Finding a Way In

Crossposted to the Scholars' Lab blog.

Premise 1: Digital humanities is vast. It encompasses an enormous and ever-growing group of people and institutions doing digital work across a broad range of languages, disciplines, and methods.

Premise 2: Everyone learns something for the first time.1

How, then, is an interested student new to digital humanities supposed to find their way towards the topic, method, or subject that will be their focus? How to find your future when you don’t know the past or present?

While there are many answers to these questions, I have come to rely on one activity when meeting with interested students new to the field. The exercise uses Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities, a massive peer-reviewed collection of artifacts related to digital pedagogy. I ask the student to compare their own interests to the collection to find a series of subareas within DH that they might want to explore further. This work usually happens informally in conversation. For the sake of this post and ease of use by others, I’ll write it out as a series of steps as though it were an assignment sheet to be given out to students.

Finding a Way into DH

This exercise will help you map your own research interests onto various areas within Digital Humanities using Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities, a massive peer-reviewed collection of artifacts related to digital pedagogy. The site organizes its pedagogical resources around particular topics like access, affect, annotation, and archive, to name a few. Each of these keywords contains a range of materials including syllabi, course projects, classroom activities, and more. And each topical section opens with a short headnote by an editor, expert in that field, contextualizing how that particular topic intersects with the broad field of digital pedagogy. We will make use of this structure to connect you to the field.

  1. Describe your research interests in about a paragraph or so. No need to be lengthy, no need to worry about the audience, and no need to worry about being overly specific. This is for you. Great if you have some sense of what might interest you about DH, but broad and purely disciplinary interests also perfectly fine. We’ll connect them.

  2. Take a few moments to read the table of contents for Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities. What do you notice?

  3. Write down the 3-5 keywords that seem to intersect the most with your interests, the topics that most pop to you as urgent. You might even find that you used some of the same terms in the paragraph you wrote for step one. Taken together, this set of keywords will be the way that you triangulate one view of your relationship to DH.

  4. For each keyword you circled, read the editorial headnote and peruse the artifacts collected under it.

  5. To go further, take note of the other projects and scholars referenced in each editorial headnote. You can practice citation chaining to use this list to further enmesh yourself within your growing network of interests within DH.

Even though the resource in question is pedagogical in focus, I find the activity works well for students regardless of their interest in teaching. The exercise works especially well for folks at a stage of general curiosity but who have yet to find a specific project or interest. For students in this position, it can help them find a way to navigate the vast unknown by finding a constellation of materials close to their interests to get started. For those who already have more of an idea of their interests within DH the activity can facilitate a literature review. The exercise does not aim to be a comprehensive survey of the field. Instead, it starts from the premise that the only way to begin is by beginning–new students often just need guideposts to get started.

  1. In the Scholars’ Lab we have an XKCD comic based around this premise taped to our wall.