By Alan Liu, William G. Thomas III, Anne McGrail | October 2, 2012
Humanities in the Digital Age
by Alan Liu and William G. Thomas III
….As humanities chairs with a long involvement in digital issues, we have seen clearly that top-down budget cuts are often justified with arguments about how digital technologies are driving change in higher education…. So we believe that humanities faculty members, chairs, and administrators right now have a choice. One option is to take no systematic action on the digital humanities (DH) front and thus let the long-term digital future be built for them. By taking “no systematic action,” we mean the present practices of many of us in the humanities who automatically denounce university ambitions for digital education without looking into the issues, allow digital humanities to be the special province of “power” users, and treat digital humanities as a discretionary field. The results of this course have been anemic: settling the responsibility for leading the humanities into the digital age on adjunct faculty or library staff, ignoring the mismatch between digital humanities and established ways of measuring academic performance, and quarantining digital humanities in a project. We have too often outsourced digital humanities to a special center on campus or tiptoed into digital humanities by advertising for faculty in established fields but adding wistfully that “digital proficiency is a plus.”
The other option is for humanities faculty, chairs, and administrators to plan how to integrate the digital humanities systematically through our departments — to infuse departments with digital technologies and practices so as to create models of organically interrelated humanities digital research, teaching, administration and staff work. Of course, we have no proof that this will “save the humanities,” a goal we share but that we fear is counterproductive when posed as an all-or-nothing proposition. Good strategy requires picking some point on the line to apply leverage. The leverage point in the policies now shaping the future university is the digital, and we feel that it is crucial that the humanities try for well-conceived, humanities-friendly models of digital work that are institutionally cohesive enough to influence policy.
How can we change the dynamic and create new structures for the humanities to flourish in the digital age? We recommend the following four principles for faculty members, department chairs and administrators to follow in integrating the digital humanities in the humanities.
Digital Humanities Has Arrived — but Not Quite On Community College Campuses
by Anne McGrail
Community colleges are not alone in confronting the uneven development of digital humanities. Because of its interdisciplinarity and fluid definition, digital humanities has not been uniformly welcomed or understood outside the immediate boundaries of the field…. This is one consequence of the term “digital humanities” lacking an agreed-upon referent. Some have argued that this fluidity is part of its strength and reach. But at community colleges, the challenges posed by inchoate definitions may be more striking. Community colleges are under more careful scrutiny for fiscal accountability and relevance to the labor market, and undefined outcomes and aims make it vulnerable to dismissal by wary boards of education and even deans with an eye on the bottom line. For DH to take hold, it will take an intentional, systematic and collaborative approach.
Why have community colleges been slow to embrace DH, even as they have embraced technology? One reason may be related to the definitional debates currently occurring in DH. Teaching with technology is being adopted by humanities departments in community colleges. Some community colleges may easily confuse DH with their current adoption of technology for pedagogical purposes and for efficiency or currency in online courses. Online classes, syllabi online, shared curriculum through Open Educational Resources, videos and screencasts integrated into the face-to-face classroom: community colleges have readily adapted these digital media into their pedagogies. While practices of DH converge with some of these innovations, the critical scrutiny that DH brings to the picture may not fit as readily with administrative agendas in a community college setting. Digital humanists may have to bring this aspect of the technological innovation landscape.
….Community colleges are often the gateway to degrees for low-income, first-generation students, returning adult students, students of color, and students with disabilities. Delaying until upper division courses these students’ engagement with the methods, objects of inquiry and in some cases revolutionary ways of seeing that digital humanities offers seems an institutional inequity that should be systematically addressed….. One way to address the lag in community college engagement is to find out what digital humanities could look like at the lower-division level, and to place digital humanities at the center of any educational reform efforts occurring at community colleges.