Yesterday afternoon at 3:00 about 30 Messiah College humanities faculty and undergraduates gathered to listen in on and virtually participate in the NITLE Seminar focusing on Undergraduates Collaborating in Digital Humanities Research. A number of our faculty and students were tweeting the event, and a Storify version with our contributions can be found here.I am amazed and gratified to have such a showing late on a Friday afternoon. Students and faculty alike were engaged and interested by the possibilities they saw being pursued in undergraduate programs across the country, and our own conversation afterwards extended for more than a half hour beyond the seminar itself. Although most of us freely admit that we are only at the beginning and feeling our way, there was a broad agreement that undergraduate research and participation in Digital Humanities work was something we needed to keep pushing on.
If you are interested in reviewing the entire seminar, including chat room questions and the like, you can connect through this link. I had to download webex in order to participate in the seminar, so you may need to do the same, even though the instructions I received said I wouldn’t need to. My own takeaways from the seminar were as follows:
- Undergraduates are scholars, not scholars in waiting. If original scholarship is defined as increasing the fund of human knowledge, discovering and categorizing and interpreting data that helps us better understand human events and artifacts, developing tools that can be employed by other scholars who can explore and confirm or disconfirm or further your findings, these young people are scholars by any definition.
- Digital Humanities research extends (and, to be sure, modifies) our traditional ways of doing humanities work; it does not oppose it. None of these young scholars felt inordinate tensions between their traditional humanities training and their digital humanities research. A student who reviewed a database of 1000 Russian folks tales extended and modified her understanding arrived at by the close reading of a dozen. Digital Humanities tools enable closer reading and better contextual understanding of the poet Agha Shahid Ali, rather than pushing students away in to extraneous material.
- Many or most of these students learned their tools as they went along, within the context of what they were trying to achieve. I was especially fascinated that a couple of the students had had no exposure to Digital Humanities work prior to their honors projects, and they learned the coding and digital savvy they needed as they went along. Learning tools within the context of how they are needed seems to make more and more sense to me. You would not teach a person how to use a hammer simply by giving them a board and nails, at least not if you don’t want them to get bored. Rather, give them something to build, and show or have them figure out how the hammer and nails will help them get there.
I’m looking forward to the Places We’ll Go.