Active Users: Project Development and Digital Humanities Pedagogy
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Active Users:
Project Development and Digital Humanities Pedagogy

Several recent pieces on the digital humanities (DH) and pedagogy have included the observation that, despite the rapid recent growth of DH in many academic fields and institutions, pedagogical issues are consistently overshadowed by issues related to research in DH scholarship. For example, in his piece in the recent collection Debates in the Digital Humanities, Luke Waltzer discusses how “much current work in the digital humanities . . . values research and scholarship far more than teaching, learning, and curriculum development” (Waltzer 338). Stephen Brier writes in his contribution to this collection that “teaching and learning are something of an afterthought for many DHers” (Brier 390–91). In his introduction to the collection Digital Humanities Pedagogy, Brett D. Hirsch makes the case that “research remains the principal vehicle for professional nobility and mobility . . . in the digital humanities” (5–6). Hirsch and Brier prove these points by tracking the occurrences of the words “pedagogy” and “research” (and their synonyms and variants) in recent publications in the field, noting that in popular reference collections, monographs, and journals on the digital humanities, pedagogical concerns are often what Hirsch calls “bracketed,” or relegated “to the status of afterthought” (Hirsch 5). Brier and Waltzer also turn to the NEH’s Office of the Digital Humanities for evidence of this bracketing. They note that “very few” projects funded by the Office’s Digital Humanities Start-Up Grants “have focused specifically on the undergraduate student as humanities doer,” and they show how these projects consistently fail to include words like “teaching,” “learning,” “classroom,” and “pedagogy” in their abstracts (Waltzer 341, Brier 392). This, for Brier, emphasizes the idea that pedagogy and teaching “are not yet primary in terms of digital humanists’ own conceptions of their work” (Brier 392).

This article picks up on this last point by focusing on the Research-oriented Social Environment (RoSE), a project funded by an NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant from 2011–2012 at the University of California, Santa Barbara (RoSE).1 At first glance, the various materials documenting RoSE appear to follow the patterns identified above regarding the bracketing of pedagogical concerns. For example, an article published at an early stage of the project doesn’t use the words “pedagogy” or “teaching” once (Chuck et al.). Additionally, the abstract the RoSE team submitted to the [End Page 211] NEH does not contain the words “pedagogy” or “teaching,” and it only contains one instance of “students.”2

As this material suggests, we did not necessarily see pedagogical concerns as primary when we began the project. RoSE grew out of the Transliteracies Project, an existing research group on online reading practices, and, as such, we focused in the beginning of the grant period on epistemological concerns related to social computing, networked knowledge, and bibliographic data. However, in the following discussion, we reflect on how this focus shifted throughout the year. We report on the involvement of undergraduate students in the development process and on the importance of this involvement for refining our own understanding of RoSE. Thanks to the feedback we received from the students involved in the project, we began to see RoSE by the end of our development year as a tool for discovery and learning—as a system that, in many ways, has pedagogy at its core. In this way, the value of incorporating undergraduate students into the project development process has been quite obvious for us. In reporting on this value, however, we also hope to draw some connections between project development and digital humanities pedagogy. In other words, we hope to suggest how project development itself can be understood as part of a digital pedagogy.

RoSE and the Classroom Use Scenario: Defining an Audience

RoSE is a system for exploring the humanities that encourages users to seek out relationships between authors, works, and commentators—both living and dead— as part of a social network of knowledge. Developed out of a desire to leverage the evolutionary and dynamic qualities of social networks for a bibliographic tool, it presents bibliographical information as an interconnected network of evolving relationships between, for example, an author’s influences, friends, collaborators...