John Russell is currently teaching a graduate-level course in digital scholarship. In this post, he introduces the course and discusses the decisions he made in its design. For more DH syllabi, visit the CUNY Digital Humanities Resource Guide.
The University of Oregon Libraries recently established a Digital Scholarship Center; one of our first new activities is offering a graduate course called Issues in Digital Scholarship, which I am teaching this term. The course was designed to give graduate students a chance to meet like-minded peers from other departments, a space to critically engage aspects of digital scholarship, and an opportunity to play around with some of the tools of the trade.
[A note on the course title: we chose digital scholarship rather than digital humanities because we knew that some of our potential students do not associate with the humanities. The course has students from Communication Studies (including Public Relations), Geography, and Literature.]
As part of the process of setting up the Center, we had a number of conversations with faculty and graduate students across campus about what kinds of digital scholarship were already happening, what they wish they could do, and what kinds of services would be most beneficial. Graduate students frequently mentioned a need to know what different forms of digital scholarship were going on and a desire to interact with other students interested in digital scholarship; they also expressed a desire to be pointed to tools or software which they would then learn about on their own. I used these discussions to shape the organization of the course, putting the focus on methodological issues rather than on the tools themselves.
The course is divided into three parts:
- The first two sessions were designed to provide an overview of criticism in digital scholarship. Because I wanted students to assess a digital project, I needed to make sure they understood that there are considerations for digital work that are different than, say, a book review – issues of usability and reusability, copyright, or accessibility, for example. The second session surveys theoretical debates in digital humanities and how hardware and software mediate our digital experiences and thus are objects of study in their own right.
- The middle four sessions are devoted to digital analysis, covering what seems to me to be the four-fold core of digital scholarship: networks, texts, visual material (still & moving), and spatial relations. My approach to these topics is not tool-driven; I was looking for readings that could serve as introductions to why scholars are engaging with these approaches and how they are making use of them. Personally, I think such an approach is essential to communicating the significance of digital scholarship to graduate students (and to faculty) and is far more important than teaching tools.
- The last part of the course is devoted to what we might consider “library” issues: metadata, preservation, copyright, scholarly communication. This is in part a justification for having this course taught in the library: we can address these infrastructural matters much better than other units on campus (and we are probably more concerned about them than most faculty). However, this is not a bit of tokenism: metadata, preservation, and especially copyright are central to the successful production and dissemination of digital scholarship. One of the underlying themes to the readings is the ways in which digital scholarship is presented in new forms of scholarly communication – I deliberately chose a mix of blog posts, open access journals, pre-prints, and gated scholarly articles to expose students to these forms – so it seemed natural to come around near the end to explicitly talk about the relationship between new modes of scholarship and the best ways to disseminate that scholarship.
The course assignments were likewise designed around the what and why of digital scholarship. The core assignments are written: a critical review of an example of digital scholarship and a literature review; the students are also required to present a digital tool to the class. This is an inversion of the digital scholarship ethos which has emphasized tools and making things, and very intentionally so. I actually don’t care if the students can (or will) make things – I want them to understand what is going on with digital scholarship in different fields in order to enable them to understand in what ways these approaches might be useful to their own research and teaching or to their discipline as a whole. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll be sure to follow up with a post after the course is over, if not sooner.