Teaching DH from the Library

I have been given the huge task and honor of designing and teaching the first Intro to DH course to be taught at KU in the Fall of 2015 and the Spring of 2016. In the past, professors in various departments have included DH approaches or methodologies to their particular courses, but haven’t yet devoted one exclusively to the field. The two-term course I’m working on is to be based at the IDRH, which is a partnership between the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, the Hall Center for the Humanities, and KU Libraries, but is physically embedded in the Libraries and has its offices in Watson Library. This has presented some really interesting challenges when it comes to the available resources, the expectations, and, of course, the administration of the course. In absence of a DH designation, in order to make it available pretty much to anyone in the whole campus, the course is to be cross listed with as many departments as possible—that way it easily counts towards the students’ degree credits, which is also good for their home programs.

Thus, I have spent the better part of the last two weeks, consulting with professors and administrators in the English Department, the Honors program, and the newly inaugurated School of Languages Literatures and Cultures. Everyone has shown a great deal of interest and excitement about the course, offered invaluable help navigating the administrative corners, and given fantastic feedback regarding what each one sees as the place and relevance of DH for their students. Professors in the SLLC see it as a way to bring together the students (and, because of them, the faculty members) of their constituting and affiliate departments. The English department, one of the most heavily DH-inflected on campus, see it as an overdue step in their course offering. The Honors program, as yet another cutting-edge advantage to offer their students. They’re all for the hands-on interdisciplinary, collaborative, and multicultural profile of the course.

The potential diversity in the group I’ll be teaching is humbling and exciting. This and the overwhelmingly positive response to, really, just the first draft of the course for now, has made me realize another dimension of the enterprise. Being based at the library gives the course a unique outline: it doesn’t have to fit the mission and profile of a particular program, and luckily, I’m surrounded by helpful colleagues who are experts in DH building blocks like data management, archiving, OA and CC—but it also means that it has to be relevant to everyone that takes it regardless of what their individual disciplinary interests are.

In practical terms, with a twenty-five student cap, this means I have to decide whether or not to make registration by instructor permission only. The question is whether to ensure that all of the departments that are backing the course have equal presence in the class (which surely is a bias on its own) or let “randomness” and “life” decide (which, as we know, is usually not fair). Then again, this is only an issue if there are more than twenty-five students interested in taking the course.

In non-practical terms, this has made me open the old Pandora box of what would be the core of DH crossing and bringing together all of the Humanities—if there is one. And if there isn’t, in what way I can make the course flexible and porous enough to keep the group diverse and be fair to that diversity. Is that perhaps one thing that could be attached to DH as a principle, at least in my practice and the one I’ll be teaching—embracing and exercising disciplinary, methodological, theoretical, cultural, and linguistic diversity? Is that something that taking DH instruction outside of particular departments offers?

To be continued.

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