May 21st, 2010 | tclement
The scholarship done by the digital humanities community demonstrates that inquiry enabled by modes of research, dissemination, design, preservation, and communication that rely on algorithms, software, and or the internet network for processing data deepen and advance knowledge in the humanities. Marc Baeurlein argues that undergraduates now and undergraduates to come soon are “the least curious and intellectual generation in national history.” Dubbing them “the dumbest generation” and “mentally agile” but “culturally ignorant,” Bauerlein decrees that The Web hasn’t made them better writers and readers, sharper interpreters and more discerning critics, more knowledgeable citizens and tasteful consumers” (Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation 110). Baeurlein complains that undergraduates are passive consumers of “information,” that they convert history, philosophy, literature, civics, and fine art into information,” information that becomes, quite simply, “material to retrieve and pass along” (“Online Literacy”). In contrast, Wendell Piez and other digital humanities scholars insist that when we study “how digital media are encoded (being symbolic constructs arranged to work within algorithmic, machine-mediated processes that are themselves a form of cultural production) and how they encode culture in words, colors, sounds, images, and instrumentation,” we are “far from having no more need for literacy;” in fact, the cultural work done by and through digital media requires that students “raise it to ever higher levels.”
So, why isn’t there more discussion within the DH conference and publications about this essential aspect of undergraduate study?
That undergraduate studies are not well discussed within the DH community is part and parcel with the fact that it is a field that engages a wide range of disciplinary perspectives and it is a field that is represented by programs of study that are inflected by, but not necessarily called, Digital Humanities. Already, I have created an online list of undergraduate programs generated through an informal survey conducted on Twitter, the Humanist Discussion List, and @ palms (my blog) see www.palms.wordherders.net/wp/2009/11/digital-humanities-inflected-undergraduate-programs-2/
The fact that the list already includes a broad range of programs encompassing information science, digital cultures, new media, and computer science reflects the difficult nature of training an undergraduate student in the “methodological commons” (McCarty 131) of the digital humanities, but it also reflects the provocative nature of describing what that curriculum might look like. What is important to teach these students? What is the core knowledge base needed? Who gets to decide?
When discussing current models, it is equally important to make transparent the institutional and infrastructural issues that are specific to certain colleges or universitie, large or small. What works for one institution will not necessarily work for another. By the same token, simply providing examples of existing programs would belie the extent to which scholars and administrators shape these programs (whether they grant degrees, certificates, or nothing at all) according to the needs of their specific communities.
In order to make these matters transparent and broaden discussion about the broad range of issues that underpin the formation of an undergraduate curriculum, I want to discuss UNDERGRADUATE DIGITAL HUMANITIES at THATcamp.
Oh, and I am disseminating a survey to the digital humanities community (Please take it! at www.surveymonkey.com/s/X3H8YQH asking basic questions concerning how an undergraduate program inflected by the digital humanities has been and might be developed within a variety of university settings. These questions are based on previous conversations (Hockey 2001; Unsworth, Butler 2001), but this previous work has focused primarily on graduate (or post-graduate) work.