At this year’s MLA, there was much ado about Digital Humanities – from Pannapacker’s article in The Chronicle of Higher Ed to the Twitter backchannel. And MLA 2012 is shaping up to offer much more depth to Digital Humanities.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, who organized “The Past and Future of Digital Humanities” Roundtable at MLA 2011, gathered myself, Steve Ramsay, Tara McPherson, Brett Bobley, Bethany Nowviskie, and Alan Liu. The tweets and blogging that ensued from this discussion exploded the conversation outside of the confines of the room and into weeks after the conclusion of the conference, including Matt Kirschenbaum’s historicizing of Digital Humanities for an ADE article and Steve Ramsay’s follow-up to the cool kids party talk. What follows are my 3-minute remarks [revised slightly] from the MLA 2011 panel. The rest of the kerfuffle can, well, be googled, quite frankly. (I think it all died down in favor of the Digital Humanities Conference proposal acceptances/rejections being made public in mid-February.)

Teaching and Learning in DH

Last year, when Kathleen asked me to join this panel, she did so because she recognized my frustration with the Digital Humanities community and was working to really listen, assuage and include the point of view of teaching and learning in Digital Humanities conversations. I had been active on the backchannels of Twitter for various acerbic conversations and continually asked about the representation of teacher-scholars in Digital Humanities circles. Where are the people who teach 3/3 and 4/4 and 5/5 loads, often carrying more than 100 students and 3-4 preps every semester. How are they able to do the labor-intensive work of digital projects with little to no institutional support? How do they include their undergraduate students in this collaborative environment? And in what capacity can they include themselves in this very spirited and generous community? The potential inclusion could come in the form of sharing strategies for incorporating digital content into a course, using digital tools like Zotero, MIT’s Timeline or For Better or Verse in the classroom, having students construct digital projects including scholarly editions or digital poetry.

Even before we could skip the 2010 MLA conference and re-convene in our groovy new style, Project Bamboo and the Mellon Foundation responded to some of these issues. CUNY’s Academic Commons is a direct response to these types of teacher-scholar issues and allows virtual collaboration across 18 campuses. DHAnswers also very specifically responds to this call for an online community with a category labeled DH in the Classroom. The DH Community on Twitter has been enormously useful in sharing syllabi, interesting assignments and useful results [as well as the Zotero DH group]. Even the 2009 and 2010 Day in the Life Project managed by Geoffrey Rockwell allowed participants to write about teaching days. Period-specific organizations are also resorting to this type of online community: Romantic Circles recently initiated a Teaching Romanticism blog and invited several Romanticists to contribute with quite a few DH people writing regularly. As the editor of the E-Resources reviews for SHARP’s newsletter, I’m ecstatic when reviewers of digital resources include a pedagogical focus.

The Digital Humanities Conference program committee also responded in various ways – and we’ll find out how in February when the acceptances are distributed and the program is completed. [See Stefan Sinclair’s reaction to the twitteratti upheaval about acceptances to the DHC for 2011. Some of the major players in DH didn’t get their proposals accepted, interestingly.] All of this community requires crowdsourcing and, really, is contingent on good PR. Merlot is a project out of the Cal State system that amasses teaching materials online and solicits across an international audience. But, it suffers from a lack of PR.

Even with all of this good stuff, as has been said over and over at yesterday’s panels, at last night’s tweetup, during informal hallway discussions, and across academia, teaching is often invisible labor, though it’s the largest part of our jobs. In today’s [January 7, 2011] Inside Higher Ed, two interviewees remind us that the flagging economy forces higher education in general to justify itself to our students.

Yes, she (Teresa Magnum) said, it’s frustrating to be in a world where one has to explain why great novels matter. “But maybe that’s something we stopped thinking about and we shouldn’t have,” she said. “We have to return … to where our students are coming from.” (Teresa Magnum “Moving Beyond Venting“)

In the same article, Stephanie Foote asks why the creation of a syllabus for an exciting new course shouldn’t be seen as “an intellectual research project” and count in the way that only traditional publishing does now.

…and I would extend that conversation to innovative teaching practices using digital tools as well. Why not gain some professional credit for classroom use? But this is perhaps an argument more for the administrative process rather than us to resolve here today.

Scott Jaschik’s article is a tacit reminder that students are the reason why we have our jobs. My question for DH: how can we turn that creativity, discovery, playfulness back to our students, specifically for me, undergraduates? Both in the classroom and in our scholarship. This means including undergraduates in collaboration. Or, sharing strategies for things like project-centered courses, which seems to be a particularly onerous format for larger classes. These are questions for our audience.

But before I end, let me complicate the role of DH in academia in general and offer up this idea for the future:

While all of the previously-mentioned activity is an incredible step forward, what I came to realize was that we’re talking to each other. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great conversation even when we disagree and critique each other. I think what we need to be doing is talking to those who don’t do DH to explain and demonstrate the benefits of digital whatever in the classroom. That Romantic Circles blog is a most intriguing model for talking about pedagogy, curriculum development, individual class experiences, assignments, student responses to Blake and using digital tools and resources in all facets to communicate about Romanticism. That’s the beauty of the blog – DHers are simply part of the discussion.

Some Interesting Recent Continuations by others