Digital Literacy for the Dumbest Generation

May 21st, 2010 |

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
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 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.

Comments Feed

6 Responses to “Digital Literacy for the Dumbest Generation”

  1. Rob Nelson Says:

    This is a great topic. A number of people–including myself–have expressed interest in having a session to exchange ideas about designing a digital humanities course. I’d definitely be interested in a companion session on digital-humanities or digital-humanities-“inflected” curricula. Being an active, engaged, and critical reader of texts rather than a passive consumer of information is (obviously) very much at the heart of the humanities and the liberal arts. Given the ubiquity of new media, how central is the digital humanities to that aim of the humanities more generally? After reading your post I’m wondering how much the “dumbest generation” is a challenge for humanists and the humanities generally to teach general skills of critical interrogation of texts and how much that poses a challenge and an opportunity for digital humanists and the digital humanities specifically. Is talking about “texts” too general and generic, and a digital humanities “inflected” curriculum necessary to teach students to engage particular kinds of texts–i.e. new media texts–or to approach conventional texts using new techniques and tools like text mining?

  2. Jeffrey McClurken Says:

    I’m with Rob. This is an essential conversation for us to be having at a place like THATCamp.

    I wonder if a session or sessions related to DH teaching/classes/curriculum might produce a document (or if that’s too grand an idea, a list) of what we see as the core competencies/content areas for an undergraduate DH class/curriculum. Such a document could then be submitted to Tom and Dan’s Hacking the Academy volume.

    Beyond what you (and Rob and I) proposed, we need to link this with the other sessions proposed in this area, including those by Dave Parry, Bill Ferster, Brian Croxall, as well as the work done by Amanda French at NYU.

  3. burmamusic Says:

    new undergrad program at Arizona State:

  4. Jeffrey McClurken Says:

    UPDATE: Rough notes from this session (co-led by Tanya Clement, Ethan Watrall, Brian Croxall, Jeff McClurken and many others) can be found at

  5. Cactus Acide » » L’observatoire du neuromancien 06/07/2010 Says:

    […] THATCamp 2010 » Blog Archive […]

  6. thuyanh Says:

    A friend and I have actually made a video response that defends the “dumbest generation” and we make points that Baeurlein overlooks:


  • Recent Comments

    THATCampers can use the blog and comments to talk about session ideas. Follow along by subscribing to the comments feed and to the blog feed!

    • thuyanh: A friend and I have actually made a video response that defends the “dumbest generation” and we...
    • Steven Hayes: Hi, just read your “project retrain” description as part of my background reading for...
    • Peter: Just curious: Is there a version of the National Register Nomination Form in some kind of database format,...
    • Samuel Teshale Derbe: This is excactly what I have been looking for.I have been recently invited to contribute to a...
    • plr articles: Just added more knowledge to my “library-head” :D
  • Twitter

    Here's what others are saying about THATCamp on Twitter

    • No items

    All Posts

  • THATCamp Prime Collaborative Documents
  • THATCamp Prime evaluation
  • New session: The THATCamp Movement
  • THATCamp on Flickr
  • Visualizing Subjectivity
  • More Twitter Visualizations
  • Remixing Academia
  • What THATCampers have been tweeting about (pre-camp)
  • Late to the Stage: Performing Queries
  • Humanist Readable Documentation
  • Zen Scavenger Hunt
  • The (in)adequacies of markup
  • One Week, One Book: Hacking the Academy
  • Analogizing the Sciences
  • Digital Literacy for the Dumbest Generation
  • Teaching Students Transferable Skills
  • Modest Proposals from a Digital Novice
  • Creative data visualizations
  • OpenStreetMap for Mapping of Historical Sites
  • soft circuits
  • Mostly Hack…
  • A Contextual Engagement
  • ARGs, Archives, and Digital Scholarship
  • Playing With the Past: Pick One of Three
  • DH centers as hackerspaces
  • All Courseware Sucks
  • HTML5
  • Dude, I Just Colleagued My Dean
  • The Future of Interdisciplinary Digital Cultural Heritage Curriculum (oh yeah, and games as well)
  • Project "Develop Self-Paced Open Access DH Curriculum for Mid-Career Scholars Otherwise Untrained"
  • what have you done for us lately?
  • Digital Storytelling: Balancing Content and Skill
  • Visualizing text: theory and practice
  • Plays Well With Others
  • Citing a geospatial hootenanny
  • Reimagining the National Register Nomination Form
  • documentation: what's in it for us?
  • Sharing the work
  • Digital Humanities Now 2.0 and New Models for Journals
  • Finding a Successor to Paper and Print
  • "Writing Space"
  • From Scratch
  • Cultivating Digital Skills and New Learning Spaces
  • Surveying the Digital Landscape Once Again
  • Building and designing projects for long term preservation
  • Collecting the Digital Story: Omeka and the New Media Narrative
  • Design Patterns for DH Projects
  • Chronicling America: They gave us an API. What do we do now?
  • Social Media and the History Non-Profit
  • THATCamp-in-a-Box
  • Teaching Collaboration
  • Geolocation, Archives, and Emulators (not all at once)
  • The Sound of Drafting
  • The Schlegel Blitz ("Only connect…")
  • Text Mining Scarce Sources
  • Applying open source methodology and economics to academia
  • What I'd Most Like to Do or Discuss
  • Hacking ethics for edupunks
  • Mobile technology and the humanities
  • Audiences and Arguments for Digital History
  • Open Peer Review
  • Who Wants To Be A Hacker?
  • Please advise
  • Greetings from the new Regional THATCamp Coordinator!
  • 2010 Applications Open!