My Latest from NITLE’s Techne Blog: Digital Humanities for Undergraduates Session at #AACU12

January 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Originally posted on January 26, 2012 at NITLE’s Techne blog, http://blogs.nitle.org/2012/01/26/digital-humanities-for-undergraduates-session-at-aacu12/

A group of digital humanists from the NITLE network will be presenting later today on Digital Humanities for Undergraduates at the Annual Conference of theAssociation of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).  This post contains my remarks introducing the panel, as well as important links that panelists wanted to share.  The powerpoint is available via SlideShare.

Student working on the Homer Multitext

Welcome! My name is Rebecca Frost Davis, and I am the Program Officer for the Humanities at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education or NITLE.  NITLE works with its network of liberal arts colleges to enrich undergraduate education and use technology strategically to advance the liberal arts mission. We are particularly concerned with the future of liberal education; my colleague, Bryan Alexander will be leading a session tomorrow that uses scenario exercises to help envision and prepare for that future.  Today’s session focuses specifically on the future of the humanities, both as a body of knowledge and as it is embodied in our students as future humanists.

Anyone in the humanities has heard that they are at risk.  For example, in Fall 2011, AAC&U’s Network for Academic Renewal held a conference entitled, “Arts & Humanities: Toward a Flourishing State?”  The conference overview explains,

As history shows us, however, the arts and humanities always risk falling from favor, seeming to some as ancillary or extrinsic, a frill to do without, to cut and drop when times are hard.

John Seely Brown

In addition to economic pressures, the humanities are also faced with a changing world, a world of webs and networks. Last April, John Seely Brown, one of NITLE’s fellows in 2011 and author of the Power of Pull (mentioned in the opening forum last night) laid out three forces challenging higher education.  (See Kathy Fletcher’s blog post, Combining the best of the studio model with personalized learning: Is it doable? for more about this keynote.)  They include:

  • Explosion of data
  • Exponential advances in computation storage and bandwidth
  • Large-scale, deeply-connected problems

In the opening forum last night, Ken O’Donnell told us that we need systems thinkers who can integrate.  Rather than seeing all of these forces as a threat, we need to ask how the humanities can address and take advantage of these issues.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Scholarly Communication, Modern Language Association (picture courtesy of Pomona College)

Defining Digital Humanities

A new movement is doing just that in the humanities—the digital humanities (abbreviated DH). The term is less than 10 years old, although its antecedents go way back. But, one hallmark in DH is the urge to gather under one tent—to integrate a bevy of the ways technologies and humanities intersect.  Collaboration is very important—and very different from the traditional practice of the humanities.  For the sake of convenience, let me give you one brief definition, from Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Professor of Media Studies, Pomona College and Director of Scholarly Communication, for the Modern Language Association.  Kathleen describes the digital humanities as

a nexus of fields within which scholars use computing technologies to investigate the kinds of questions that are traditional to the humanities, or, as is more true of my own work, who ask traditional kinds of humanities-oriented questions about computing technologies. (“Reporting from the Digital Humanities 2010 Conference”, ProfHacker, July 13, 2010)

A lot of ink (and pixels) has been spilled defining digital humanities, but as my colleague Lisa Spiro argues, a more important questions is “Why Digital Humanities?”  How does this movement address the pressures I described earlier.  Lisa has outlined five motivations:

  • Provide wide access to cultural information
  • Enable us to manipulate (big) data: manage, mash up, mine, map, model
  • Transform scholarly communication
  • Enhance teaching and learning
  • Make a public impact

See Lisa’s presentation, “Why the Digital Humanities?” for more information.

Digital Humanities at Small Liberal Arts Colleges

Fitzpatrick’s definition focuses on research because DH has largely thrived at research institutions.  But, if it is a solution for 21st century humanities, then we need to involve 21st century humanists–our students. More recently, faculty and staff at small liberal arts colleges are figuring out how to involve undergraduates in the digital humanities, as my colleague Bryan Alexander and I describe in the just-published Debates in the Digital Humanities, where we argue that small liberal arts colleges should do DH, but the focus will be on process (learning by doing) rather than a producing finished product.

I am fortunate to have a group of digital humanists from small liberal arts colleges in the NITLE network here today to share their experience and insights.  They are

They are leaders in digital humanities from four different locations to give you the range of the big tent.

For the last year, I’ve been telling digital humanists that they need to start engaging their undergrads and using this group as examples.  To do that, I have to tell them about essential learning outcomes and high impact practices (as defined by AAC&U’sLEAP initiative) and explain how the digital humanities match well with these outcomes and practices.  I’m happy that with this audience, I can tell you to listen to the examples you are going to hear and look for essential learning outcomes, such as intellectual and practical skills, including inquiry and analysis, critical and creative thinking, information literacy, or teamwork and problem solving, as well as local engagement and integrative and applied learning.  Look, too, for high impact practices—especially ways to engage undergraduates in authentic applied research in the humanities, but also collaborative projects and community-based learning.

This group represents the early adopters, the pioneers, but more and more NITLE is hearing from colleges wanting to learn about and develop the digital humanities.  In response to that community demand, Kathyrn, Angel, Janet and others got together and created the Digital Scholarship Seminars, free online seminars on digital humanities. Our next seminar will take place February 3 at 2 pm EST: Building Scholarly Networks: Digital Humanities Commons.  This community also helped create DHCommons, which aims to be match.com for digital humanists.  For further resources, see NITLE’s DH website, especially Lisa Spiro’s post on Getting Started in the Digital Humanities.

Links from the Presentation at AAC&U

Finally, here are some links that will come up from each of the panelists:

Angel David Nieves and Janet Simons, Hamilton College Links

Chris Blackwell, Furman University Links

  • Folio.furman.edu
  • Blackwell, C. Martin, T. R. 2009 “Technology, collaboration, and undergraduate research, ” Digital Humanities Quarterly, 3(1) 14 March 2011 (link)

Kathryn Tomasek, Wheaton college (MA) Links

Laura McGrane, Haverford College and Jen Rajchel, Bryn Mawr College Links

For more on digital humanities and liberal education see:

and other NITLE blog posts about digital humanities.

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