Hey kids, let’s put on a show!: Digital humanities edition.

11 01 2012

The most important conclusion that I drew from the teaching with technology panel at THAT Camp AHA last Thursday was that my opinion of this amorphous subfield depends upon whether we’re talking about teaching or research. In terms of research, I think there are people out there doing some really cool things. However, I’m pretty sure that I will not be spending my research time gathering and presenting electronic data anytime soon. For one thing, I got into this business for literary reasons, not technological ones. More importantly, the best work in the digital humanities is clearly collaborative, and I really don’t want to work that way.

On the other hand, I realized we may be approaching the point where not getting students to try some kind of digital project at some point in their college career constitutes educational malpractice. After all, it’s their future that brings them to your classroom, not yours. Just because you’re uncomfortable with the technology doesn’t absolve you from having to make sure they have the skills they need to succeed. Besides, who’s it going to hurt if what they produce isn’t genius? That’s why I think the digital humanities is probably a more important pastime for students than it is for professors.

So I’ve decided to give my graduate students a pilot assignment in the digital humanities this semester even though I know I haven’t got the faintest idea what I’m doing. Luckily, my graduate seminar is in Colorado History which means there’s lots of easily accessible resources and no self-inflicted pressure to cover everything (because I’m actually from New Jersey).

I’m thinking they’ll do small group work, learn the tech skills (and teach them to me while doing it), apply them to the history, and then present the results in class and through the class blog for the wider world. What could be easier! I know, just about everything, but it’s stuff like this that keeps this job interesting. Luckily, I think I can even get a small budget to help this along.

At the moment, I’m thinking about offering these technological options:

1. Prezi.
2. Web Site.
3. Movie (I actually know iMovie already).
4. Omeka (despite the fact that I’m still not entirely sure what Omeka even is).

Additional suggestions and advice would be much appreciated. The syllabus has to be done by next Tuesday. And yes, I know that this will likely fail in spectacular fashion. So sorry Britney, Matt and all my other victims graduate students who might be reading this, but I’ve got to start somewhere, right?

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5 responses

11 01 2012
historiannmail@gmail.com

Jonathan–this sounds really interesting, and I’ll look forward to your reporting on the results as the term goes and your final thoughts after the course ends.

I’m personally skeptical that “digital humanities” is a coherent thing. (Isn’t it just the same skills and questions that non-digital humanities scholarship demands, plus an eye towards good website design and some skills with the technology you cite above?) But I’m open-minded.

11 01 2012
Historiann

Sorry, I filled out the form wrong!

11 01 2012
Britney Titus

This day just keeps getting worse. First, I find out teacher Ed won’t let me take the class I was looking forward to most and second, the class I was looking forward to most gets a technological project when it is already brilliant just with reading, writing, and discussion (which is refreshing when everything else is so concentrated with technology). Maybe teacher Ed infuriating me was a sign of worse things to come.

I will try not to be too cynical though and wish everyone the best for this semester.

12 01 2012
Music for Deckchairs

I don’t necessarily recommend this right off the bat, but several people have now pointed me to the NYPL Historic Map Project. I think in the near-ish future this kind of environment will be accessible to graduate students who want the experience of conducting their historical fieldwork or archival work in a way that won’t just end up in a term paper, but will make an enduring contribution to a real research collection.

As a cinema historian I know of several projects that have been made possible because graduate students were interested in conducting fieldwork and leaving their data as a resource for future resource. This seems to have been particularly productive in cinema history because so little of this history has been collected, so there’s a lot of work to do, and it’s relatively straightforward. I think this isn’t really a technology focused practice, so much as a focus on enabling graduate student work to endure rather than evaporate.

If your students are working in groups, they don’t all have to use the technology in the same way. Just a thought. The readers still get to read, the writers still get to write, just for a different environment.

12 01 2012
Gabriel Hankins

Hi there– I would check out Neatline as well once it’s in release (month or so)– it’s very easy, once you’ve been set up with MAMP by someone who knows what’s up, to start plotting geospatial arguments… http://neatline.org/
Good luck!

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