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Carleton hosts AALAC digital scholarship workshop

Last week, faculty members from several liberal arts colleges—including Carleton, Davidson College and Grinnell College—hosted an Alliance to Advance Liberal Arts Colleges (AALAC)–affiliated digital scholarship workshop.

The event—the full title of which was “AALAC Workshop: Curricular Pathways for Digital Scholarship at Liberal Arts Colleges”—took place April 26 and 27 at Carleton and was initiated by Austin Mason, Carleton’s Assistant Director of the Humanities Center for the Digital Humanities. Its main goal was to help participating schools learn ways to integrate aspects of digital scholarship—the use of digital and computational tools for research—into their curricula. Specific topics addressed included benefits of different types of academic programs (e.g. majors, minors); what to name these new interdisciplinary programs and specific balances of courses within those programs.

“The question of how digital humanities and digital studies fit into a liberal arts curriculum is a really important one, and one that is relevant to students who may be interested in building the kind of skills that are emphasized in the digital studies curriculum” said Eric Alexander, an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Carleton and one of the organizers of the workshop. He helped organize and describe what the college has done in the way of digital scholarship, along with where it has worked and where it has not, for reference by and in coordination with other institutions.

“Many of those [studies] exist already at Carleton,” Alexander said. “Part of what [Mason] and others have been doing is trying to articulate what’s already happening at [the college] and to coalesce it into a complete package so students are more aware and can take advantage of it.”

The workshop’s page on the Carleton website lists UCLA as a school that has strong programs in digital studies and digital humanities (the practice of incorporating digital analysis methods into humanities disciplines). 

“What they do not provide, however,” the website adds, “is a sustainable framework for linking diverse experiences into an integrated understanding of how digital tools and practices shape the student experience.”

In this regard, many liberal arts colleges have begun to incorporate more fields into their digital scholarship curricula, making them more interdisciplinary and starting to offer experience with, as stated on the site, digital liberal arts.

This digital focus was encouraged and made possible by a 2017 $800,000 Mellon Foundation grant intended to better train students for modern jobs via, according to the website, “engaging in on-campus and off-campus collaborations and developing digital skills in meaningful public projects.”

The first day of the workshop featured presentations attended by all participants in the conference, followed by a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception. The day after began with breakfast, followed by two “Breakout Sessions” and ended with a plenary session and lunch.

“A lot of what came out of this weekend ended up being valuable to the students and how much they’re able to get out of the digital humanities curriculum here,” said Alexander.

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