Issue #9 – Digital Humanities and the Undergraduate

April 2011


Digital technology has changed how scholars work, increasing access to material and allowing new methods of inquiry to emerge. Preservation, publication, and dissemination have likewise been transformed. Digital scholarship in the humanities requires deeply collaborative processes between scholars, information technologists, librarians and others. At small liberal arts colleges, where scholarship is fundamentally connected to the undergraduate curriculum, sustainable strategies that fit the pedagogical mission and needs of smaller institutions are also critical.

nitlelogo_cmyk_small.jpgWhat do these changes and requirements mean for humanities inquiry and pedagogy at liberal arts colleges? In this issue of Academic Commons, NITLE presents case studies of two projects that begin to answer this question. One project tackles the issue from a curricular and pedagogical front, creating a structure for students entering the English major “both to practice criticism and to examine criticism as a practice.” Using a collaborative digital platform, the authors of “English Majors Practicing Criticism” pursue a three-pronged goal: to help students understand intellectual inquiry as rooted in communities of practice, to engage students directly in intellectual practice via the techniques of active collaboration and shared meta-analysis, and to demonstrate the dialectic process that builds a field’s intellectual diversity. Another project uses the construction of a bibliographic database of early English novels (1660 – 1830) to position undergraduate students as researchers responsible for creating records representing those novels. To develop “what we might call the ‘research imagination’,” the authors of “The Early Novels Database” write, students “work with librarians, programmers, other students, and professors in a collaborative environment… [and] begin to think like researchers as they work to puzzle out what kinds of information researchers will want to know.”

Each of these projects deploys collaborative approaches to engage students directly in the scholarly process, using practice to support learning and to connect undergraduates to their broader fields of inquiry. NITLE congratulates these winners of the October 2010 Community Contribution Award and thanks them for sharing these case studies. As always, we invite you to read, share with colleagues, and offer your comments.