Baby steps toward developing interest in digital humanities

Today brought some welcome news: Alex Jarvis, one of my students, had a program in “digital humanities” approved by the special studies committee on campus, which means it’s officially his major.

The program draws on classes in computer science (human-computer interaction, database concepts, PHP), history (methods and public history courses), design (graphical information design), communication, English (cyberpunk, digital literary studies), and philosophy (ethics, ethics & technology).  It also requires him to complete a minor, which will likely be journalism, since Alex interns at the Consumerist.

There are now–I think–enough faculty on campus doing digital humanities-type-stuff that we can work towards creating a certificate in it.   There were some concerns from the program committee about whether digital humanities-type work was most suitable *after* a degree in the traditional humanities, and an interdisciplinary certificate would probably assuage them.

Here’s some of the language from his proposal:

Digital humanities is an interdisciplinary field that, as its name implies, enmeshes the methods and objects of study from computer science and the humanities. Broadly speaking, it has two different goals: First, it examines traditional humanistic objects of study (texts, cultural artifacts) with digital methods, involving itself with the digitizing of traditional media and the preservation of born-digital documents, such as the Text Encoding Initiative’s “Versioning Machine,” which can compare different versions of archived text to each other, side-by-side. In a similar vein, it also facilitates the creation of similar tools for processing/storing/showing data in new and interesting ways, such as the word-digesting application suite TAPoR, or the powerful research and bibliographic tool Zotero.  Moreover, digital humanities seeks to bring humanistic ways of knowing (interpretative methodologies and theories) to bear on digital culture, or to give them fresh relevance. An example here might be Ivanhoe, the game of interpretation.  This mutual interplay contrasts with computer science; whereas both concern themselves with the internal manifolds of computing, digital humanities is ultimately more concerned with the data itself, and the transformation of that data into knowledge, as opposed to pure programming. In other words, the analysis and interpretation of all data, both real and virtual, and the further manipulation of that data is more important that the individual structure of programs. Although digital humanities is still an emerging field, it has achieved several key milestones: there are several scholarly organizations devoted to it (The Alliance of Digital Humanities Organization, the Association for Computers and the Humanities), various peer-reviewed journals (such as Digital Humanities Quarterly), and a dedicated grants-making office at the National Endowment for the Humanities.

I have so far begun to research and present on the digital humanities in several different capacities during my time at Central. In my freshman year, I sat on a panel (alongside English department chair Dr. Gigliotti)  that spoke with Author Steven Berlin Johnson, analyzing his recent  book, Everything Bad is Good or You (which purports that activities such as video games and television can be beneficial instead of brain-numbing), and it’s relation to new media and academia. I have presented twice at the Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day on related topics. My first presentation was regarding the analysis of a Game Design Document and its reflection on gaming as an area of study (known as ludology). In my second year I presented “Songs of the Hive Mind: Literature, Images, and Music In Web 2.0,” in which I used random user input from the popular Internet applications Twitter and Facebook to create poetry and music, and to reflect on the implications of this mashup for notions of authorship. My advisor and I are in the process of applying for a Faculty-Student Research Grant to explore the interpretative possibilities of embedding RFID tags in academic objects (RFID tags contain short-wave radio signals that carry unique, digitally recognizable data–they are what allow Wal-Mart to track goods in its supply chains, or Exxon to let customers pay for gas by holding their keychain near the pump). Should we get the grant, I will present the findings next semester at URCAD. I am currently an intern at a high-traffic consumer advocacy website/blog, where I manage the influx of emails, categorizing and ranking each by subject and quality (incidentally, it is because of this internship that I have chosen Journalism as my minor).  I also assisted Professor Jones at this past year’s Academic Computing Conference, where I presented my experience with Twitter and academic wikis.

My fascination with all things digital is a long-standing attribute in my life, a passion I have carried from my early childhood (where I was personally responsible for the destruction of 3 family computers because I was “messing around with them”) to my adolescence (where I had built several computers of my own). It was only during my time here at Central did I find the resources and people that would help me craft my disparate ideas into a concise point, which lead me directly to the digital humanities. Before even stepping foot in a class, I had petitioned the Student Activities/Leadership Development board to sponsor my own club, “the Nucleus Game Development Group,” a group dedicated to analyzing and experimenting with digital games.

. . .

My curriculum is modeled along the lines of such programs as the Master’s degree in the digital humanities at the University of Virginia, The Georgia Institute of Technology’s MS and PhD programs in digital media, and University of Central Florida’s “Texts and Technology” degree. I have attempted to emulate the programs’ combination of design, programming, and theory courses in my own study.

Should be interesting!

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Baby steps toward developing interest in digital humanities

  1. This proposal looks great — but do you really think we have enough student interest for a minor? My graduate digital history class is going well but I think that this would really be difficult to pull off at the undergraduate level.

  2. Jason says:

    Well, not to run a minor in the next year. 🙂

    But I think that as some of these classes repeat, the clientele will come. I think such a minor would also offer some humanities majors tangibly useful skills. And I’ve been swapping e-mails with a colleague at Tunxis CC, where they’re building a version of this that could funnel students to us.

    There may also be some possibilities that emerge once it’s clearer that there are numerous faculty with similar interests.

  3. Alex says:

    I am so very happy today.

    That is all.

  4. Brian says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Jason, and congratulations to Alex. This is a killer proposal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *