Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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Prof. Josh Stenger explores Digital Humanities and New Media

Posted on May 5, 2011

Josh Stenger2010-11 was one of the most learning-intensive periods of my academic life, thanks largely to two teaching-related projects I undertook in conjunction with my growing interest in digital humanities and new media.

The first of these actually began in May 2010 academic year and involved a year-long collaborative effort to design and implement an interdisciplinary program in Film and New Media Studies at Wheaton.  The major gained final approval in March, and though I look forward to building a more robust web presence for the program during the summer months, there are already a number of ways to stay in touch with and/or learn about FNMS:

Overview of FNMS FNMS on Facebook Follow FNMS on Twitter

Although I consider myself a film scholar and a new media scholar-in-training, my relationship to these fields was and continues to be shaped by my belief in the importance and value of the Humanities. I think those of us who identify as humanists will look back at the spring of 2008 as something of a watershed moment. In March of that year, the National Endowment for the Humanities promoted its  exploratory Digital Humanities Initiative to permanent status under the new moniker Office of Digital Humanities.  One month after the DHI became the ODH, Frank Donoghue's The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities (Fordham UP) set off a debate as to whether or not the Humanities were "dead" or simply on life-support.

It's safe to say no college or university English department has been untouched by this debate, if for no other reason than the fact that the future of the Humanities seems more and more to be a digital one.  And while that sort of pronouncement rankles more than a few dyed-in-the-tweed humanists, if the last few years have shown us anything it's that we don't have to give up our tweed for tweets, our codex for code, our texts for hypertext, our frontispieces for back channels. We can -- and should -- have both.

My interest in DH led me to my second major undertaking this year: a senior seminar [syllabus] designed as a semester-long inquiry into the limits, potential and value of new information and communication technologies as they pertain to English studies.  Despite some trepidation in the early weeks, all ten students in the course came to the table with exactly the kind of open mind and critical eye their experiences in the English department had encouraged them to develop and use in every encounter with ideas, texts, narrative and representation.  As a result, the group was at once remarkably engaged and engaging, both in the seminar room and online — where in addition to generating a collaborative bibliography via Zotero and a group bookmark repository through Diigo, seminar participants started at least ten Tumblr blogs, posted to our group tumblog, Digital Dehiscence, and contributed over 65,000 words of forum posts via onCourse.

Word cloud of Week 5 readings

During the course of semester, the seminar students and I worked our way through a variety of timely issues facing the Humanities such as:

  • the future of print
  • how electronic literature differs from e-books
  • how databases and the digitization and mark-up of printed texts can be used by scholars
  • open access scholarship vs. the academic press
  • digital copyright vs. creative commons
  • participatory cultures and collective intelligence communities

With the seminar winding down, students are working on their final projects.  In a nod to the course's emphasis on praxis, rather than producing traditional seminar 'papers', they are hard at work designing multimodal projects using WordPress.  As a fitting way to end their capstone experience, then, seminar participants are enacting one of the core principles of digital literacy: namely, that writing in and producing content through new media is as crucial to citizenship as being a critical reader and consumer of digital content.

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