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Do humanities compute?

Monday, January 6, 2014 - 11:19am

Cheeky title but good article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on digitized humanities in the classroom:

Colleges see the fresh digital focus as an opportunity to demonstrate the continued importance of the humanities. And students hope that credentialing themselves in this field, known as "digital humanities," will strengthen their job prospects.

"Critical engagement with the digital infrastructure that permeates every aspect of our lives—that's a pretty important role for the humanities to play," says Johanna Drucker, a veteran digital humanist at UCLA. "The humanities deans are really looking for ways to increase the perceived value of their offerings in their fields and to save their departments by increasing enrollments and getting resources."

The trend is tricky to quantify because the digital humanities are often an element of a course rather than a distinct discipline, and colleges sometimes refer to them by other terms, such as "digital liberal arts." But you see evidence of their growth in the new digital-humanities minors created over the past three years at research institutions like UCLA and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, where students flock to courses titled "DH101: Introduction to Digital Humanities" (UCLA) and "Being Human in the Digital Age" (Nebraska).

These questions are far from settled but it's important to follow up and maintain a relationship with explosive trends in higher ed, of which DH is certainly one. Digital humanities may turn out to have a far more important impact on learning than MOOCs. The jury on that one has not even been selected yet, though the attorneys seem to be coming to some consensus about the pool.

Image: Allegory of the Seven Liberal Arts by Marten de Vos (1532-1603), via Wikimedia Commons.

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