Growing a community: Reflections from a recent DH retreat

Posted on March 7, 2014 by

[Cross-posted from http://scholarscollab.uconn.edu/]

At the end of January 2014, a group of UConn graduate students, faculty, librarians, and Institute for Teaching & Learning (ITL) staff met to share information about digital humanities activities at UConn, as well as brainstorm ideas for how to support and foster digital humanities work, as well as the people (i.e. graduate students, junior faculty) who are interested in some aspect of digital humanities. This meeting grew out of a conversation started by Brandon Hawk (PhD candidate, Medieval Studies) this past fall, in which he proposed that we bring together students, faculty, and staff who are in some way involved with digital humanities and craft a DH values statement.

There were two goals for this retreat, the first was to start a conversation about a digital humanities community at UConn with people who already were part of this community, but may not have realized it. Second, we wanted to begin a discussion about shared values amongst those working in digital humanities at UConn. We feel that it is important to consider the values shared by members in our community and also acknowledge that these are not static, but will evolve and even change as the community too will grow and change. 

We began our conversation by sharing information about any digital humanities courses, work or projects already underway in departments or units at UConn. The English department recently hired three new faculty members with background and interest in digital humanities. Courses with aspects of digital humanities work are being added to the departmental offerings, for example: Digital Materiality (6750-02) is being taught this semester (spring 2014) by Fiona Somerset. In Digital Media and Design, Tom Scheinfeldt is developing a concentration in digital humanities (Bachelor of Arts degree), which requires the completion of four courses additional to those required for the BA degree. Digital Media and Design is involved with several sponsored projects, including ConnecticutHistory.org, a project which brings primary sources to life through essays written by experts from various institutions around Connecticut. This project is a partnership with Connecticut Humanities and Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) at George Mason University. 

As part of the 2014 Pre-College Summer at UConn, which provides rising high school juniors and seniors with a hands-on, non-credit, week-long course experience on campus, the Digital Media & Design Department will be offering a digital public history session (as well as one on game design). The digital public history session will provide students an opportunity to investigate a topic at UConn’s Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center and create a digital exhibit about the past using simple digital tools in the Digital Media & Design Department’s computer labs. The one week session will be offered twice: Session 1: July 28 – August 1, 2014; and Session 2: August 4 – August 8, 2014.

In addition to course offerings and exciting partnerships, the online presence for digital humanities at UConn exists through Steven Park’s Digital Humanities @ UConn website, which has and continues to provide a space for those who wanted to find events, resources, and other information related to digital humanities at UConn. Digital Media and Design MFA student, Susana Aho, is in the process of building a website as part of an independent study with Tom Scheinfeldt, which will feature information about digital humanities work at UConn, as well as highlight projects and community interests. In the University Libraries, the Scholars’ Collaborative (University Libraries) was launched in 2013 as a pilot initiative with the goal of supporting and collaborating with students and faculty on digital humanities projects, as well as to create a network of people engaged in digital humanities work who can exchange ideas, provide support, and collaborate. Three projects are underway, two of which are featured here. The Scholars’ Collaborative will continue to offer hands-on-workshops and individual consultations in order to provide training, as well as demonstrate the application of different digital tools and methods.

Representing the Humanities Institute, Brendan Kane discussed the role of the Humanities Institute and that it welcomes ideas and suggestions for speakers who are active in digital humanities work. He also mentioned that fellowships are open to scholars using both traditional and digital methods. In the department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages (LCL), Anke Finger (German Studies) recently hosted a symposium: Redmediating Flusser (http://symposium.digitalmediauconn.org/) and is working on a project using the platform, Scalar, in order to present scholarship and reflection related to Vilem Flusser. Courses, such as “Media Studies and DH” (LCL 6020) are being offered in the department and graduate students both in and cross-departmentally are engaging in conversations and projects related to digital humanities. Also in LCL, Roger Travis (Classic and Ancient Mediterranean Studies) uses game-based learning in his courses and writes for Play the Past, a collaborative blog which explores the intersection of cultural heritage and game culture. He is currently developing a game-based curriculum using the practomimetic learning method in partnership with the Neag School of Education.

Following the info-sharing session, we broke out into groups where we focused our conversation about common values in digital humanities related to teaching and pedagogy, research and application, and outreach.1. Here is a list of the values identified within these groups and some of the ways in which we can begin promoting them at UConn.

  • Inclusivity and diversity
    • Invite and engage with people from a variety of academic and non-academic backgrounds
  • Collaboration and partnerships
    • Forge partnerships with people in other disciplines and outside the academy
  • Collegiality
  • Advocacy and support
    • Attend and show support for colleagues’ presentations, workshops, talks, etc.
  • Openness
    • Write or publish in an open access setting
    • Share your research with the community
  • Experimentation
    • Instill a culture of experimentation with new digital tools, platforms, methods, and ideas
    • Accept failure as part of the learning process

These common values are not static. They will change and develop as the community at UConn evolves and grows. We invite you to join us and share the DH values that are important to those practicing all aspects of digital humanities at UConn. One way in which we will facilitate these conversations is by holding digital humanities meetings at least twice a semester, which will be open to people from all disciplinary areas of academia.

Our next Digital Humanities meeting will take place on Friday, April 25, 2014 from 1 pm to 2 pm in the lower level (Digital Media Center Commons) of the Bishop Center. This is an informal (public) meeting and we invite you to join us!

  1. For examples of DH Values Statements, see: Lisa Spiro, ““This is Why We Fight:” Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities,” Debates in the Digital Humanities. University of Minnesota, 2012; “Values of DH,” Demystifying Digital Humanitieshttp://www.dmdh.org/values-of-dh/; “Values and Methods,” A Guide to Digital Humanities. CSDC Northwestern University Library, http://sites.library.northwestern.edu/dh/values-methods/
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