CAA News Today
Rethinking Humanities Graduate Education with Digital Humanities Centers
posted by Linda Downs — Apr 08, 2013
Flying over the Grand Canyon after a meeting at the University of Washington with digital humanities faculty and marveling at the fractal-like patterns that moving water has sculpted out of solid rock, made me think of the slow but steady impact digital humanities centers and institutes are having on academic structure of research and evaluation. Project by project new research tools, interdisciplinary and collaborative research and new approaches to problems at these centers are altering the once rock-solid academic structures of research, peer review and evaluation.
The Scholarly Communications Institute (SCI) http://uvasci.org/ called a meeting on March 11 and 12 in partnership with the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI) http://chcinetwork.org/ and centerNet http://digitalhumanities.org/centernet/ an international organization of digital humanities centers with a focus on the topic of “Rethinking Humanities Graduate Education.” The meeting focused on developing pilot projects that would leverage the specific strengths of CHCI and center Net. Possible consortial courses and cross-institutional cohorts of scholars were two of the many ideas presented. Individuals from 15 universities and the American Association of Museum Directors, the New York Council for the Humanities and College Art Association. (For a summary of the meetings and a participants list see: http://uvasci.org/)
Digital humanities centers, institutes and computing centers have been an important presence at universities since the 1990’s first as resources to provide technical assistance to students and faculty and now as strong academic centers of intellectual activity unto themselves offering courses, research products, developing frameworks and digital tools, fellowships, and public programs. Each center has a different disciplinary and technological focus depending on their original mission and purpose. Many of the centers grew out of language, literature and history disciplines. Now the commonality is in method and approach rather than specific disciplinary content or theory. Visual arts projects are being developed in DH centers by graduate students and faculty who have been working on cross-disciplinary research projects.
Computing centers such as the University of Victoria Humanities Computing and Media Center offer digital tools, one-on-one assistance in developing a project and introductory courses on organizing collaborative digitalinitiatives. The University of Virginia’s Scholar’s Lab http://www2.lib.virginia.edu/scholarslab/ offers students technical assistance on digital research to advanced students and faculty, graduate fellowships, workshops, and the opportunity to work on collaborative digital projects. The programs at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University are targeted to teachers and faculty of history with a huge number of online resources as well as sponsoring dozens of digital history projects as well as free tools such as Zotero, a research tool to help gather, organize and analyze data and images. The concept for THAT Camp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) held at the College Art Association Annual Conference in New York which focused on digital tools, data bases and collaborative projects in art history this past February, originated with Columbia University Libraries and Smarthistory at Khan Academy. Plans are to offer THAT Camps at the CAA Annual Conference again in Chicago next February 2014. The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture grew out of film and media studies. Their multimedia research and publishing platform, Scalar has been utilized for the anniversary projects of CAA’s The Art Bulletin (“Publishing The Art Bulletin: http://scalar.usc.edu/anvc/the-art-bulletin/index developed by Thelma Thomas at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University and of caa.reviews by Sheryl Reiss at the University of Southern California.
Other well established digital humanities centers offer digital resources, publications, programs and tools. The Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities http://mith.umd.edu/, as their website indicates, “ is jointly supported by the University of Maryland College of Arts and Humanities and the University of Maryland Libraries, MITH engages in collaborative, interdisciplinary work at the intersection of technology and humanistic inquiry. MITH specializes in text and image analytics for cultural heritage collections, data curation, digital preservation, linked data applications, and data publishing.” (While I was attending the SCI Anne Collins Goodyear, CAA President was presenting at MITH on her digital curatorial work at the National Portrait Gallery.)
The wide-ranging discussions touched upon collaborating on introductory courses for first year graduate students; changing standards to assist in evaluating collaborative digital projects and dissertations and promotion and tenure; how DH can contribute to lowering the time-to-degree; interdisciplinary collaboration; developing shared meaning between humanities researchers and technologists unfamiliar with the humanities; teaching basic skills required for digital research and analysis in either keystone or capstone courses; and assessing the role that DH centers provide to graduate students who are considering non-faculty career alternatives. Ideas came forward on how the academy can introduce non-faculty career options to graduate students from shadowing professionals to internships at museum and non-profit public service institutions where they can apply the knowledge gained in graduate school.
There was general agreement on offering keystone courses on basic programming, how to approach a collaborative digital research project, and database organization and analysis. The University of Victoria Computing Center offers introductory courses in utilizing digital tools to entry level graduate students and to students who sign up for summer courses, or 5 day courses at learned society conferences.
The new standards mentioned at the meeting for evaluation of digital scholarship included the Modern Language Association’s Guidelines for Evaluating Work in Digital Humanities and Digital Media http://www.mla.org/guidelines_evaluation_digital and the digital dissertation guidelines at George Mason University http://historyarthistory.gmu.edu/graduate/rules-guidelines that were established in 2000. Tara McPherson, Associate Professor, School of Cinematic Arts at USC indicated that her graduate students are submitting digital dissertations but still feel compelled to provide approximately 120 pages of written and printed documentation on the process of building the digital tools that they used for research and analysis to the dissertation review committees. Tara also emphasized that her students, enter her program highly skilled in the use of digital technology and are able to devote greater effort in content study.
According to the Humanities Indicators statistics on time-to-degree for tertiary degrees in the humanities in the US is 10.93 years. The United States is ranked fifth internationally (behind Germany at 17 years, Japan, Hungary and Korea) http://www.humanitiesindicators.org/content/hrcoIIB.aspx#topII14 . Todd Presner, Professor of Germanic Languages, Comparative Literature, and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for Jewish Studies and Chair of the Digital Humanities Program at UCLA floated a concept which became shortened throughout the day and a half meeting as “the twenty-year dissertation.” The idea is not to lengthen the time-to-degree average but to develop one collaborative digital project that several graduate students would work on in part. Each student could develop facets of a major problem that could encompass several disciplines and they could also contribute to enhancing the digital tools that could expand research, analysis and construction of databases.
The time-to-degree issue also raised the question of what is expected of DH graduate students. Are faculty expecting new knowledge or is the expectation that graduate students master problem solving, project organization and leadership qualities to prepare them for faculty positions or for non-academic positions where they can apply their academic knowledge on a daily basis? The reality check was the question as to how many current dissertations actually produce new knowledge.
Kevin Franklin, Executive Director, Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and Social Science (I-CHASS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has developed cross-disciplinary projects where shared meaning is developed between programmers and framework and platform builders who are coming from STEM and humanities disciplines. I-CHASS is also reaching out to governmental policy makers in the Americas to provide collaborative projects that address major global challenges related to the environment, educations and cultural preservation where STEM and humanities researchers are collaborating with international government entities. Two projects that involve image recognition will be presented at future CAA Annual Conferences.
CAA will be seeking opportunities to bring DH courses, workshops and presentations of new digital tools and visual arts research projects to future annual conferences. We hope to find support for more open access publications such as The Art Bulletin and caa.reviews digital projects on the Scalar open access publishing platform. In the meantime, for those who are unfamiliar with the offerings of DH centers, I would recommend visiting the DH centers at your colleges and universities or reading up on DH in the latest issue of Visual Resources: An International Journal of Documentation (29:1-2) and Debates in the Digital Humanities, Ed. Matthew Gold, University of Minnesota Press, 2012 (and check out the review of this book by Paul Jaskot also in the latest issue of Visual Resources).