About andiesilva

PhD in early modern print culture and literature; pop culture fanatic; aspiring chef; photography novice; creative writer.

Digital Roots: Learning/Using/Making Technology

This is a slightly modified version of my talk at Network Detroit on September 27

You can find the prezi connected to this presentation here: http://bit.ly/digitalroots

Today I want to share a little bit about my personal path to becoming involved with DH, and discuss some of the reasons why digital assignments are so vital to graduate and undergraduate work.

As I began to understand what it meant to be an academic, I admit I felt a little disconnected from the field. I cared most about the practical elements of scholarship, like editing, publishing, and finding cool pop-culture elements I could bring to my students in class. I didn’t really consider that to be part of academia until I started learning more about digital projects. When I took Lisa’s Rise of the Novel class, one of the options for the final project was a website. I was already teaching and using Wikis in the classroom, but wasn’t trained to see that as a key side of my work. Building a website to analyze the novel Tristram Shandy helped me start to realize that there was still innovative and exciting work that I, a PhD student and hopeful scholar, could be bringing to the table. For the first time it made me consider that there might be a way to marry my interests in publishing, editing, and popular culture with my passion for literary studies.

This brings me to my first point: digital projects are a fantastic way to encourage young scholars to see themselves as part of the field—a field that’s growing, that is alive, and whose purpose is not just to produce knowledge, but to share it. After that class, I learned that Digital Humanities was a thing: an actual academic concentration that had been around for much longer than I thought. And just yesterday I was reminded that it used to be called Humanities Computing, but that term scared some people who thought they didn’t know how to program or code. I have to say that scares me, too. But in an exciting way.

Once you start thinking about digital arguments, you want to start defining everything else that may fit into that umbrella. I thought: well, I use technology to teach…is that DH? But wait, I also use technology to research… is that DH? Oh, and I use technology to think about why we use technology! Is that, too, DH?

I realized that the people who encouraged me to ask them were university professors—people who had jobs in the university! I found that my investment in technology, culture, and publishing was not so different from my interests in literature, research, and scholarship. I found that I could write about websites and ideas in ways that are academically legitimate. I think it’s important to come out as a Digital Humanist, and to know that that label means something for my work.  So, for me, defining myself as a Digital Humanist means that I am part of something: part of a growing and exciting new field, part of making new critical objects, and mostly part of an effort to share and disperse knowledge. It also means something crucial for my dissertation: from merely using research websites like Early English Books Online, I began to think about ways those websites could be enriched be other kinds of research and ideas, and from my experience making a digital project for a graduate seminar I knew that I could be the done bringing those ideas into existence.

Part of my dissertation project involves building a database that catalogues paratextual materials like prefaces, indexes, dedications, and errata lists written by printers and publishers. Although I’m still learning about the technological side of how to do that, I find it to be an exciting aspect of my research, one that ensures my project is relevant and productive. Through the process of designing a digital project for my graduate seminar with Lisa, I felt encouraged to conceptualize what it meant to use digital tools in my work, to be more aware of what those tools mean, who makes them, and to what purposes—basic things I teach my comp students in class every semester, and yet questions I, myself sometimes forgot to ask about my own scholarship.

And from there, the next step was to say: well, it’s not enough that I’m thinking or writing about technology; I’m at best lazy and at worst irresponsible if I don’t bring that to my own classroom. And so this semester I decided to take it a step further, and much like Lisa encouraged me to produce something new, I am not pushing my students to do the same. My current syllabus doesn’t only use technology: it teaches students to think about it in serious, scholarly ways, and helps them see that they, too, could be making an exciting contribution to their majors.  

Cheesy though it may sound, digital scholarship really has changed my life. It’s changed my perception of what academia is, and how I fit in as a part of it. And so I’ll stop here, and leave you with a few questions that hopefully we can discuss during Q&A:  

1) The first question is connected to the title of our roundtable: Digital Humanities on a budget. One thing that’s been on my mind a lot this semester is the issue of access: many of my students are returning after many years away from school; others are first-generation students; many yet are only able to go to college because of government loans or scholarships. When we talk so excitedly about DH, do we sometimes forget that there are still many students who can’t afford computers, tablets, or even smartphones? How does that change our work? And how do we handle it?  

2) How do we make sure that more students, both graduate and undergraduate, are getting the proper training, or at least getting the information they may need about where to find it? What should the role of institutions in encouraging that? As far as dissertation-level students, what’s the role of faculty in encouraging DH work? My advisor recently told me DH was my dissertation mistress—that I shouldn’t feel like I was “cheating” on my more traditional research with DH, but that I should instead actively bring it as a chapter in my work. Is there a way to make this a more clear option to students? Is it possible to soon conceive of dissertations not just with digital components but as digital projects?

3) And what about the dreaded digital divide? Is that still a thing? How do we help students who are afraid of technology? How do we teach supposedly tech savvy students how to use their knowledge in a professional or academic way?


Are You a Digital Humanist?

A few weeks ago, I called out a student for using her cell phone in class. I had noticed that she always seemed to be on her phone while I was lecturing (which I found not only disrespectful but very distracting) and felt that it was time to remind her of our syllabus policy against use of cell phones and texting in class. The student immediately emailed me back claiming that her phone was also a PDA, and that she was using it to take notes. Whether this was true or just a convenient excuse, it got me thinking about some of the challenges of digital humanities/digital pedagogy. For instance, if I elect to use technology in my classrooms, can I penalize students for doing the same? How much room should we allow technology to have in academic life?

Digital Humanities is becoming an increasingly visible and popular community. Aimée Morrison posted a great set of questions  a few weeks ago regarding what graduate students need from DH efforts, and what kinds of changes we may be concerned about (hint: there are about as many things to be excited about as there are things to figure out). Diane Jakacki similarly posted an engaging reflection on what it means to identify oneself as a Digital Humanist. (I found both of these posts through Twitter, by the way, in my efforts to become more connected to the DH world and more visible as a DHer) One of my tweets in response to  Aimée (@digiwonk) addressed the question of how to best prepare future DH grads: We need more DH profs. But this is a very complex claim. What is, after all, a DH professor? Is it someone who works solely on digital projects and teaches others how to make them? Is it someone who is transitioning from more traditional academic formats to become a digi-print hybrid? Am I a digital humanist? Are you?

Sometimes technology catches me off guard–and I’m not even talking about times when computers crash, or projectors refuse to turn on. The cell phone incident with my student made it clear that I haven’t thought through some of the ways the digital medium both participates in and interferes with pedagogy. I know there are instructors who use Twitter in their classrooms. I have to admit that, while I find the idea fascinating, I fear the lack of control it would bring along–and, of course, that’s the whole point: scary though it may be, decentralization of authority brings something unique to the student-teacher interaction and the learning process as a whole. A social media approach can give a clear purpose to devices most students already feel tempted to use (let’s be honest: devices most of us feel tempted to use). What’s more: placing the technology in our students’ hands challenges us to practice what we preach. But it still scares me.

In my research, I deal with another frightful balance: making sure my project is at once literary, critical, multidisciplinary, AND digital. Sometimes the digital slips through the cracks. Do I earn my DH badge by simply performing digital research? By using these tools to produce new knowledge? During “Reading Publics” we talked a lot about what the digital can and cannot achieve, and we all came to the conclusion that the digital does not (and is not meant to) replace the material object. But there’s another side to this conversation, which has to do with our research, and how much we’re willing to depend on, challenge, support, build, and empower digital tools to become just as respectable as traditional scholarship.

Part of the challenge is just to keep up with the new developments. The academic production process tends to be slow and time-consuming–most dissertations take one to two years to complete; publishing an article can take anywhere from three months to a year. How can we keep up with the ever-changing DH practices by adhering to traditional academic timing? Can we ever claim to be making cutting-edge work unless this work is producing real-time, online results?

As graduate students, we face the traditional vs. digital divide most strongly. I have met new grad students who confidently assert themselves as DHers and whose dissertation is firmly devoted to digital projects. I find that beyond exciting! But I can’t say I ever thought of myself as a Digital Humanist until recently–certainly not when I started grad school–and I wonder how many other grads feel unsure about their place in the community. Even though I have used wikis, videos, prezi, and even Facebook to design my classes, I didn’t think to give that practice a name. Even though my own dissertation proposes a database at its conclusion, I wasn’t thinking about how that defined my niche as a scholar. I thought of myself as a (slightly frustrated) traditional scholar who liked using technology for research and to make classes more engaging. By declaring to be DH, I formally admit that my “guilty pleasure” improves my academic production. By saying that I apply technology to pedagogy, I force myself to be more aware of great new projects and engage in work that is only made possible through online tools.  In my work, I try to address some of this by evaluating and reading about new trends, and planning future uses for my dissertation project. Yet, most of the time I can’t see ever “catching up.” Perhaps that’s what makes this work so exciting.

Please check out (above) my evaluation of the two incredible projects we got to see at Reading Publics. I would love to have your feedback and additional comments!

Early Modern Online Bibliography

The following guest post, the first of two parts, is from Andie Silva, Wayne State University

The University of Warwick, in association with the Newberry library, has been conducting a long-term research project on “Reading Publics.” This project, led by Professor Simon Gilson, Dr. David Lines, and Dr. Maude Vanhaelen, encourages conversations about communities of readers, evidence of readership and reception, and the social and cultural involvement of individual and networks of readers on the print marketplace. This research is possible in great part due to the growth of digitization projects and increasing availability of data and archival materials. As the project’s webpage outlines, however, “the availability of these resources not only varies greatly depending on language, author, country, and period, but also calls for careful methodological reflection.”

This summer, the program leaders organized three activities designed to foster conversation and scholarship on the topic of “Reading Publics” and…

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