Bring on the Digital Humanities Big Tent

In The Digital Humanities Moment, DH has an existential framing within the lens of the very purpose of the university system: “In a moment of crisis, the digital humanities contributes to the sustenance of academic life as we know it, even as (and perhaps because) it upends academic life as we know it.” And continues, “can DH provide meaningful opportunities to scholars seeking alternatives to tenure-track faculty employment? Can it save the humanities? The university?” These existential questions are still be considered.

One suggestion is that you have to know how to code to be a digital humanist but was softened later to simply building and making things. Of course, one can be a technologist and not a coder and I would suggest that a DH scholar needs to be at least the former, but not necessarily the latter which can be prohibitive and exclusionary.  

I’m interested in digital pedagogy, which the Graduate Center’s course description captures as “digital methodologies that enhance the classroom experience for both students and instructors,” and this class, Intro to the Digital Humanities showcases this. It’s a hybrid class – meeting sometimes in person and other times, online; using the Academic Commons and a public WordPress blog – a more streamlined and recognizable and intuitive platform than Blackboard, with dynamic online syllabi instead of PDF or Word downloads. 

In Digital Humanities: The Expanded Field, the expansion or “big tent” of DH is exhaustive and what I’m discovering from this and other readings – and starting to accept and even embrace – is that DH doesn’t have to fit into a neat box. Innovations happen at warp speed in the digital space and DH, as a living, breathing discipline – or perhaps more accurately, interdisciplinary field –  has to be malleable enough to accommodate and embrace those changes. And if it upends traditional academic and pedagogical norms that are desperately in need of innovation, bring it on. For instance, instead of the three areas of study currently offered by the DH program at the Graduate Center, I’d like to see 10 or more fields of study that speaks to range of interests DH students have and would like to pursue. The “big tent” indeed.

Northeastern University’s early Caribbean Classroom embodies some of what is covered in the articles, particularly the possibilities of collaborative curriculum. The Early Caribbean Digital Archive is online and publicly available. It includes materials for students, teachers, and researchers. It solicits materials from the community along with suggestions for syllabi, class activities, and assignments. In other words, it’s crowdsourcing curriculum and pedagogical innovations from a “variety of  levels, places, and backgrounds.”