Developing a Model: Highlights from DHSI 2015

I’ve done it! I’ve crossed over from digital humanities-curious to trying to define what digital humanities (DH) means here at Whittier. This past year DigLibArts hosted a variety of guest speakers that I found inspiring, not only because of the work they do but because they motivate faculty, students and people like me to launch ideas. How many times has anyone had an ‘aha’ moment in their teaching and thought, “Who will help me take it from conception to the next phase–whatever that may be?”

I want our new center to be that place. We call DigLibArts a collaboratory where we encourage and support our campus community in their use of digital technologies to enhance teaching and learning.

In the spirit of discovery, this past week I participated in the course “Models for DH at Liberal Arts Colleges (& 4 Year Institutions) held at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI). The goal for participants was to define what the digital humanities means at each of our institutions and to to build on a model that best reflects each of our campus’ ethos.

PowerPoint presentation slide from Day Two of DHSI course by Angel David Nieves and Janet Simons

Defining DH

There are many definitions of digital humanities but all have similarities. Looking up “Day of DH”, for example, gives a record of how this field evolves year after year.  Our facilitators, Janet Simons and Angel David Nieves from Hamilton College shared this definition with the class, “Digital humanities is a diverse and still emerging field that encompasses the practice of humanities research in and through information technology, and the [approaches or] exploration of how the humanities may evolve through their engagement with technology, media, and computational methods.”1

What do digital humanists do?

Practitioners of DH are builders. Some use coding to create interactive websites or maps. Others use computer programs to transform analog to digital; there is text encoding, data visualization, topic modeling. There’s geographic information systems (GIS) and other lingo like OCR, TEI, XSLT, LAMP—OMG! What I’ve found is that DH is not all about using tools; it’s about finding new ways to ask —and answer research questions using technologies and methodologies to aid in discovery. It’s an opportunity to involve students in research that asks critical questions about media studies. It’s about the why, who, when and where of digital pedagogy. It’s about building networks to support digital scholarship.

The School of English at Trinity College puts it like this, “Digital humanists do not only create digital artefacts, but study how these media affect and are transforming the disciplines in which they are used. The computational tools and methods used in Digital Humanities cut across disciplinary practice to provide shared focal points, such as the preservation and curation of digital data, the aesthetics of the digital (from individual objects to entire worlds), as well as the creation of the born-digital projects.”2

Modeling the process of creating a DH center through Dungeons & Dragons

What is needed to start a digital humanities program? Do we call it a center?  Do we need physical or virtual space? What about grant writing? Should we focus on research or pedagogy? These were all recurring questions during the five days of our workshop.

Our facilitators at DHi provided a project process flowchart that illustrates their steps in reaching a DH platform.  This is based on a collaborative model that they use at Hamilton College.

DHi process plan
An overview of DHi’s Project Process, from a project’s first Information Discussion through to its final implementation and interative reviews and updates. Created by the DHi Collection Development Team

To better understand the many layers of planning for the digital humanities, our instructors debuted a game that they were working on. Enter dhQuest!  Modeled after D&D (I’m told), our class played a game with challenging quests that included finding time, funding, staffing power, institutional support, credibility, and networks. We couldn’t win the game unless we had a bank with all of these resources. It’s a fun game that increased my understanding but the real-life tasks are daunting!

Class pres on dhQuest
Models for DH at Liberal Arts Colleges class presenting at DHSI 2015 #dhsi #lacdh


DH Elevator Pitch

One of our assignments was to build on our plans for a DH model by creating a pitch to prioritize what our institution needed most to get a program off the ground. How can keywords and humor explain what we want to do and get buy-in? Enter the DH Elevator Pitch, a project made during the institute (with permission) on code from Andrew Pilsch’s interdisciplinary major generator. Text by Julie Kane & Laura McGrath. Hacks by Alicia Peaker & Lauren Nicholas. Web magic by Greg Lord. Instructors: Angel Nieves (Hamilton College), Janet Simons (Hamilton College) Guest Instructor: Jacob Heil (Five Colleges of Ohio). Participants: Angie Beiriger (Reed College), Elspeth Brown (University of Toronto), Sonia Chaidez (Whittier College), Katie Gibson (Miami University (Ohio)), Meredith Goldsmith (Ursinus College), Melanie Hardbattle (Simon Fraser University), Katie Holt (College of Wooster), Julie Kane (Sweet Briar), Juliette Levy (University of California, Riverside), Trina Marmarelli (Reed College), Jamie McDaniel (Pittsburg State University), Laura McGrath (Calvin College), Megan McNames (Ball State University), Lauren Nicholas (Moravian College), Sarah Parsons (York University), Alicia Peaker (Middlebury College), Thy Phu (University of Toronto), Andrew Prellwitz (Ripon College), Jenny Presnell (Miami University (Ohio)), Erica Yozell (Moravian College)

DH Elevator Pitch

DH at Whittier?

The digital humanities is a dynamic field in higher education. Over the last couple of years I’ve been racing to catch up–or to even try to wrap my head around it. What does the digital humanities look like at a small liberal arts college? What should it look like at Whittier? How do we capture the visible evidence of invisible learning? I see now that I’ve been surrounded by answers. It’s about faculty-student collaboration on research projects. It’s about teaming up with community-based partners to design assignments that will increase knowledge. It’s about engaging students in digital scholarship and asking them to think critically about their roles as global citizens. It’s about opening up opportunities for faculty and students to use tech-fueled practice to explore traditional modes of scholarship. It’s what DigLibArts is doing and is trying to do better. It’s a model that we are shaping, steering, and now sharing with a growing number of networks who seek similar goals.

As we move into a new academic year and stay focused on our mission, we will continue to offer small grants to faculty, librarians and academic staff to develop pedagogy and research-based projects. We will continue to invite guest speakers to bring fresh, new perspectives on teaching and learning.  We will be teaming up with campus partners to create workshops that promote interdisciplinarity and digital literacy. There will be challenges but having a model in place will help with the way we steer our ship called DigLibArts–aka the “digi-lab!”

Sonia Chaidez is the Instructional Media Designer and Co-Coordinator of Whittier’s Digital Liberal Arts Center (DigLibArts); a collaborative initiative to enhance the liberal arts at Whittier College by empowering faculty, staff, librarians, and students to make full and better use of the digital technologies that are reshaping pedagogical approaches and transforming research throughout the liberal arts.