Practicing, Building, Doing

Hi everyone. As my Twitter profile concisely states, I am a former HS English teacher (taught 10th and 11th graders for two years) and a current English MA student here at UMCP who’s planning to return to teaching once I graduate this May. As such, I had no real concentration when I entered the program, which is probably a good thing since our degree requirements are so broad. As Kathryn intimated below, I am not a heavily theoretical person, especially as my interests have always been in the realms of education first, then English. Yes, I was one of those teacher’s kids who rifled through classroom castaways for leftover stickers and unused nametags, bringing home dumpster-destined readers to use in my classroom of stuffed animals. More to the point, however, this translated to my undergraduate degree of Integrated Language Arts Education, with a minor in theatre, which meant I (gleefully) missed the more intense upper-level theory courses in the English program, courses upon which a lot of my graduate work probably would have built. Hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it?

At any rate, working with Kathryn in the two DH classes we have taken together here at Maryland has not only been really enjoyable but also helped me find an area of academia that I could tentatively occupy during my time here. In my undergraduate studies I took classes such as Technology in the Classroom and used a SmartBoard in one of my field experiences; in my own classroom I had a Promethean ActivBoard, which my school’s administration proudly pointed out to prospective parents and students. From my personal perspective, I see Digital Humanities as a realm of academia that will have a significant impact on secondary education in terms of pedagogy, assessment criteria, state standards, and possibly even content selection within curricula.

Although many of the readings this week have struck me as fairly theoretical (as the subject pretty much demands), I can see within the discussion of defining the boundaries of Digital Humanities an emphasis on practicality, or as Stephen Ramsey terms it, “building.” In his words,

As humanists, we are inclined to read maps (to pick one example) as texts… This is all very good. In fact, I would say it’s at the root of what it means to engage in humanistic inquiry… But making a map (with a gis system, say) is an entirely different experience. dh-ers insist — again and again — that this process of creation yields insights that are difficult to acquire otherwise.

Ramsey’s words put me in mind of my meeting with Kari Kraus a few weeks ago, when she put forth the idea of practice-based research for my thesis. Since I’m writing about The House of Her, an altered text Kathryn and I created last semester, my thesis falls within the category of practice-based research, which Linda Candy of Creativity and Cognition Studios defines as:

[A]n original investigation undertaken in order to gain new knowledge partly by means of practice and the outcomes of that practice. Claims of originality and contribution to knowledge may be demonstrated through creative outcomes which may include artefacts such as images, music, designs, models, digital media or other outcomes such as performances and exhibitions.

A type of research that usually occurs within the arts, I couldn’t help but notice the tendency of some dh-ers to lean more on the side of practice-based research in their attempts to define the discipline of Digital Humanities, or as Golumbia writes:

The new technology of the Internet has shifted the work of a rapidly growing number of scholars away from thinking big thoughts to forging new tools, methods, materials, techniques, and modes or work that will enable us to harness the still unwieldy, but obviously game-changing, information technologies now sitting on our desktops and in our pockets.

This emphasis on doing is one that rings true for the teacher side of me. Good teachers don’t just think up fun and challenging assignments, they work through them ahead of time for feasibility and clarity, producing models and detailed instructions for their students to follow. Even teaching itself is a craft – one learns by doing, and the longer one does, the better one is able to become. My résumé is full of words like “crafted,” “generated,” “coordinated,” and “facilitated,” to describe my teaching experiences. Acting on a hunch, I clicked on five random blog entries on the Day of DH site to see what sort of vocabulary they used to describe their DH pursuits. Here’s what I found:

Quinn Dombrowski – her posts are chock-full of active verbs such as sewing, making, sketching, and hammering (out details!).

Kathi Inman Berens – her blog included a post titled, “What I Build,” in which she describes the various projects that she has worked on; she says at one point, “it’s not the tool, it’s what users do with the tools you build.”

Alí Albarrán – he discusses the project his students are working on: “The participation of the students is important in this project, in the sense of creation of a wiki, the site and the entries have been formed and made it by the people who will use the site and then they (and the next generations) will use the glossary as a reference.”

William Allen – an art historian who describes how he prepares for his two courses, History of Photography and Survey of Art History II, in terms of image collecting – searching, locating, and pulling up appropriate images in a plethora of tabs for his classes. He describes completing these two class preps as “projects.”

Milena Radzikowska – she teaches a Visual Communication for Information Designers II class; she states that her students are “developing look-and-feel and visualization concepts for the Calgary Music Maps project: a web‐based participatory tool that enables our communities to describe and explore Calgary’s rich music ecosystem.”

I was pretty gratified to discover that all five self-identified dh-ers incorporated a creative/artistic/building element within their descriptions of their day-to-day scholarly pursuits. Despite how much flak Stephen Ramsay took for his initial comments, I still find myself agreeing with his belief that Digital Humanities is about building (and doing) things; after all, that’s what I find so compelling (and accessible) about the field.

3 thoughts on “Practicing, Building, Doing

  1. I too think that digital humanities will have a big impact on secondary education, hopefully in encouraging the project-based, interactive learning that leads to the kind of creativity Burdick described when saying that the “Best core curricula creates student-citizens who think with imagination, manifest thoughts as creative action, and whose analysis can lead to inventive, yet not definitive, syntheses”. (Personally, anything that allows teachers to move away from the impacts of the standardized testing movement would be an improvement!)

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