We’re Not Teaching the Next Generation of Digital Humanists

I’m looking forward to a moment in the future. That moment is when the word “digital” is dropped from “digital humanities.” This semester I’m teaching an introductory digital humanities course to undergraduates at Hendrix College and one thing we’re doing is teleconferencing with DH scholars across the country.

The learning objective is to expose my students to the many different ways digital humanities scholarship is done, to let them see the paths people have taken, and for students to imagine their own way in digital humanities scholarship, if they decide to pursue it. When speaking with our guests, one trend I’ve noticed is that they don’t care about labels. “Digital humanist” and “digital humanities” seem to be terms more useful for those on the outside to describe this technological encroachment. Is a writer a different kind of writer if she uses paper and pencil versus word processing, or publishes her own work online with multimedia? The questions being asked by digital humanists are inline with questions humanists have asked before. The only difference is using digital tools to help them in their task.

Everyone we’ve spoken with so far has had a very roundabout way in becoming a humanities scholar who uses digital tools. There were no classes. There were no books. There were conversations at conferences. There was drawing upon work outside of a discipline. There was a moment of asking, “Can I use this technology to further my research?” It reminds me of instructional technology. The pedagogy and learning objectives come first. Then, if needed, the technology comes second to support those goals. One does not sit down and learn TEI, GIS, Python, WordPress, and data visualizations. One states, “this is what I want to do,” and identifies a technology that helps them achieve that goal. I imagine it to be like working on a house. One buys or borrows the tools for the job, instead of buying every power tool at the hardware store. To follow this analogy, would it make a difference, besides costs in time and money,  if someone used a power tool or hand tool to complete a job?

With digital humanities being taught at the undergraduate, as well as the graduate level, it’s just a matter of time until we no longer differentiate between humanities and digital humanities. There are clear paths for our students. They’re not just learning the technology, but learning how to learn technology, how to not be intimidated by it. Students are seeing technology as just another tool, which they can use wherever they may go. We’re not teaching the next generation of digital humanists. We’re teaching the next generation of humanities scholars.

If you’ve taught a digital humanities course, what’s the most important lesson you hope your students have learned?

Media Credit: http://flic.kr/p/bRHngB

Tim Lepczyk

Writer, Technologist, and Librarian.

Leave a Reply