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Listening in on the Conversations: An Overview of Digital Humanities Pedagogy
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Listening in on the Conversations:
An Overview of Digital Humanities Pedagogy


The topics of conversation among digital humanists—or “DHers”— over the last two years have been as broad as the scope of the digital humanities (DH) taxonomy and as varied as the definitions posed by its practitioners.1 Some conversations focus “on building,” some on “hack,” some on “yack,” and others on “alt-ac” (Ramsay, “On Building” 243–45; Nowviskie; Croxall). Fortunately, for those interested in introducing students to DH, other conversations address pedagogical concerns—teaching strategies, curricula development, and learning outcomes. (Unfortunately, there is no “–ack” synonymous with pedagogy to maintain the Suessian effect.) Such conversations would have proved helpful in the summer of 2012 as I prepped an undergraduate course in which I planned to introduce students to digital scholarly editing and encoding (TEI). As many do, I turned to the literature and found very few discussions of DH pedagogy—a fact validated by Stephen Brier’s “Where’s the Pedagogy?”—and even less on how to teach DH to undergraduates or within the English classroom. Without clear, practical guidelines, I managed to engage two classes in some semblance DH work—for which I found absolution in conversations about “digital experimentation,” “screwing around,” and “co-developing” (Fyfe 85; Ramsay, “The Hermeneutics” 7; Liu, “Digital” 20). From that point on, I have been listening in on the conversations about DH pedagogy in print, e-journals, tweets, blog posts, discussion forums, etc. What follows is an overview of select conversations “listened in on” with an analysis of how those conversations echo effective pedagogical practices.2

The benefits most often cited for incorporating instruction in DH tools and practices in undergraduate and graduate courses tend to fall into two general categories. The first centers on the institution, viewing the incorporation of the “digital” into undergraduate and graduate courses as a means to “save the humanities,” to ensure funding, and to give value to digital scholarship. “The digital humanities has the potential to revitalize what we do,” William Pannapacker writes, “and to justify continuing support from institutions, foundations, academic administrations, the government, and the general public” (“Stop”). Teaching DH, Claire Warwick explains, “gives the subject a sense of stability in institutional terms” and “helps establish our credibility with academic colleagues in other disciplines” while “also provid[ing] a firmer financial basis for the future than research [End Page 147] income” (209, 213). In this regard, the means justify the ends: the key to institutional funding and disciplinary standing is teaching.

The second benefit relates to students, viewing experience in DH as strengthening their employment prospects. Stephen Ramsay remarks, “Many students, over the years, have freely admitted to me that their primary motivation for studying the subject was linked to their job prospects after graduation” (“Programming” 228). As Pannapacker discovered through his conversations with an experiential-education program’s directors, faculty, and students, employers value liberal-arts graduates but tend to most often hire those who are not “digitally challenged” (“No More”). Like Pannapacker’s students who focus on internships in galleries, libraries, archives, museums, publishers, and foundations, Miriam Posner sees several potential employers for the undergraduates at UCLA “gravitat[ing] to digital humanities”: “They could work for cultural-heritage institutions, or for technology companies in the expanding class of jobs that bridge software development and customer relations. That might mean serving as a Google “evangelist” who teaches people about products, or taking bug reports from users and turning those into development tasks for coders” (Parry). Similarly, Geoffrey Rockwell finds that “[t]here are a lot more jobs per capita now in the digital humanities than in traditional fields. This is in part because of all of the semi-academic and para-academic jobs in libraries, digital humanities centres, computing observatories and instructional technology centers” (248). In fact, the percentage of jobs classified as “Technology and Digital Media” in the English JIL increased from 7.7 in 2003–04 to 19.0 in 2012–13 (MLA).3

These benefits warrant the inclusion of DH instruction in courses and DH courses in programs. This year, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation emphasized the importance of DH training with a...