[Heather Bowlby is a NINES Fellow for the 2011-2012 academic year and a fifth-year PhD student in English at the University of Virginia.]
Unquestionably, the status of Digital Humanities as a field of research has grown significantly in recent years. DH is now considered a “hot” area of study, and increasing attention is being paid to the innovative work being done by digital humanists—and the ways in which digitally-inspired research is affecting the structure of the humanities more generally. While DH is beginning to come into its own in advanced levels of research (such as those in graduate programs and specialized institutes), as a whole, these exciting changes have not yet filtered down to undergraduate education.
As a graduate student, teaching undergraduates is one of my primary, day-to-day activities and consumes a considerable portion of my creative energy. Accordingly, I have become increasingly interested in streamlining my workflow by integrating my research with my teaching and encouraging the two parts of my professional life to speak meaningfully to each other. Although many of my courses engage with popular culture or media, and I have tried various methods of implementing digital components within my pedagogy, I have not yet been satisfied with the effects of my attempts to highlight the digital implications of the subjects I teach. Because I am in the process of planning to teach a new class next semester—a first-year composition course with a thematic focus on Film Noir—the subject of DH and pedagogy has been on my mind.
On a recent Google search, I came across a website that addresses this area: Laura Mandell’s Digital Humanities: A basic course designed to teach critical thinking skills through understanding media. This site deals with both the theoretical aspects of connecting the humanities with technology and practical considerations like tips for building a website: in its own words, the resource aims to provide “course modules for use in college classes that present Humanities methods for thinking critically about how meaning is generated in new, multi-, digital media.” Apparently developed out of Laura’s own classes at Miami University in Ohio, the site is geared for both teachers and students, making available both texts for study and exercises for students, and pedagogical techniques for teachers. The course modules—“Metaphor as Technology,” “Narrative as Technology,” “Technology and Identity,” and “Praxis”—organize the content into individual units designed to be easily utilized in college classes. An additional section provides a bibliography for faculty of readings providing theoretical background information and methods of teaching DH concepts to undergraduates.
The idea behind this site of making DH ideas and skills readily accessible for teachers to use in undergraduate classes is an excellent one, and has potential to expand the field of DH more widely across university curricula. This potential, however, has not yet been fully realized. Laura’s site seemingly has not be considerably updated since 2006 and remains a great idea that has not yet come to fruition: useful for thinking about undergraduate digital pedagogy, but somewhat outdated and narrowly focused (as the site itself admits) on literary endeavors. For me, considering the content that this site furnishes brings the need for such resources sharply into focus. Accessible, well-built resources like Laura’s that provide methods for integrating general DH concepts and skills into undergraduate curricula would be invaluable for many teachers, because these resources could emphasize the applicability of the relationship between digital concepts and undergraduate course subjects, and simplify the process of practically incorporating DH ways of thinking into lesson plans. College teachers without a strong background in digital technologies might be more interested in exploring this area in their teaching if they could easily do so and had a means of clearly perceiving how adding this layer of complexity would enhance their classes. In this sense, Laura’s model of stand-alone modules from which teachers can draw upon to use content according to their specific needs is especially constructive.
My musings here about the need for such a pedagogical resource are certainly driven by my practical desire for inspiration in considering how to implement DH methods of thinking into my courses, but in a deeper sense, I also think that this issue deserves appraisal because it concerns the establishment of DH within humanities research and education more generally. If DH is to really alter the ways we approach research in the humanities, then it will also influence our teaching on a broad scale. For this reorientation to be effective, and for DH to be accepted as a means of interpretation, it must ultimately filter into the teaching of those who acknowledge and advocate its usefulness as an interpretive lens, but who may not necessarily consider themselves active in the field. Resources that provide information about DH concepts and make available pedagogical tools for integrating these ideas into existing curricula would make exploring DH more attractive for many teachers.