{Series} Declassified: Digital Humanities

12/03/2012 § 7 Comments

Digital Humanities wordle

Image credit: Flickr user nicomachus

This is the third post of our Declassified Series, in which we focus on exploring the similarities and differences between courses on the same topic that are offered at different schools. Previous posts include Reference and Information Architecture. Below, Brianna and Barbarajean discuss their experiences in Digital Humanities classes.

Brianna

School: Indiana University-Bloomington
Course Title: S657, Digital Humanities
Professor: Dr. John Walsh
Syllabus: http://www.slis.indiana.edu/faculty/jawalsh/teaching/slis/s657/2012s/

Textbook(s):

  • A lot of articles from various sources, including the Digital Humanities Quarterly, Poetess Archives Journal, and the TEI Guidelines. We also read an excerpt of Matthew Kirschenbaum’s book Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination.

Pros:

The class brings together students from many backgrounds and scholarly interests, from folklore, film, English literature, medieval studies, music and more. Several students already have Ph.Ds in their area of study and have come to SLIS to earn another Master’s degree, while others are straight from undergrad and only plan to pursue degrees in library science or information science. Because of the many different disciplines represented, there are a wide variety of perspectives.

It is beneficial to have our prof Dr. Walsh discuss his own projects, such as the Algernon Charles Swinburne Project, the Chymistry of Isaac Newton, and Comic Book Markup Language. He is active in the digital humanities field, so he is especially knowledgeable when it comes to digital projects and textual studies.

Cons:

While I think the diversity of interests among the students serves the class well, the range of actual digital humanities experience and background knowledge can cause an imbalance in the class. For instance, there are a handful of students who have worked with digital humanities projects for years. They have advanced degrees in their area of study and are well-versed in the theory, culture and technological backbone of the field. In contrast, there are students who are BRAND new to the field (me!) who took this course as an introduction. As a beginner, I felt overwhelmed at times, like there was no possible way for me to keep up with the more advanced students in the class.

An additional layer of complication is also that some students have humanities research that they actually want to implement in the digital realm, while others (again, like me) are not interested in using their own humanities research as the focus for a project.

Skills:

  • gain an overview of the theory and the types of projects being worked on in the field
  • understand the basics of XML, TEI and Omeka
  • completion of a DH-related project in which you build on what you learned in class to develop more advanced skills in an area of your choosing.

Learning methods:

This is a 10-15 person seminar-style course. The first 30 minutes of each class consists of the social media presentation, then we discuss that week’s assigned readings until the halfway point in class. After taking a break, we either finish talking about the readings or Dr. Walsh shows us aspects of his DH projects. (A notable exception to this format is during the two class periods in the middle of the semester that the class meets in a computer lab to learn about and work with TEI.)

Assignments:

  • Weekly readings
  • Each week, one person is in charge of presenting for around 20 minutes on recent happenings in the DH world. Some people turn to the Twitter feeds and blogs of notable DH folks, while others show DH projects they came across on the web.
  • Each week, another person is in charge of collecting responses from our online forum (we each need to write 6 over the course of the semester) and facilitating a class discussion about the readings.
  • A midterm in-class essay.
  • Completion of a group of TEI exercises and a follow-up essay.
  • A final DH-related project and paper on a topic of your choosing. (Examples include curating an online exhibit using Omeka, doing text analysis with TEI, doing data mining and creating a visualization, etc.)

Comments:

It’s about time I come to terms with the fact that I am not a theory gal. I would often get antsy during my undergraduate seminars on rhetorical theory, much preferring the professional writing and document design components of my program. I learn best when I can read an overview of something then jump in and get my hands dirty, so having a class so focused on theory is not something I’ve always felt connected to. I’ve spoken to plenty of people in my class who love long discussions about theory, so I know this is a reflection on my own learning style rather than the value of the course.

As far as the layout of the course goes, I’ve pondered it and I think that if student interest permitted, a two-semester DH course could be a great asset to our program.  One semester could focus on the theoretical background of DH while the other could focus on projects and picking up some concrete tech skills. That way, students could choose whether to take the theory first or second; in my case I certainly think I would get more out of the theory after working on projects. Currently a Digital Libraries course (taught by the same professor) is offered, but even that could benefit from being split into two semesters.

Ultimately I am glad that this class is offered at IU-B; as libraries continue to work closely with digital humanists, it is vital for librarians (who may even be digital humanists themselves!) to have a shared vocabulary. I am SO excited to see humanities disciplines finding new ways to engage audiences and I’m even more excited to see the role that librarians are playing in the process. Although I do not consider myself a digital humanist, as someone who hopes to work with digital projects for special collections and archives in the future I eagerly await the chance to collaborate with them!

______________________________________________________________________________

Barbarajean

School: Pratt Institute School of Information & Library Science
Course Title: Digital Humanities
Professor: Chris Alen Sula, Ph.D
Syllabus: http://phylo.info/chrisalensula.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/syllabus697-sp12.pdf

Textbook(s):

  • Matthew Gold, Debates in the Digital Humanities (University of Minnesota Press, 2012)
  • Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth, eds. A Companion to Digital Humanities  (Blackwell, 2004) [http://www.digitalhumanities.org /companion/]
  • Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History (Verso, 2007)
  • Additional readings posted to the class website (only accessible by the students)

Pros:

This class has a lot to offer! I found the class discussions to be engaging and informative; we are learning about the history and theory of DH and the class focuses on actual methods used in the field, such as annotation software, mapping and GIS, text and network analysis, etc. The class is heavy on theory but our class discussions relate to commonly used digital tools or DH projects that are currently in development, which also promotes the idea about staying up-to-date on current technologies. And in the end, you have the ability to work on your own DH project and I always enjoy a class that facilitates an experience outside of just writing papers.

Cons:

This may sound disingenuous but I really have difficulty finding fault in this class. However, I must note that this class is right up my alley-I’m interested in new technologies and the humanities, I really enjoy theory discussion and critical thinking, and I found the assignments to be challenging enough and even enjoyable. Perhaps the one con is that some of the weekly method assignments are very time-consuming especially when one must gather data, apply it to the method, and then evaluate the results. I wanted to spend more time tinkering with the tools to produce something cool for the assignments and I thought four days was just not enough time (the assignment is due the Sunday night after the Wednesday class discussion).

Skills:

I couldn’t think of a better way to word this other than Dr. Sula had already concisely stated, so here it is straight from the syllabus:

The goals of this course are to:

  • explore various theoretical and applied perspectives on the digital humanities
  • develop familiarity with a wide range of digital humanities projects and methods
  • build skills in planning, developing, and evaluating digital humanities projects

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • critically discuss digital humanities in light of current theories and methods
  • explain how digital humanities methods and practices are applied in different disciplines
  • plan, implement, and evaluate digital humanities project

Learning methods:

Each class begins with Professor Sula discussing the readings for the week along with powerpoint/prezi presentation. The lectures generally lead to active class discussion and conclude with demonstrations of current technologies applicable to the topic of the day.

Assignments:

  • Weekly readings
  • The first assignment was a 20 minute disciplinary presentation which focused on a particular field of humanities in the DH. I chose Music in DH and was able to present with another student. I thought this assignment was a good way to familiarize students who were new to the DH field; you know, just throw them in and let them get at it.

Weekly assignments include:

  • 4 assignments experimenting with methods such as network analysis, mapping, textual analysis and digital annotation.  After our experimentation with the method, we write an evaluation based upon our findings.
  • 3 assignments are focused on project management exercises that include planning, evaluation and preservation. These are aimed toward helping the student become more familiar with DH projects and the steps taken towards planning and implementing such DH projects.
  • The final assignment which is your own DH project (to which your weekly assignments have hopefully been contributing)
  • presentation of your final project to the class

Sounds like a lot of work, right? I suppose it may be but if you are serious about coming away from this class with something more than just a bunch of theories, these assignments are an excellent platform from which you can produce something really interesting (and also discuss critically).

Comments:

Since I am only half-way through this semester, I cannot yet state whether this class is a complete success or not.  However, I can say that I am really digging the theory-based lectures and class discussions. The critical evaluations of methods, while sometimes time-consuming and tedious, have been thought-provoking and even (gasp!) fun.

Are any other library school students taking a Digital Humanities class? If so, how do you like it? How has your experience been similar or different to ours?

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§ 7 Responses to {Series} Declassified: Digital Humanities

  • Would either of you be willing to link to or share projects you’ve worked on in these classes? I’d love to see them.

    Glad to see this topic getting picked up in LIS programs. This weekend at THATCamp Southeast we had a pretty good discussion on the topic of librarians in DH – #alt_LIS or Hybrarianship, as it ended up being called. Click Here for my session proposal and some linked readings.

    One thing that consistently bothers me that I feel compelled to add here is that if you really want to work in digital humanities, you’ll probably have to be very persuasive and assertive about your qualifications. There are quite a few post-doc fellowships (CLIR, Mellon) that are training PhD students (with or without LIS degrees) to work in academic libraries in DH areas, and in order to be competitive with them you’ll have to work hard.

    I will also publicly state that IMLS needs to step up and start offering post-MLIS Fellowships in Digital Humanities, Scholarly Communications, Data Librarianship, etc. If we are to keep up with this developing field our professional organizations need to provide the opportunities that our LIS programs aren’t.

    (stepping off the soapbox…) ;)

  • Annie Pho says:

    Thanks for this post! As someone who has very little understanding of what DH actually is, I would also love to see some examples.

    It’s interesting that other phD candidates in the humanities are all over DH, but some library land folks (like myself) are still in the dark about what it actually is, and what skills you need. From the looks of this post, you need skills in 3-letter acronyms. Time to catch up!

    • Barbarajean says:

      Annie, some students who came into my class also had little understanding of what DH actually is; I was lucky enough to have a previous supervisor (Hi Micah!) who introduced me to the idea before I took this class.

      I’m not too keen on the idea of sharing my project before I’m finished with it, so let me pass along some info that may help one to understand what all the DH talk is really about:

      -Here is a DHanswers forum from the Association for Computers and the Humanities where Bethany Nowviskie gives a great answer (and some great links) to the question “What is Digital Humanities?”
      http://bit.ly/9Kq5ku

      -A video of Tom Scheinfeldt on the topic “Stuff Digital Humanists Like”
      http://bit.ly/gp4jgr

      Some neat projects that my fellow classmates shared in their disciplinary presentations:

      History: Railroaded http://bit.ly/pIReQ2
      Critical Race Theory: Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database http://bit.ly/zjiW
      Archeology: Open Context http://opencontext.org/
      Identity Politics: The Gender Genie http://bit.ly/xC10
      Literary Studies: Pepy’s Diary http://bit.ly/2gH4dw
      Music: The Lomax Geo Archive http://bit.ly/xVddOv
      Art History: Hyper Image http://bit.ly/yzNsOC

      Note: some of these links are interdisciplinary, which I think is also a characteristic of DH

      I could go on and on with this list but I think I’ll stop here. Anyone else want to add to the list?

  • Sara B says:

    Color me jealous that you have Digital Humanities classes offered in your LIS program!

    The closest I’ve gotten to DH so far is a talk that was given on campus by Jentery Sayers a professor from the University of Victoria. He has an English background, but publishes about scholarly communication. I thought his research and book project (which is actually a DH project) sounded really cool.

    I’d love to see a future post which dives more into the DH topic!

  • I agree with Annie – I did my first master’s in medieval studies and there were a large number of PhD students who were involved in or working with the Digital Humanities in some way, but it doesn’t seem like many librarians-in-training are equipping themselves with the skills to support these research endeavours. As someone who wants to work in academic libraries, I feel like understanding how to support Digital Humanities work is important – but I don’t really know where to begin to do that, so thanks for this post!

  • Kevin Coleman says:

    Thanks for the informative post! I always thought digital humanities sounded glamorous, but really had no idea what it meant. I’m slogging through a general Metadata course this semester, so I’m learning a little about TEI. But having the chance to focus on digital humanities for a full semester seems much better.

  • [...] a lot of blogging–though, if you haven’t seen it already, I did co-write a post on digital humanities courses with Barbarajean Majewski at HackLibSchool recently. Beyond that, I’ve been steadily [...]

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