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ECC introduces Digital Arts and Humanities minor

A proposal for a new interdisciplinary minor titled Digital Arts and Humanities (DGAH) has been approved by the Education and Curriculum Committee (ECC) and now awaits two rounds of faculty readings.

DGAH, according to its proposal, aims to “provide students with a framework for studying, understanding and actively participating in the integration of new digital methods, arts and humanities, academic research and creative production.” The taskforce behind the minor hopes it will be available by April, so students can declare it during the upcoming Spring Term.

This design team was convened in September 2017 with a general goal of developing a defined curricular pathway in digital humanities—one prong of Carleton’s Public Works Initiative, a four-year, approximately $800,000 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant with a goal of encouraging Carleton to explore the “public digital arts and humanities.”

Carleton’s explicit interest in digital arts and humanities began with another Mellon grant in 2012—this one was a joint effort between Carleton, St. Olaf College and Macalester College. This grant served as a “low-key initiative to test the waters for new curricular direction,” according to Susannah Ottaway, current co-chair of the Public Works Initiative.

At that point, Carleton created a Digital Humanities Associate (DHA) position for students, which allowed motivated students to get involved with the growing field.

“I didn’t know anything about digital humanities coming in to Carleton, but it’s become a large part of my educational experience,” said Zobeida Chaffee-Valdes ‘19, a current History major an DHA. “Digital scholarship, at least to me, is a tool we can use to further explore and present humanistic subjects in an accessible way.”

The lack of a defined curricular pathway, however, might have limited student involvement with and awareness of digital humanities.

“I think creating a minor might create awareness and is a great option for people in the humanities who want to get more involved in STEM,” said Grace Brindle ’21, another current DHA. “As a History major with an interest in Computer Science, I was and continue to be frustrated by the lack of a CS minor. This new minor could be a great substitute, maybe even a more relevant one for humanities majors who can see how CS applies to their field specifically.”

The curricular pathway team considered options such as competency requirements, but settled on creating a minor in February 2018, after a Learning and Teaching Center (LTC) lunch.

“It was very clear to us that the energy was about creating a minor, not about other skill-based checklists,” said Ottaway.

The committee first presented the minor to the Dean of the College Office, Registrar’s Office and co-chairs of the ECC in November 2018. They then revised the proposal and brought it back to the same group the next month, when it was approved.

The team then presented the minor to the full ECC in January 2019. Afterward, they revised it and returned in February 2019, when the proposal was again approved.

“The constructive feedback we received from faculty, staff and students helped us refine our proposal to focus on the core areas of curricular overlap between the humanities, arts and computational science programs on campus in a way that complements, but does not compete with, other initiatives,” said Austin Mason, the Assistant Director of the Humanities Center for the Digital Humanities and member of the planning team.

Among notable revisions was the minor’s name. Until the first ECC meeting, it had been called “Digital, Critical and Creative Studies.”

“That name means something to us, but the more we talked to the ECC, the clearer it was that it didn’t mean anything to the rest of the people on the committee,” Ottaway explained. “Calling it ‘Digital Arts and Humanities’ was more true to the purpose of the minor.”

Another point of revision was the course selection process.
“We didn’t lay out specific ideas about which courses would be appropriate because we assumed that faculty would opt-in or opt-out as they chose,” Ottaway said. “At every step of that procedure, we had questions about why would this course might count and that course not count, so we sharpened our thinking about what it would take to be a course that counts.”

Going forward, the minor must pass two rounds of faculty readings—with the initial one scheduled in March—for finalization.
“We are hopeful that the full faculty will be equally enthusiastic and supportive of this major new initiative,” said Mason. “That said, this will be the first new interdisciplinary minor that is not a conversion from an existing concentration, so there are bound to be some questions that arise. We look forward to answering them at the upcoming faculty meetings.”

In the current proposal, DGAH minors must complete at least 38 credits, including an introductory digital humanities course for six credits and a portfolio seminar for two credits.

“These two courses are designed to be shared experiences for people in the minor, but also to be the gateway experience and culminating experience,” Ottaway said. “In the portfolio, we’ll be asking students not only to pick various pieces that they’ve worked on, but also to really reflect critically on them—to ask how the piece changed their understanding.”

The remaining 30 credits are to be distributed among three thematic categories: skill building, critical and ethical reflection and cross-disciplinary collaborations.

“The goal of this division is to ensure that minors take some courses that teach digital skills, some that place more emphasis on theorizing and critiquing digital technology, and others that combine skills and critical inquiry into applied making, resulting in major project work,” said Mason.

“One of the things that we’re reluctant to do is specify which digital technologies students have to learn, because that is going to change,” added Ottaway. “Instead, it’s very flexible. Students will take a range of courses and pick up different digital fluencies that will depend on which pathway they create through the minor.”

The committee has proposed possible pathways such as “geospatial inquiry” and “textual analysis and visualization,” although there are boundless possibilities.

“It’s kind of amazing to think about how different these digital experiences will be,” Ottaway said. “For example, there will be some 3D modelling. There will also be social networks—it’s helpful for sociologists and historians to look at he way computer scientists represent social networks. There are so many gateways and entry points into the minor, so students will have different experiences, but that’s part of the richness of it all.”

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