My latest at NITLE’s Techne blog: Sign Up Now to Get Connected in Digital Humanities

August 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Originally posted on August 18, 2011 at NITLE’s Techne blog,

get connected! by flickr user ___aran

Many challenges prevent scholars at small liberal arts colleges from pursuing digital humanities; getting connected to the larger digital humanities community can help overcome some of those challenges.  In January 2012, NITLE will be cosponsoring an opportunity at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association for modern language scholars to engage with leading scholars in the digital humanities.  We hope to connect small liberal arts colleges to this rapidly expanding field. This is a boom time for the digital humanities–both inside academia–marked by online discussion, conference presence, articles, and books–and beyond. Public awareness has grown as 2010 saw Google funding digital humanities projectsaround the Google books collection and Patricia Cohen beginning Humanities 2.0, a series of articles in the New York Times about digital methodologies in the humanities. At a time when the academic humanities seems otherwise threatened and contracting, the digital humanities remains a viable growth area. Yet, lack of awareness, resources, and expertise have prevented sustained engagement in the digital humanities at small colleges.

Challenges: Lack of Awareness and Resources

As part of NITLE’s initiative in Digital Humanities I’ve been exploring the digital humanities (which is abbreviated DH and includes the humanities and humanistic social sciences) at small liberal arts colleges and looking for ways to combat those barriers to engagement. Lack of awareness is a particularly sticky one; it’s hard to get faculty and staff involved in something that they don’t know exists. The recent New York Times articles have helped, but as Oya Rieger has shown in her study of humanities scholars, even those who know the term digital humanities may not realize that they could or even would want to pursue scholarly work in this area.

This is especially true of scholars at small liberal arts colleges. We all “know” that the digital humanities happen at large research institutions with digital humanities centers, not at small liberal arts colleges. William Pannapacker explains the challenge of being a digital humanist without adequate resources:

I think I might be representative of the growing numbers of faculty members who recognize the importance of DH yet are struggling—even with administrative enthusiasm and small grants—to find the resources to keep up and participate in a meaningful way.

In other words, even those who want to pursue digital humanities are challenged by the lack of resources at small liberal arts colleges; this can be pretty discouraging for those who haven’t even started.

Collaborative Solutions

One clear answer to the resource challenge for small liberal arts colleges is collaboration. The TAPAS Project provides a perfect example; small colleges needed help supporting scholarly work with TEI and decided to jointly build a service to help. It turns out, large institutions will benefit just as much from this new service.

DHCommons is another collaborative project that will benefit small colleges. It is a new registry designed to match innovative scholars with opportunities for collaboration and expertise, and increase the community of participants engaged with established digital projects, initiatives, and centers. In other words it focuses on connecting projects looking for collaborators with scholars looking for opportunities to work on a preexisting project rather than starting one of their own. By collaborating with digital humanists at other institutions, they can benefit from shared resources and connect with the larger community. For small liberal arts colleges such collaboration would include finding ways for their students to make meaningful contributions to a digital humanities project.

Raising Awareness: Sign Up Now

But, even with these collaborative approaches to the lack of resources, we are still left with the awareness issue. When I talk to instructional technologists or librarians on campuses, they tell me that the key is approaching faculty through their disciplines. In January, we’ll be doing just that. NITLE and the Texas A&M Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture will be cosponsoring what we like to call a launch party for DHCommons. “Getting Started in Digital Humanities with DHCommons” will be a preconvention workshop offered at the Modern Language Association (MLA) annual convention in Seattle for language and literature scholars who wish to learn about, pursue, or join digital scholarly projects for research and/or teaching. Representatives of major digital humanities projects and initiatives will share their expertise on project design, available resources and opportunities, lead small-group training sessions on technologies and skills to help participants get started, and be available for follow-up one-on-one consultations later in the day. Scholars must apply bySeptember 15 for the workshop, before selecting it in their convention registration. For more information, please visit

This workshop represents a valuable opportunity to connect with some of the top digital humanists; all workshop presenters have been asked to focus on real opportunities for workshop participants to collaborate with existing projects. Their willingness to do so demonstrates the collaborative, generous spirit of the digital humanities community. It also bodes well for a different type of collaboration, one not just between small colleges, but rather between all sorts of institutions.

The idea for DHCommons and this event came out of a meeting of representatives of large and small institutions interested in promoting collaboration in digital humanities that took place before the MLA convention in January 2011. Katherine Rowe of Bryn Mawr College was the driving force behind that gathering. I was part of the working group at the meeting that was interested in finding ways to connect digital humanists at all kinds of institutions, but especially to help those without the resources of a digital humanities center. Ryan Cordell (St. Norbert’s College), Quinn Dombrowski (University of Chicago), Laura Mandell (formerly Miami University of Ohio, now Texas A&M) and I have continued to develop that idea into DHCommons. (If you’re interested in trying out the alpha version of the site or helping with this project, let me know.) Our working group combines faculty and staff from small colleges, large universities and a non-profit organization. This is the kind of collaboration we need to make the digital humanities work for everyone.


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