Endless Hybrids

Life, Creativity, & Learning

Models of digital humanities/digital scholarship

These are my notes for my brief talk at Iliads 2015 panel on models of digital humanities/digital scholarship.
Over the last three years a group of faculty, librarians, and IT staff at Washington and Lee have met regularly to explore what model for DH would work at our institution. The group is chaired by Paul Youngman, professor of German Studies. It’s particularly good to have someone in that role like Paul, who can convey a lot of enthusiasm about DH to other faculty.

I want to say that we use the term DH, digital humanities, because the dean of the college, who is also an english professor, likes that term. And she’s the champion of our efforts. My advice is to find the term that works best at your institution: dh, digital liberal arts, digital studies. But don’t agonize too much over the name. More important is what you do than what you call it. 

So, the DH working group sets the vision and direction for our initiatives. But the actual work is done through a collaborative group called DHAT, the digital humanities action team. There is significant overlap between the working group and DHAT to ensure good communication. DHAT is co-chaired by our DH librarian and an academic technology specialist. 

I want to say something about staffing. The success of these initiatives is entirely dependent upon the people who collaborate with faculty and students. (I’m talking about the librarians and IT staff.) I don’t like to use the word “support” because it really is more of a collaboration.  As a librarian, I can say that digital scholarship is simply what a library does today. Libraries, today, do not function without technology and digital media. Many librarians think about these issues all the time. 

You need to get the buy-in of the leadership of your library and/or IT organization. Those are the organizations that have the financial resources to make digital scholarship a priority. I do need to stress that every college has its own political issues. What is successful at one place may not be at another.

At W&L we have redefined several positions. We have a digital scholarship librarian who is focused on digitizing, scholarly communication, copyright, and is our Omeka expert.
In my position as AUL, I put about 75% of my time into developing these initiatives. That’s because the library has made DH a priority. And even though we use the term DH, we don’t limit ourselves to the humanities. I do a lot of work with our journalism dept and would like to do more with our business programs, particularly with regards to data science.

This year our humanities reference librarian retired after 30 years. And we decided to restructure that position as a DH librarian. And Mackenzie Brooks, who was previously our metadata librarian, assumed that position. And I’m going to let her talk about our curricular efforts regarding DH.

More information about DH at W&L can be found at digitalhumanities.wlu.edu

Wrapping up the DH 101 course

Okay, so I completely failed at my attempts to blog daily about our DH 101 course. I want to blame the fast pace of the mini-Spring Term that meets daily for 4 weeks, but that would be just an excuse. So, here’s a recap:

Day 4: Visit to the Scholars’ Lab at UVA:  this really turned out to be a highlight of the course. The feedback from the students on this experience was very positive. Undergraduates at a liberal arts college don’t often get the chance to interact with graduate students in the humanities. Providing undergrads with the opportunity to engage in conversation on a scholarly topic with students just a few years older can be a stimulating experience. As our students talked about their project I could see that they were really starting to get into the topic.

Day 5: Brandon Walsh and Sarah Sorti from Scholars’ Lab came down to W&L to teach this session on project charters and Web design.

Day 6: I gave the class an overview about how the Web works, i.e., all those things I take for granted that I’ve learned over the last 25 years about the Internet. By the end of class each student had acquired a Web hosting account and personal domain via Reclaim Hosting. For this course the students ended up not using their hosting account or web site but that was due to the nature of their project. However, I think it’s perfectly feasible for students to use their own hosting accounts for course-based projects. I’ll definitely be trying this approach when I teach Digital History in the fall term.

Day 7: My co-teacher Mackenzie Brooks introduced the students to the concept of metadata and cataloging and why that’s important in creating digital projects. She had the students do a great hands-on exercise where they identified key terms for material relating to the students’ project.

Day 8: Jim Ambuske from Scholars’ Lab came down to talk about history and mapping.

Day 9: Jon Eastwood, Associate Professor of Sociology at W&L, led a fascinating session on social network analysis in the context of the course project. He showed a number of examples of how to use R to visualize and analyze patterns in publishing data from literary history.

Day 10: Project work day.

Day 11: Cecilia Marquez from Scholars’ Lab came to talk about Postcolonial DH.

Day 12: Lesley Wheeler, Professor of English at W&L, gave the class a presentation about the poetry of Ezra Pound since he formed a major component of their DH project.

Day 13 – 15: Project work days.

I’ll add some reflections on the course in a future post.

 

DH 101: Day 3

This day was divided into two parts. The morning was a talk by Charlotte Roueché of King’s College London, who is visiting campus. Her talk was titled, “Mapping, or Rediscovering? What does the ‘Digital Turn’ mean for the humanities?”

In the afternoon session we talked about the students’ first assignment, a blog post where they described their understanding DH so far. We also had a debrief about yesterday’s visit to Special Collections, and conversations about the videos about DH that they have watched so far. We’re taking a seminar/lab approach to this course. Rather than us spending an hour lecturing about DH, we have students watch videos of various scholars talking about DH. That frees up enough time for a good discussion.

One aspect of DH, or any type of research, is learning what is happening within a particular field. Building off of the visit by the scholar from King’s College London, we created an assignment for thet students to pick a researcher and explore that person’s research profile and research network.

Tomorrow is the visit to the Scholars’ Lab at UVA, so we prepped for that. It’s time that they really started thinking about their project.

DH 101: Day 2

A short class for day 2, only 90 minutes. (Our mini Spring Term is quite crammed.) This was a really fun day since we met in Special Collections and looked over a lot of material relating to the Thomas Carter Collection, which will be the focus of the students’ DH project. Most of this material we just acquired in the last few weeks. Lots of fascinating stuff including zines from the 1940s and 1950s that Carter collected (and occasionally published in). Also examined a set of rare editions featuring Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis. As a bonus, the students got a tour of the vault by our Head of Special Collections. He never takes students into the vault, so that was quite a treat. He starts pulling out a letter from George Washington, and more goodies. What does all this archival material have to do with DH?

We asked the students to watch a video talk by Jeffrey Schnapp, who posed the question, “What if cultural asssets could live in a browser environment and not in storage?” For the class project, the students have to conceptualize, design, and implement a digital research environment for the study of liteary networks, particulary focused on the Shenandoah literary journal published by Washington and Lee. That’s a tall order for within 4 weeks. Obviously, they won’t complete all of it. Part of the challenge is narrowing the concept to something manageable in the available timeframe. We wanted them to have the base understanding and experience of directly handling archival materials. Seeing the actual letters that Ezra Pound wrote to Thomas Carter with advice about editing literary journals makes the project real.

 

 

 

 

 

DH 101: Day 1

Our DH 101 class met for the first time today. Washington and Lee (W&L) has this 4-week Spring Term in which students only take one 4-credit course. The way we’re teaching DH 101, it should really have been called Literary History: An Introduction to Digital Humanities. If we teach this again in the Spring Term, then we’ll try to call it that. The reason for this approach is that we wanted to build the course around a specific structure (e.g., literary history) and not just as a survey of DH methodologies and projects in the wild. We felt that it’s important for undergraduates to have a more concrete focus in order to understand DH.

I’m co-teaching the course with Mackenzie Brooks, our Metadata Librarian. This is the second DH course Mackenzie and I have co-taught. The first was a 1-credit course on Scholarly Text Encoding. Our Spring Term course DH 101: An Introduction to Digital Humanities has only 3 students. That’s a great thing about a small liberal arts college. There’s a long story about the low enrollment that deserves a separate post. This is the second time that DH 101 has been taught at W&L. Last year’s DH 101 course was taught by Paul Youngman (Professor of German) and Sara Sprenkle (Associate Professor of Computer Science). Neither Paul nor Sara were available to teach it this year, so the assignment fortunately fell to the librarians. And it looks like we’ll be teaching this going forward.

We completely rethought the syllabus from how they taught it last year, partly to take into account the experiences and interests that Mackenzie and I have with digital information as librarians. The literary history focus comes from my own research interests into literary networks and a significant archival collection we have about the early years of the Shenandoah literary magazine published by W&L.

The class started by getting the students talking, first about themselves, their career goals, and then their experiences with technology. Due to the nature of our short Spring Term we have a lot of time together in the classroom. The students will spend much of that time working on their group project, but we want the class to be very much a conversation about DH. One of our students, a senior history major, should already be fairly comfortable with DH. She was the first student at W&L to do a digital honor’s thesis and used Omeka for that project.

We asked the students to watch a nine-minute video on DH prior to the first class, which we then used to launch into a conversation about different aspects of DH. What terms were new to them? What questions were raised? Knowing that none of these students plan to pursue a PhD, we’re very aware in this course that we need to relate DH to the world outside academia. We point out how DH methodologies translate to skills in a variety of careers, such as accounting and advertising. One student plans a career in librarianship. Yeah!

We had three hours for this class. We talked a lot about the literary history structure we’re taking in this course. And I should write up a post just describing that in more detail. Then we spent the last hour in a hands-on exercise. We feel that it’s very important in any DH course to get the students doing something hands-on during the very first class. Since we’ll be coming back to the topic of network analysis quite often in the course, we had the students download their Facebook friends and mutual friends via givememydata.com and then generate a network graph using Palladio.

The next class will meet in Special Collections & Archives.

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