Digital Humanities is a team sport. As libraries/information technology units develop programs and initiatives to promote and partner with faculty in digital humanities, it’s clear that our community hungers for best practices and inspiration to create and sustain a community of practice. What’s a group of librarians, technologists, and digital humanists to do?
In the Five Colleges, we will explore these issues in a day long event that will include a moderated panel and facilitated discussion that will will help our consortium build and sustain a community of practice around digital humanities. To that end, tomorrow we will welcome speakers from Colgate University, Haverford College, and Washington and Lee University to talk about their work in digital humanities in a moderated panel. During the afternoon, we will work small breakout groups to address the central question – what does it take to become an effective digital humanities community of practice?
The Five College Libraries Committee DEDCC (Digital Environment Development & Coordinating Committee) encourages participants to chronicle on social media using the hashtag: #5CDH13.
See you all tomorrow!
Since February, I’ve been wrestling with William Pannapacker’s Chronicle piece about digital humanities, in which he suggests we should call it digital liberal arts.
On the one hand, I am all for inclusivity: if we want to thoughtfully integrate technology and digital projects into liberal arts classrooms, we need to think across disciplines, between disciplines: all over the curriculum. On smaller campuses, with smaller staffs, it makes sense for all teaching librarians/instructional technologists to be fluent in the digital.
On the other hand, digital humanities is a THING, a discipline, a frame of reference. For students who want to move onto graduate school, understanding this THING, this discipline becomes more important to participate in the conversations underway at centers like CHNM and Scholars’ Lab. Digital humanities as a THING has particular grant opportunities; it’s a discipline in its own right. It is also has a history we can trace back to the 1980s and to humanities computing; this history, this heritage impacts how conversations happen, who gets included in these conversations, and shapes important debates like #transformdh to trace back structural decisions that impact what has been digitized, what gets recognized, and how the current debates get framed. That context, that backstory is equally value, and extremely important. As a [recovering] historian, this backstory matters; to understand where we are, we need to know where we’ve been.
I work at a liberal arts college. I graduated from a liberal arts college. I need a button that reads ‘I <3 liberal arts colleges’; they are high touch educational experiences for the lucky students who attend them. In our current age of pronounced market segmentation within higher education, it’s important to realize that the context in which we practice librarianship is important and impacts what’s possible, what we can do, and what we should do. Many liberal arts colleges represent the best of higher education; small, interactive classes, summer research opportunities, diverse student bodies, generous financial aid, and dynamic communities. And given the particular organizational strengths and values that liberal arts colleges possess that Pannpacker points to in the piece, "…DH is not a "disruption"—it is an enhancement of the core methods of an ideal liberal-arts education."
I agree that liberal arts colleges need not create smaller, ‘scaled-down’ versions of a digital humanities centers found at places like UCLA; liberal arts colleges have an opportunity to build on their successful educational experiences of small classes and close collaborations with faculty to produce original research. Keep doing more of that, I say, just in the digital context.
Liberal arts colleges struggle to find ways to sustainably support these digital initiatives, but I am confident that we will forge new paths leveraging collaborations with faculty, technologists, and librarians While pushing scholarship towards the digital, I also hope that these collaborative teams can consider the history and the context what makes these ventures so exciting, and participate in the conversations that are happening in the digital humanities at research institutions to broaden the field/discipline’s horizons towards the next phase after ‘digital humanities,’ just as practicionters pushed humanities computing into new realms. Who knows what how ‘dh’ as we know it will be identified in five, ten years, but I do think ‘digital liberal arts’ can and will inform the path towards the next horizon.
Either way, in my practice, I will toggle between ‘dh’ and ‘dla’ with equal enthusiasm and care, as the terms of digital scholarship change and evolve into the next big thing.
I met one of my most trusted professional collaborators and dear friends at an orchestra camp when I was 16 years old. I hated high school and was generally dour, a surprise to those who know me post-college. Trying to make sense of my identity in a community that was not accepting of difference didn’t give me much to smile or laugh about. Playing classical music was my outlet and I met wonderful, supportive friends through that venture. But no one made me laugh quite like Carla Martin did between rehearsals in the middle of Maine in 1998.
We lost touch when we went to college, but thanks to a Mark Zuckerberg production called Facebook, we reconnected when we were both working in Cambridge in 2008. We talked a lot about teaching and higher education since we were both in graduate school, me in library school, Carla in a ph.d program at Harvard. As our responsibilities shifted towards classroom work, we both noticed on Twitter that we were experimenting at the intersection of humanities, social science, and technology. We started talking more about what works in classrooms and what doesn’t, what types of tools are available and how to recast products in an academic context. Talking about our work in the context of the digital humanities community has only put the uniqueness of our relationship into focus.
Last week, we presented a flipped session about faculty-librarian collaboration at Digital Humanities: The Next Generation. As Lindsay Whitacre noted in her presentation on Saturday, “DH is not just a new set of tools and methods, it’s a new set of relationships.” I and many others have said before that Digital Humanities is a team sport, a collaborative venture that cannot be sustained by lone wolves or solitary geniuses. Digital Humanists must be as serious about building and sustaining relationships as they are about building tools.
My relationship with Carla is one of those important ones. I am a better librarian for knowing her, for listening to her talk about the logistics of scaling up digital projects to larger classes, for asking questions about how to support first generation students with skillfully crafted assignments and syllabi, and for helping me better understand how librarians can support junior faculty with their institutional knowledge. She’s forthcoming with examples of assignments that work, for thinking about new ways of marketing courses, and for hands-on activities in classes that I can talk about in my local community. We don’t work for the same institution, so our conversations are casual collaborations, but we can practice communication strategies we can bring home and use in our local contexts.
Our presentation dealt with miscommunications between librarians and faculty. It’s an elephant in the room when we talk about how to thoughtfully incorporate technology into classrooms. Some faculty may have an expectation that librarians and technologists passively will enact whatever they want. Other librarians may have a fear that faculty don’t value them professionally. Some faculty may feel like librarians can be passive aggressive with them when talking about workloads. Other faculty may feel like librarians can be dismissive of their technology skills. Bad communication patterns are also reinforced by higher education hierarchies that put faculty at the top and librarians towards the bottom. In my experience, librarians and faculty have excellent, complementary skills that when put in service of students, learning and research can be a powerful force for good. Librarians are masters of process; the research process, increasingly in many cases, how to manage technology projects or experimenting with technology in their practice. Faculty are masters of the content, experts in their field. I read a quote on the Feral Librarian’s blog this week from Deborah Jakubs:
“…librarians are learned and talented and bring skills and attitudes and services to the university that most regular faculty both admire and need. So rather than constantly trying to compare ourselves to faculty, and often coming up short, let’s celebrate the differences and complementarity.”
Why not leverage these complementary skill sets to build a relationship to enable digital humanities, whether it be in a research or classroom setting?
In addition to providing tangible benefits to our students and to our faculty, I think individual faculty and librarians themselves can benefit from working in teams and from participating in engaged professional relationships. Beyond doing my job better, my relationship with Carla and other faculty members enrich my life and work generally, especially since we still laugh as hard together as we did in 1998.
Five College Committee work is one of the highlights of my job at Hampshire College. I am lucky enough to serve on a few committees and task forces including one called DEDCC (Digital Environment Development & Coordinating Committee). One of our goals this year is to raise awareness among librarians of Digital Humanities and how librarians can get involved. To that end, this committee is organizing a program in the Five Colleges later this year. Below is the call for proposals along with a link to submit proposals, as well as some context about who we are in the Five Colleges:
The Five College Consortium is exploring a June program introducing Digital Humanities to an audience of librarians and IT staff at our institutions. The Consortium in western Massachusetts includes Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, four liberal arts colleges and one ARL. We are interested in identifying speakers who can discuss digital humanities vision or digital humanities work in liberal arts settings targeted at undergraduate teaching and research. We are open to a variety of interpretations on/definitions of the phrase “digital humanities”’ and its intersection with other initiatives around teaching with technology in the undergraduate curriculum. We envision a panel followed by breakout sessions during which we will ask our panelists to participate in small group discussion. Possible topics for discussion include:
- What does it mean to do work in this field in liberal arts colleges?
- How to help faculty navigate shifting technologies
- Mapping out new collaborative relationships (inside our institutions and across the Five Colleges)
- Where should conversation around research/teaching/technology be happening?
- Content mashups and the development of new kinds of “collections”
- The library’s role in a supporting digital culture
- What professional skill sets are needed to support digital humanities work?
If you have interest in participating on our panel and in small group discussion, we would like to hear from you! Please submit a brief proposal online at http://bit.ly/dhproposals by March 8th, describing your interest in the areas outlined above and your interest in speaking to our audience. We are looking towards mid-June for the program itself and will confirm dates with the identified speakers. Please direct questions to:
Chair, Five Colleges Consortium, DEDCC; firstname.lastname@example.org; 413.538.2228
For further information on the Five College Consortium., please see: https://www.fivecolleges.edu/