Topic: “Doing” the Digital Humanities
Alexander Reid, “Graduate Education and the Ethics of the Digital Humanities,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities.
Look at http://praxis.scholarslab.org/
In particular, locate and play around with Prism and read what they have to say about graduate training and practice.
Give some serious thought about the trade-offs between a practical-based training system (learn by doing) versus a theory-based training (learn about) or a hybrid approach. Either post a response or blog post or be ready for me to ask you some sharp questions about the balance between practice/praxis and theory.
Other homework: Come to class with a short-list of projects you might want to participate in, if possible. (If you already have something specific lined up, that’s great! If you’re uncertain and need some suggestions, that’s fine too!)
Select one digital humanist you’ve read or encountered thus far this semester who you’d like to talk with about DH. We have Skype and I’m not afraid to use it!
I believe that a “staggered” hybrid approach makes for the most effective training sessions. The session should begin with a small amount of theory-based training, focusing on why teachers are told to run a classroom a certain way, what pedagogy is favored by the program and why. It is important for teachers to build a foundation for the things they’ll learn in practice. Much of the early training should be rooted in practice, as practice is the best way to develop a context of how theory will become useful. Practice without theory doesn’t help you ground or build upon ideas you can label in ways theory has taught you and thus, it is more difficult to contribute in ways that are meaningful in your field. Theory without practice seems meaningless and unproductive in a real-world sense.
If I went through a training program that was based only in theory, I’m not sure I would learn a whole lot. It’s like trying to tell someone to build a bookshelf by reading off the instructions all at once. Most of build a bookshelf by reading one step, putting it to practice, then reading the next step. On the other hand, a training program based on practice would be like giving no instructions at all. You can probably figure out how to build the bookshelf, with some difficulty perhaps, but you couldn’t label the parts or easily be able to communicate your ideas on how to improve the building process. Pedagogy is much more complicated, but I think the analogy is somewhat apt (feel free to let me know it sounds absurd!).
Once a student has enough practice, they will (likely) want to return to theory to build better and more meaningful practices. In training sessions, I believe one should start with a bit of theory and a lot of practice then slowly move into a focus on theory and a bit of practice.
In “Graduate Education and the Ethics of the Digital Humanities,” Alexander Reid discusses shifts, caused by technological advances, in the way that educational practice is approached. Historically these shifts have allowed for widespread and rapid growth and change in higher education policy and structure. As Reid points out, the “professionalization of humanities scholarship occur[ed] during a time of rapid expansion for higher education.” It is these moments in history, I’d argue, that have presented the opportunity for reward to those willing to take the risk inherently involved in negotiating change. So when Reid suggests that “graduate faculty must also make a choice or, more accurately, a wager,” I agree. Specifically, I think the choice for humanities scholars is to either get on board with digital humanities, or to get out of the way. The wager is not so much one of ‘will digital humanities continue to be viable?’ but is rather ‘how much longer with the humanities remain viable WITHOUT going digital?’.
The question of how to educate digital humanities students is not without challenges, but I believe trying and learning from mistakes or successes is much better than waiting for some functional system to be established by ‘somebody else.’ I think training students to program in C+ or the like would be a stupid choice, and those languages should be left in the computer science department where they function to their full potential. However, classes in XML and TEI would be perfectly suited for digital humanists, since they pertain to the negotiation and organization of digital text. As theory goes, I see absolutely no point in wasting time in a formal academic setting discussing the ‘theory’ of a field that is so nascent that it is not yet even concretely defined. The field is being formed by those who are DOING, and so putting the students into the water and letting them tread for their lives (or livelihoods in this case) is the method I suggest. As Dr. Luke Niiler says, “you learn by doing,” and I whole-heartedly agree.
Beware —— Something cheesy this way comes!
Act 1 — scene 1:
(Set in a room, rapidly filling with water)
Old male humanist: Things are changing, I’m not sure we can survive this.
Old female humanist: Yeah, it is a good thing I’m retiring this year, the whole place is going to hell.
Digital humanist: *splash* *splash* *splash*
Old male humanist: Look at this idiot, flailing about. That’s NOT how we do things here.
Old female humanist: It sure isn’t. He’ll never make tenure.
Old male humanist: Heh heh, sure won’t. Hey, by the way did you hear that the only new hires for next year are part timers?
Digital humanist: *splash* *splash* *splash*
Old female humanist: That’s strange — not as strange as this floundering fool over here, though. Now that I think about it I did see some e-mail about a department merge or something planned for a few years from now.
Old male humanist: Ahh p’shaw. I don’t mess with that new fangled gadgetry. This water is getting deep, I think i’m going to take a sabbatical.
Old female professor: You just got back from one didn’t you?
Old male humanist: I have tenure, I do what I want!
Old female professor: Hah! me too, these *glub* *glub* *glubglub* *glub*
Old male professor: *glub, glub glub!*
Act 1 – scene 2
(A digital humanist is here, swimming around)
digital humanist: Where’d the rest of the folks from the department go?
Administrator: (from above) Hello down there! Throwing down a rope!
digital humanist: (climbing up) thanks, what just happened?
Administrator: Oh, kids these days don’t like to read or think, so we made a pool out of the humanities department.
digital humanist: I see. What about me?
Administrator: Well, the kids love computers, and we need to stay marketable. Want a raise? Turns out some of our funds were quite recently freed up.
digital humanist: (looks at the pool) gg?