The Future of Undergraduate Digital Humanities

July 17, 2013, 13:30 | Panel, CBA 143

Alongside the increasing number of digital humanities job listings, postdoctoral fellowships, and graduate programs, we have begun to see a number of introductory digital humanities courses and the creation of several programs at a wide range of undergraduate institutions — everything from small liberal arts colleges to state universities to research-intensive private institutions. Consequently, it seems opportune to think closely about how the digital humanities will shape undergraduate education — and vice versa. New jobs and fellowships presuppose undergraduates who have been and will be introduced to conversations of the digital humanities as well as humanities faculty who will teach them. While the late 1990s sparked discussions among Canadian and US institutions about the creation of undergraduate and master’s programs (Rockwell 1999; Unsworth 2001; Sinclair and Gouglas 2002), new technologies and institutional interest have renewed the conversation (Spiro 2010; Fitzpatrick 2010; Brier 2012; Reid 2012; Davis and Alexander 2012). Because such a large number and range of institutions are now considering implementing some training in the digital humanities, it now seems timely to contemplate the future of undergraduate digital humanities.

This panel considers how we might recalibrate the digital’s role in the humanities by making undergraduate education—and not simply digital pedagogy — a more central preoccupation. Building on recent, compelling discussions of infrastructure and curriculum for digital humanities graduate programs (Clement 2010; Thaller et al. 2012; Boggs et al. 2012) as well as roundtables on alternative careers (Nowviskie et al. 2011), dynamic constellations for undergraduate education are emerging from the interactions among new computational methods, hybrid classroom spaces, reimagined curricula, and alternative career paths for college graduates. This panel gathers several initiators of such digital humanities programs for undergraduates to discuss their past and future.

More than simply creating students to enroll in new graduate programs, introducing the methods of the digital humanities to undergraduates provides opportunities for them to do something traditionally reserved for students in the sciences: original, collaborative research (Blackwell and Martin 2009; Norcia 2008). Moreover, digital humanities has arguably brought renewed attention to discussions of praxis and pedagogy, with online journals such as Hybrid Pedagogy and The Journal of Interactive Pedagogy and Technology; Brett D. Hirsch’s recent Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles, Politics (2012); multiple panels on digital pedagogy at the 2012 MLA (Harris 2012; Berens and Croxall 2012) and a digital pedagogy unconference at the 2013 MLA (Croxall and Koh 2013); Brown University’s “Teaching with TEI” seminar (2012); a dedicated track at recent Digital Humanities Summer Institutes (Harris, Sayers, and Jakacki 2012; Jakacki 2013); and several poster presentations at recent Digital Humanities Conferences (Bonsignore et al., 2011; Harris 2011; Singer 2012; Croxall 2012). Our hope is that a roundtable discussion, drawing on participants from different fields and representing many different types of U.S. institutions, will help, first, to identify some of the best contemporary approaches to undergraduate digital humanities curricula, infrastructure, course scaffolding, and praxis and, second, to sketch out new directions for the future of undergraduate education at a variety of undergraduate institutions.


Each speaker will talk for 7 minutes about a particular institutional praxis or curricular infrastructure. The organizers will then pose questions for the entire roundtable for 20 minutes, leaving the remainder of the conversation for discussion among panelists and the audience.

To begin with, panelists will map out the multiple and competing histories of digital humanities’ recent incursion into undergraduate education, just as Matthew Kirschenbaum (2010) and others have sought to understand digital humanities by reflecting on its institutional histories. Part of this multiplicity, of course, is due to the ways in which “digital humanities” is understood differently at each institution, due to the specific interests of individual scholars, the focus of particular departments, and the demands of institutional mission. With these issues in mind, panelists will present several different models for integrating digital humanities into undergraduate coursework: from introductory seminars for first-year students who may lack technological skills through advanced courses for majors to specialized, independent research projects as capstone experiences. In doing so, we will consider both how best to structure something like an “Introduction to Digital Humanities” course and how to connect disparate projects, faculty, and upper-level courses. Such scaffolding naturally begs the larger question of whether digital humanities is best introduced to undergraduates as a separate discipline or as a crucial part of traditional humanities courses. Finally, while all panelists generally agree on a praxis-based approach to such courses, they will also discuss how best to execute and theorize praxis in the different disciplines.

Questions that panel organizers might pose during the subsequent discussion include:

  • Is digital humanities a topic that should be based within particular departments? Or is it something that should be taught across all humanities undergraduate departments?
  • What departmental or university infrastructure and support are necessary for a digital humanities undergraduate curriculum?
  • What is necessary to prepare students for digital humanities work at the graduate level? Is adequate preparation possible without more formalized graduate programs in place?
  • How do we redesign curricula to incorporate both DH courses and incursions into traditional disciplines?
  • Is digital humanities a methodology or a topic of study? How can the two approaches be best integrated in the undergraduate classroom?
  • What are best practices for praxis methodologies and project-based research approaches in the undergraduate classroom?
  • How might we envision curricula to be redesigned in the future with digital tools and digital critical thinking in mind?
  • How might national and international conceptions of undergraduate education shape digital humanities incursions differently?


Recognizing the importance of undergraduate education in the future of the digital humanities, all six speakers have enthusiastically committed to attend and present at DH in Lincoln.

  • Cheryl E. Ball, Associate Professor of English, Illinois State University
    Ball highlights how digital writing studies (a discipline in its fourth decade that integrates digital technology into its writing pedagogy and research) has always focused on issues current to discussions of “making” in the digital humanities: collaboration, openness, multimodality, and peer-review. Ball argues that a digital publishing curriculum, in which undergraduate students theorize and produce texts meant for an audience outside of the classroom (a key concept to digital writing studies pedagogy), is a model for DH in how it bridges theory and praxis across multiple disciplines in the humanities.
  • Ryan Cordell, Assistant Professor of English, Northeastern University
    Cordell writes frequently about technology and teaching for the ProfHacker blog at the Chronicle of Higher Education and has taught digital humanities-inflected courses at both a liberal arts college and a research university. He will draw on those experiences in his contribution to this panel, where he will contend that undergraduates do not share their instructors' fascination with defining or theorizing digital humanities qua digital humanities. Rather than dwelling on such debates, he will suggest that DH instructors should embrace undergraduate disinterest in DH as an aid to curricular incursion, allowing digital practices to be introduced as routine aspects of scholarly practice.
  • Rebecca Frost Davis, Program Officer for the Humanities, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE)
    Davis will discuss results of NITLE’s 2012 Survey of Digital Humanities at Liberal Arts Colleges, institutions that largely integrate digital methodologies via disciplinary coursework and student scholarship, rather than as a separate academic program. Her research explores the motivations and mechanisms for creating, integrating, and sustaining digital humanities within and across the undergraduate curriculum.
  • Jarom McDonald, Associate Research Professor and Director, Office of Digital Humanities, Brigham Young University
    McDonald will address the topic, "Considering a Moneyball approach to Digital Humanities Education." BYU has just finished a multi-year assessment project of their long-running Computers and the Humanities minor, gathering empirical data through surveys, collaborative faculty input sessions, student tracking, and external review. He will discuss how he and colleagues are now working to understand how to best implement the wealth of evidence they've collected to help their program evolve for current and future students' needs.
  • Miriam Posner, Digital Humanities Coordinator and Research Technology Consultant, UCLA
    Posner, who both coordinates and teaches in UCLA’s Digital Humanities program, is helping build a new interdisciplinary minor in digital humanities. She will speak on “knowledge design,” a pedagogical approach she and her colleagues have adopted that emphasizes an environment of project-based collaboration. Drawing on theories advanced by Johanna Drucker and Jerome McGann, she will describe the program’s studio model in which students are assigned a novel problem and asked to work across disciplines and hierarchies to solve it together.
  • John Theibault, Director, South Jersey Center for Digital Humanities, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
    Theibault began his academic career as a historian of early modern Europe and is currently Director of the South Jersey Center for Digital Humanities at Stockton College. He started teaching "Introduction to Digital Humanities" to undergraduates in the General Studies program at Stockton in 2011, which prompted his reflections about where such a course fits within a broader digital humanities curriculum for undergraduates, the topic of his presentation.


  • Dr. Brian Croxall, Digital Humanities Strategist & Lecturer of English, Emory University
  • Dr. Kate Singer, Assistant Professor of English, Mount Holyoke College


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