Teaching Introduction to Digital Humanities Courses Beyond the Canon

I am looking forward to presenting at the Digital Humanities pre-conference on Innovations in Digital Pedagogy in Montreal in a few weeks. Below you can find my extended proposal for the conference. Closer to the date, I will add slides and any other materials I create for the presentation.

Innovations in Digital Humanities Pedagogy

August 8, 2017, Montreal, Canada

Teaching Introduction to Digital Humanities Courses Beyond the Canon

I want to talk about how the DH training we do, especially in Intro classes can be an opportunity to showcase the reparative opportunity of DH. By introducing students to digital humanities through explorations of topics and projects relating to historically underrepresented groups, we make it natural for DH to take on non-canonical topics. Teaching Intro to DH is challenging for a multitude of reasons, and the lack of disciplinary context common to these classes can lend itself to a showcase of tools rather than a substantive dive into the opportunity that DH provides. Inspired by Annie Swafford’s model of centering an Intro DH course around a topic (See her syllabus here, and her DH 2016 abstract here), I reshaped my own Intro DH course in Fall 2016 around the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s (syllabus).

This topic was chosen because it touches on cultural areas of interest spanning disciplines – art, music, literature, economic history, social history, political history, urban planning – and is well trodden enough to have several DH projects either directly on the Harlem Renaissance or on related topics. By rooting the course in a historical cultural period, students were introduced to structural trends and issues that reverberate today, especially as regards race in the US. By focusing on the interdisciplinary topic of the Harlem Renaissance, we were able to dive more deeply into a few digital projects to understand the structures under which they were created and continue to be maintained.

This course is a work in progress and an experiment. By sharing my experience, I hope to spark a couple of conversational strands:

1) Addressing the challenge of teaching Intro DH outside of any one disciplinary context. This topic isn’t new, and often is answered with some variation of the argument that DH should be taught in the disciplines and integrated into ‘regular’ courses (e.g. Croxall’s How not to teach DH). While the eventual integration of DH into the humanities such that it becomes standard practice is a laudable aim, many institutional contexts are invested in the Intro DH class, at least for the time being. In these contexts, how can we shift the challenge of the extra-departmental class to be an advantage?

2) Incorporating non-canonical topics into the core of Intro DH courses. There are many wonderful digital projects about global DH, feminist DH, indigenous DH, black DH, queer DH, and more, and yet we as a field often fall into the habit of teaching to the Western canon. Students in Intro classes come from outside humanities majors or arrive at survey DH courses early in their university careers and have not taken courses that highlight women, LGBT groups, or people of color. The Intro DH course can be a point of entry not just for the digital but for a more diverse, inclusive curriculum. If we can foreground the work done in areas other than the canon in our survey courses, then we can show our values to all students entering into the field and, hopefully, foster a more inclusive field writ large while also righting some of the past wrongs done to those not in positions of power.

I look forward to learning from the community. By having these conversations as educators and as digital humanists, we can begin to live up to the potential that our field offers.

Works Referenced

Croxall, Brian. (2016) How Not to Teach Digital Humanities. Debates in the Digital Humanities. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/part/9

Mapes, Kristen (2016) Introduction to Digital Humanities Syllabus (Fall 2016). Humanities Commons, http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/M63S68

Swafford, Annie (2015) Digital Tools for the 21st Century: Sherlock Holmes’s London. Course Website. https://hawksites.newpaltz.edu/dhm293/

Ibid. (2016) Read, Play, Build: Teaching Sherlock Holmes through Digital Humanities. Digital Humanities 2016 Conference Abstract. http://dh2016.adho.org/abstracts/431

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