Session ideas: Finding one’s way in DH

I’m most interested in figuring out what it means to work in Digital Humanities–both in terms of honing my own skills as a teacher and scholar and in terms of explaining that work to others. I’ve broken those interests into two sub-questions, either one of which could be a session, I suppose:

(A) The question I wrestle with a lot: “I’m actually in Discipline X (Political Science in my case–specifically, Political Theory/Philosophy–but fill in whatever discipline you like), which isn’t traditionally considered a humanities discipline. But I’ve been interested in digital tools for a long time, and I’ve tried to incorporate the use of some of these tools into my courses (along with trying to teach some basic information literacy). I’m also interested in exploring ways in which it might make sense to make a more conscious use of digital methods in my scholarly work. Where do I fit? And how do I explain the kinds of things I’m interested in doing–and their value–to colleagues who aren’t as interested in the digital?”

(B) In addition to the “Where do I fit?” question, I’m also interested in exploring the more practical side of things: How might I incorporate the digital more effectively into my courses? (This makes the Bootcamp 1 session especially attractive.) What kinds of digital tools are available and useful for the kind of scholarly work I want to do, and where do I begin learning those tools that may be new to me? So I’d definitely be interested in talking with others about research interests, and brainstorming about appropriate tools.

Categories: Info, Panels | Tags: , |

About amycavender

Amy is a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Saint Mary's College, where she teaches both introductory and upper-level courses in Political Thought, as well as courses in Religion and Politics and Human Rights. Her current research interests are in ecumenical dialogue and the lessons it might provide for the conduct of political discourse in pluralistic societies. She's has been a lover of all things technical since her first introduction to the Commodore PET when she was in grade school. She's always looking for new and interesting ways to integrate digital tools into her courses, without making them the focus. She's also very interested in developing her own digital skills.

16 Responses to Session ideas: Finding one’s way in DH

  1. B”H

    There is also the question, which you touch on so beautifully here, of how much we should be burdened with teaching the technology at the expense of teaching our subject area. I spend an inordinate amount of time teaching my students how to use a simple ruler in MSWord, or the basics of how to edit a blog. Who should be responsible for this? If the answer is “us,” then should we be asking for “lab hours” four our humanities classes in order to teach these skills?

  2. JoAnne says:

    I’m new to THATCamp, but I think I have a related issue to raise. There’s a job posting this week that advertises an English/ Digital Humanities position. Looks great in the short ad, but the fuller description explains that the school is looking to establish an on-line English degree.

    I have mixed feelings about on-line degrees, although I often use on-line components in my courses. What’s the general feeling about the relationship between the digital humanities and on-line degrees? and what kinds of things could we be doing to ensure a broader definition of digital humanities while utilizing the best practices of on-line courses?
    JoAnne Ruvoli

  3. amycavender says:

    Both of these sound like great related questions! I, too, find myself wondering how much time to devote to the teaching of technical skills (especially as my students tend to be all over the map in terms of their background in such skills). I’m also at an institution that is now in its second year of offering online courses during the summer.

  4. Dick Brown says:

    Amy, both of the original questions you raise interest me, although my viewpoint as a computer scientist puts a particular spin on them.

    (A) Where does computer science fit in the digital humanities conversation? My field is more about designing computation than using standard software or media; but when I talk to a colleague in another field, we can usually identify at least one computation to design relevant to that colleague’s research interests that may extend beyond what was formerly feasible. Might this be a useful niche for computer science in digital humanities?

    My twisted take on question (B) and some followup comments: How might an introductory computer science course help prepare students for digital humanities? We plan to pilot such a course in the Fall, and I’m naturally hoping to collect examples THATCamp for inclusion in our course. But as computer scientists, we especially want to help students learn creative ways to think about computation, and how to design and create computations of their own for answering questions in humanities disciplines. Are there particular software systems or forms of media that have sufficiently wide usage among digital humanists that we should seek to include them in our course?

  5. Ryan Cordell says:


    I’ll be very interested in talking with you about that introductory course. I’m in the process of designing an “Intro to DH” course for St. Norbert, and one of my challenges is figuring out how to convey the necessary technical skills to my students. I have some technical abilities, but not enough to encompass the range of possible approaches my students might take in the course. In other words, I’m going to have to rely on either students’ prior knowledge, or on what they can pick up independently and quickly. A collaboration with computer science would make sense, but none of our small CS faculty are particularly interested in the digital humanities (I hope they’re only not *yet* interested). I’d love to talk about how CS faculty and humanities faculty can collaborate to create such courses.

  6. Dick Brown says:

    Ryan and anyone else,

    I’m very eager to have this conversation. I don’t know of any models for such a course, and I’m sure it will take multiple offerings to settle, but if interested folks can sit down in a room together and talk about what we all do and want to do, I’m confident we will find plenty of material for us to teach CS principles through DH examples and practices, giving humanities insights about computing and experience with some relevant tools and techniques.

    I wonder if enough others are interested in this idea to consider a session…

  7. “What kinds of digital tools are available and useful for the kind of scholarly work I want to do, and where do I begin learning those tools that may be new to me?”

    Yes, that. I’d like to propose a session entitled something along the lines of Oh Crap: I Discovered an Interest in the Digital Humanities after Grad School and Now Have No Clue How to Learn Various Digital Skills.

    For instance, despite the facts that I’ve built a website and am currently revising my library’s site, my understanding of css hovers at the what-happens-if-I-change-this-bit? level. I suspect many of us are either currently learning by mucking about, or have faced the need to learn new tech skills without much support in the past. What strategies are best for developing these new skills on the job?

  8. bboessen says:

    I’m also interested in an approach to CS that incorporates DH and other digital networked media issues and concerns. Our CS folks are interested in a “games something” and we’ve talked because I offer a games studies course in Media Studies. But we’re not really sure what an organized program about games at an LAC would look like, and this strikes me as somewhat similar to the issues Dick and Ryan are referencing above.

    • Dick Brown says:

      Hmm… There are certainly many forms of media in computer games, and the desire to build games does motivate a lot of students to start studying CS. (I bet your media studies course is popular, too!)

      Games are also unpopular with many students, often women (though not in every case). The CS course I’ve envisioned would focus on projects with applications to disciplinary interests, seeking to appeal to both women and men studying humanities. But I can certainly change those preliminary ideas if games or another focus would make a more helpful DH emphasis while retaining inclusivity.

  9. Barbara Fister says:

    We’re exploring having a for-credit lab portion of a methods course that can really bore deep into not just how to find information but where does this stuff come from and what are the social / ethical / philosophical aspects of it. We’re doing it with political science and we know it works. But it does require a department agreeing on what students need to know and making sure that the lab and the course its attached to and the work the students are asked to do are all connected. I could see including a how to and why to and what about component involving digital media. But hey, we’ve only got our act together with one department so far. We have a long way to go.

    • Dick Brown says:

      We have a particular interest in computing ethics at our college, and I hope to chat with Barbara and others who have been considering such issues. I can see at least two avenues of approach. (a) Some awareness of findings in the field of computing ethics might be handy for digital humanists. Some potentially relevant elements from CE: property rights (including intellectual property); privacy; equity and access; uses of power; the effect of computing on quality of life. (b) DH could make a great object of study for a computing ethics course.

  10. amycavender says:

    Barbara, I’d love to hear more about what you’re doing with the political science department–it sounds really interesting!

    I’d also like to suggest that the introductory computer science course Dick mentions could be really helpful for faculty, too. Well, something like it, anyway–would that there were more time for faculty to take courses as well as teach them! 🙂

    I’m serious about that. I find myself in a boat similar to the one that Molly describes. I have some very limited technical skills, and I can teach some of these to my students–but having a stronger background myself would be useful, both for my teaching and for my own work.

    Perhaps we could have some conversations around the idea of “Self-Help for the Untrained Would-Be Digital Scholar/Teacher: Figuring Out What to Learn, and How to Learn It 101.”

  11. Dick Brown says:

    I’d be interested in listening into that conversation, Amy. The situation with faculty certainly seems different. Students have the luxury of taking whole courses to explore new fields and widen their backgrounds. Also, today’s students have grown up with computing and media in ways that few of us faculty have, which can ease their learning curves with technology.

    I doubt we’ll ever stop having to learn technologies on our own. But strategically accelerating the process might make a huge difference. People in my field may attend sessions called ‘workshops’ and ‘tutorials’ to learn the current technological tools or practices. Such sessions typically occupy a half-day or day just before or just after a professional meeting; or, a site not connected with a conference may offer a workshop, perhaps lasting two days or more. Are there comparable models for training sessions in humanities fields? Perhaps a similar strategy could help people in DH to get a good start in some aspect of technology and how it could apply to DH scholarship and teaching.

    So, my proposed topic is something like “Training and/or education in computing.” Here, I’m thinking of “training” as learning how to use technological tools and practices, and “education” as learning some disciplinary principles about computing. The latter requires some additional time and effort, but it offers deeper understanding, and greater flexibility and adaptability to new technologies as they (continually) arise. One can train without educating (or while educating very little), but it doesn’t work well to try educating without hands-on learning strategies, which could very well include training.

    Faculty members may or may not have the time or interest for the deeper education in addition to their training in DH tools — I’d like to know. For students, I’m committed to try both educating and training a few through an introductory CS course with applications in DH, if I can determine what “applications in DH” may mean for them.

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