University’s Innovative Digital Humanities Course Inspires Research and Sense of Community
An introductory course for first-year students, the “Digital Humanities Lab” endeavors to bring together students and faculty members from a variety of disciplines to create research opportunities and a sense of community.
May 5, 2020
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
At the beginning of the academic year, Skylar Seabert ’23 enrolled in the University of New Haven’s “Digital Humanities Lab,” a course that, she says, was unlike any other class she’d ever taken. She enjoyed the variety of topics the course covered – everything from Twitterbots to presenting statistical data through instrumental music.
Designed to introduce students to the possibilities for undergraduate research in the digital humanities, the course brings together a diverse group of students and faculty members from all disciplines, majors, and fields of study.
“I thoroughly enjoyed learning a new topic and skill every week that I wouldn't have had the opportunity to learn about outside of this class,” said Seabert, a criminal justice and legal studies double major. “I also loved the enthusiasm and passion of each professor as they shared their unique knowledge with us and each other.”
That’s what Mary Isbell, Ph.D., an assistant professor of English, envisioned when she and her colleagues first began discussing ways to bring additional attention to the opportunities available through faculty-mentored research. She served as the lead faculty member when the course was first offered last fall.
“I think it's important for students to understand that the world is an interdisciplinary place,” said Dr. Isbell, a scholar of nineteenth century literature who uses the digital humanities to recover and study little-known artifacts. “Familiarity with a range of methodologies makes students nimble when entering the job market. I want to help students pursue projects that they find meaningful and important.”
‘I hope one day students can add the lab to any course’
During the first half of the one-credit introductory course, faculty members discuss their expertise, how it intersects with the digital humanities, and how it can impact students’ research. This past fall, students had the option of participating in-person or virtually for the first half of the course, and they could then meet individually with the faculty member of their choice to work on their project for the second half of the semester.
Matthew Wranovix, Ph.D., director of the University’s Honors Program, has been using digital tools such as Omeka and Neatline as part of his courses, and he has been impressed by how they have inspired students’ creativity and curiosity. He hopes the course will further students’ awareness of and interest in digital technologies.
“The Digital Humanities Lab provides students a space to not only develop skills in digital technologies, but, more importantly, to work on projects that have sparked their curiosity and do not fit easily into traditional coursework,” he said. “I hope one day students can add the lab to any course in order to work on digital humanities projects related to the content of any course they are taking.”
Bruce Barber, general manager of WNHU, the University’s award-winning radio station, says the demand for digital skills in the workplaces is continuing to increase. He believes the lab will enable students to learn to communicate their academic findings using digital tools, and he is looking forward to continuing to share his expertise with them.
“My chief area of interest in the field of audio production is podcasting, as well as the democratization of the tools used to produce, distribute and promote audio content,” he said. “I look forward to sharing my passion for these advances and to creating engaging opportunities for our amazing students.”
‘I would highly recommend this class to other students’
At the end of February, faculty members gave a presentation about the course at the Connecticut Digital Humanities Conference, sparking interest and discussion among faculty members from universities in Connecticut who are interested in building a statewide community to support the digital humanities.
Simon Hutchinson, Ph.D., an assistant professor of music technology, was among the faculty members who presented, and he said it enabled them to share what they have learned while also learning from other faculty members.
“It was great to share what we’re doing, especially the unique interdisciplinary nature of the Digital Humanities Lab,” he said. “We had the opportunity to see what kinds of approaches are taken at different universities, and we got a lot of ideas that we can integrate into our program moving forward.”
This fall, the course is scheduled to meet every Friday, alternating between faculty presentations and workshops that enable students to explore what they learned and brainstorm project ideas. By the end of the course, students will propose a project they will pursue, either as an independent study, a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship project, Honors thesis, or capstone project.
As faculty members create a community to facilitate faculty-mentored research, they’re hoping to include students – such as Seabert – from the beginning of their time as Chargers.
“I would highly recommend this class to other students because of the wide variety of topics we covered,” said Seabert. “I was able to apply skills that I developed and apply them to both of my majors, and research them more in depth for a possible thesis that I can continue throughout my time at the University.”