading our previous posts on this topic.


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