For this week, I read “Debates in the Digital Humanities” and I focused on the chapter which deals with teaching. Being that I am a teacher myself, I figured that that was the best chapter for me to read. There were several articles in this chapter that I found intriguing; but, for the purpose of this blog, I am going to try to only focus on two: “Digital Humanities and the ‘Ugly Stepchildren’ of American Higher Education” by Luke Waltzer and “Looking for Whitman: A Grand, Aggregated Experiment” by Matthew Gold and Jim Groom. (To be completely honest, I chose the latter because Walt Whitman is my favorite American poet).
Let me start off talking about those “ugly stepchildren”, and yes, by “ugly stepchildren”, Waltzer is referring to the humanities. I’d like to start off by looking at why he puts the humanities in such a derogatory way. Having received my Bachelor’s degree in the humanities, this part of the article stuck out to me. “Most universities have failed to relay to students why studying humanities is important or relevant in this context, and so it is with little wonder that ever increasing percentages of students are landing in nonhumanity majors, choosing instead courses of study that promise to certify them for a specific place in the economy, which may or may not in fact exist.” Back in high school when I was deciding where I wanted to go and what I wanted to get out of college, the thought that I may have a difficult time with a “humanities” degree did weigh heavily on me. Throughout the end of high school and all through college I thought that my best hope was to become a history teacher—turns out teaching is not for me! Recently I have found myself looking through various job opportunities so I would not have to return to teaching and found that, with my college experience, I did not have a lot of opportunities. In this way, I was thinking that maybe I should have decided to go with something that would have made obtaining a job easier. I also always thought, throughout most of my schooling, that if I had been better at math and science, I would have had an easier time in the job market in the future. To be more specific, I guess what I am trying to say is that this assertion is correct. Most students are frightened out of pursuing a career in the humanities—and this is where digital humanities come into play in the essay.
Waltzer mentions that careers in digital humanities are on the “ascendance”. Especially with the new Office of the Digital Humanities (ODH) at the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) which opened as recently as 2008. Apparently “the ODH funded 145 projects from 2008 through spring 2011; and, while its annual operating budget of around 4.5 million dollars pales in comparison to endowments managed by many universities…the initiative has been extremely influential in shaping progression of the digital humanities in American colleges...and museums.” He also goes on to mention later on in the essay that “the digital humanities is no longer a field one arrives at through one’s research; it has become a destination in and of itself, a jumping-off point for the building of scholarly identity.” This “moment of empowerment” for the humanities is a huge stepping stone that seems to help bring humanities back on the rise! For example, I would like to look at some of the specific projects that were mentioned.
I would like to mention briefly the projects at both The University of Mary Washington and New York City College of Technology. Projects at these universities and more are bringing forth more ways for scholars and students to collaborate that have never been possible before. One of the projects to come out of these university initiatives was “Looking for Whitman”, a collaborative research effort to explore the poetry of Walt Whitman sponsored by both the NEH and the Office of Digital Humanities. The project took on different aspects of Walt Whitman’s life and came from four different research groups at four different universities. I’m assuming that, of course, there was some ground work to be laid; but, most of the work was done online. The purpose of the project in the realm of digital humanities was to serve “as an opportunity to illustrate how loosely networked learning spaces could be used to reimagine the possibilities for connection among students and faculty working on related projects at a disparate range of institutions.” I think that one of the most important parts of the whole experiment was getting various levels of individuals with various levels of education and from different parts of the country to collaborate in achieving one goal. The digital humanities are able to achieve this in a way that could not have been possible before. I went and looked at the project and it’s a fantastic resource the site makes it all of the information accessible and it is a tool I would definitely use with my own students.
To wrap up, I think it is incredible how the digital humanities are able to bring together scholars from all over the world and hopefully, we will begin to see a peaked interested in humanities among higher education students because of it.