Draft Remarks from Kelli Massa, University College London (UCL)

To quote the program’s website: “The Digital Humanities MA/MSc at UCL draws together teaching from a wide range of disciplines, to investigate the application of computational technologies to the arts, humanities and cultural heritage. The programme studies the impact of these techniques on cultural heritage, memory institutions, libraries, archives and digital culture.”

Located in the heart of London, students at UCL have the opportunity to regularly visit some of the most renowned cultural heritage institutions in the world. Lecturers in the digital humanities program often take students on excursions to some of the libraries, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions in London.

As a one year masters degree, the digital humanities program at UCL is quite accelerated and requires students to remain focused and stay on task with their courses, theses, and an internships. The program is divided into three terms. In terms one and two students take taught courses, in the first part of term three students complete work placements or internships, and in the second part of term three students finish their theses. (Note: At UK institutions a student writes a “dissertation” at the master’s level and a “thesis” at the PhD level. Since it is the opposite in the US, I have been and will be referring to this piece of writing as a master’s “thesis” rather than a “dissertation” to avoid any confusion.)

A combination of five required courses and three optional courses are completed over the first two terms. These include courses in programming, multimedia, digitization, markup languages, and many other areas. Students can shape their own degree focus based on the three optional courses they choose to complete. There is an option for an Master of Arts (MA) or an Master of Science (MSc), and the type of degree granted is determined by the courses taken and the focus of the thesis. Already holding an MA in literature, I chose to focus on computer science courses and receive an MSc. This flexibility allows for students to shape their degree based on what they want to pursue as a future career.

In the third term students are required to complete work placements, or internships, which are organized by one of the lecturers in the program. Past placement hosts have included Jisc, British Museum, National Theatre, British Library, Ubiquity Press, and Islington Museum. My internship was at Jisc, a registered charity that provides funding for digital initiatives in universities and other institutions across the UK. This internship provided me with the opportunity to see how a large organization functions, and it also taught me how to work as part of a project team. The work I did during my internship at Jisc also became the focus of my thesis.

Though planning for the thesis usually begins during the second term, the end of the third term is designated for its completion. Each student has an adviser who sets deadlines and reads over drafts of his/her thesis. My thesis was titled  “Supporting the Preservation and Sustainability of Software in Higher and Further Education Using Version Control Systems: A Case Study on Jisc’s Software Hub Project.” The abstract for my thesis can be found at: http://www.kellimassa.org/dissertation_abstract/

Upon completion of the program, students should be prepared to work in digital humanities at cultural institutions, universities, and other organizations.

The Digital Humanities program at UCL is within the UCL Centre for Digitial Humanities (UCLDH). The Centre has been involved in a wide range of digital humanities projects, including Transcribe Bentham, Textal, and QRator.

More information on the UCL Digital Huamnities MA/MSc program can be found at: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/dh/courses/mamsc

More information on the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities can be found at: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/dh/

Remarks from Kevin Kee, Brock University

A leading researcher of games studies was invited to one of America’s top universities to discuss the development of a new undergraduate program. After a tour of their world-class facilities, and a meeting with the Dean, he was asked for his advice. The solution, he told them, was to partner with the second-tier university down the road. They had created a similar program five years before, with great success. The Dean stared back in disbelief. Finally he spoke: it was simply impossible that they would partner with their little neighbour. That was was a second-tier university, after all, while they were one of America’s best.

The games studies researcher tells the story because he’s seen many “little neighbours” push ahead of their more prestigious peers in the domain of games studies. The reason, he believes, is that the universities out of the spotlight are willing to take a risk on a still nascent field. Leading universities worry about their reputation, and have consequently been late to the party.

His observation doesn’t apply to the digital humanities in general, which emerged from major institutions, some of which are represented on this panel. But in the domain of game studies, the story rings true. At my institution, the administration and faculty were willing to take a risk on a field that some regarded with suspicion. In 2006 we launched a digital humanities undergraduate program that we called “Interactive Arts and Science”, with a focus on computer games. It was our answer to this panel’s central question: How can humanities programs better equip students for a wider range of careers, without sacrificing the core values or approaches of the disciplines?

The Interactive Arts and Science program draws on, and enriches the study of the humanities because it requires an engagement with the core humanities disciplines: literature, history, art, and music. Our students take courses across the Faculty of Humanities, learning, to take one example, about myths in the Department of Classics, and art in the Department of Visual Arts. They draw on this experience to express, through their creation of computer games, what it means to be human.

The Interactive Arts and Science program simultaneously prepares students for employment, because creating digital humanities artifacts (such as computer games) requires mastery of digital tools and environments, and these skills can be applied to multiple contexts beyond the academic and cultural sector.

Our program has succeeded, as evidenced in increased institutional support (new faculty positions), increased participation by faculty across the university, increased student numbers and higher student quality (as measured by entrance averages), increased quality of student work (our graduating class placed first in the last province-wide competition for game developers, and in student placement rates after graduation.

One of the keys to our success has been our close relationship with the Generator at One, an interactive media business incubator in our community. We co-created and launched the progenitor of the Generator at One a year after launching the Interactive Arts and Science program. At the Generator, students pursue internships with companies to get practical experience, and leaders of nGen-based companies teach within the program in courses such as 3D modeling and animation, visual effects, and live-action filming. The partnership has contributed both to the students’ success and to the vitality of the area, helping the community to evolve from a manufacturing hub to a high-tech innovator.

The Interactive Arts and Sciences program also succeeded because of its resonance with key stakeholders. It appealed to the university administration, which saw in the program a way to differentiate us from our peers. It appealed to faculty with an interest in teaching in an emerging field. It appealed to students who are interested in all things gaming. And it appealed to our government funders, who see these kinds of programs as a way to prepare students to be skilled creators in the emerging interactive media industry, thereby enriching the economy. In these ways being a risk-taking little neighbour has paid off.

Remarks from Donnie Sackey, Wayne State University/Michigan State University

The Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellowship program was created in 2010 to present graduate students at Michigan State University with the opportunity to augment their interests in cultural heritage through the methodological study and creative application of information, communication, and computing technologies to cultural heritage materials (e.g. photographic prints, maps, and textual content). The program is housed in MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities & Social Science with sponsorship from the Graduate School, University Outreach & Engagement, The College of Social Sciences, the Department of History, the Department of Writing, Rhetoric & American Cultures, and the Department of Anthropology. The purpose of the program altogether is to create a space for young scholars to discuss issues related cultural heritage (esp. digital cultural heritage) and to create a community of thought leaders for the future of digital cultural heritage scholarship.

During the course of their residence at Matrix, fellows in the program develop a significant and innovative digital cultural heritage project. Each fellow receives $2000 per semester and an additional $1000 to continue the development of their project during the summer. Fellows also receive $1000 to attend gatherings (e.g. conferences or workshops) that will aid in the development of their projects. Some fellows enter the program with projects in mind; others work closely with other fellows in order to develop a scalable project that would act more like a proof-of-concept. Other responsibilities for fellows include, being in-residence at Matrix for at-least 6 hours a week, participating in weekly discussions that are usually driven by readings in digital humanities or new technologies, writing monthly blog posts for the CHI website, and developing a workshop for the cohort on a technology/platform/tool of their choice.

Here some examples of public scholarship available on the blog maintained by CHI fellows:

Rachel Hodder’s “Chewing on Digital Rhetoric” (@growinspirals)

Donnie Johnson Sackey’s “Mapping Spaces, Enabling Travel” (@donniejsackey)

Read more blog entries at: http://chi.anthropology.msu.edu/blog/

Here are some examples of projects built by CHI fellows:

Jennifer Sano-Franchini’s “DHShare: A Collaborative Bibliographic Repository” (@jsanofranchini)

Katy Meyers’ “Campus Archaeology Online Exhibit” (@bonesdonotlie)

Alex Galarza’s “Constructing the Ciudad Deportiva” (@galarzaalex)

Also check out this write-up of Alex’s project from the Chronicle of Higher Education: http://chronicle.com/article/The-Dissertation-Can-No-Longer/137215/

Taz Karim’s “Visualizing Adderall” (@PharmaCulture)

Madhu Narayan’s “Composing In/With/Through Archives: An Open Access, Born Digital Edited Collection” (@Ladymadrietta)

Introductory remarks and slides (Katina Rogers)

Here are my slides and introductory remarks for session 599.


Hello, everyone, and welcome to this roundtable discussion on rethinking higher education in the humanities. My name is Katina Rogers, and I’m the managing editor of MLA Commons. Before I started working at the MLA this past fall, I was a researcher for the Scholarly Communication Institute, a Mellon-funded humanities think tank that dedicated ten years to investigating the changing environment of scholarly communication, graduate education, and more. At SCI, I worked toward graduate education reform and broader career paths for humanities scholars, in part by conducting a study of career preparation in humanities graduate programs, and also by examining the various approaches and structures of existing innovative programs. Together with my colleagues Bethany Nowviskie and Jeremy Boggs, we began building a loose network to highlight the work that these programs were doing, and to provide a set of mix-and-match profiles that could help other programs to get similar initiatives off the ground.

I’m delighted that representatives from nearly all of the current Praxis Network participants are here to discuss their approaches to higher education in the humanities.


The Praxis Network consists of a small handful of programs that are student-focused, digitally-inflected, interdisciplinary, and frequently oriented around collaborative projects.

I think of each program in the Praxis Network as an instantiation of the kinds of innovative solutions that can alleviate current challenges in humanities higher education, such as a constrained academic job market and a growing need for new kinds of skills. Humanities programs have the opportunity to better serve their students as well as the public by really examining what our core values are, and rethinking the methods we use to teach them. The Praxis Network programs show just a few possible ways to move toward collaborative projects, public engagement, and embracing an ethos of openness and exploration.


The University of Virginia’s Praxis Program, represented today by Cecilia Márquez, is the founding partner in the network. The program was directed by Bethany Nowviskie until the end of 2013, and is now run by Purdom Lindblad. It brings together an annual cohort of six students from a range of departments in the humanities and social sciences, who work together to build a tool that can be used for humanities research and pedagogy.

Our partners in the Network are:

  • the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative, led by Ethan Watrall at Michigan State University, and represented today by Donnie Sackey;
  • the Mellon Scholars program at Hope College, which William Pannapacker leads, and I’m pleased that Bill could join us today;
  • CUNY Graduate Center’s Digital Fellows, under Matt Gold, who’s also here on the panel;
  • the joint MA/MSc program in Digital Humanities at University College London, led by Simon Mahony and represented today by Kelli Massa;

  • the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge at Duke University, run by Cathy Davidson and David Bell—thanks, David, for joining us;
  • Brock University’s Interactive Arts and Science Program, under Kevin Kee, who’s here with us;
  • and New Zealand’s University of Canterbury Digital Humanities Program, under the direction of James Smithies. Unfortunately, we don’t have a representative of the University of Canterbury here with us today, but I would encourage you to learn more about their program by visiting praxis-network.org.

Each of our participants will spend a few minutes talking about their program, and then the majority of the time will be devoted to discussion. We warmly encourage you to tweet during the session using the #mla14 hashtag, as well as our session’s hashtag, #s599.

Draft Remarks from William Pannapacker, Hope College

The Praxis Network Panel at MLA (#s599)
William Pannapacker, The Andrew W. Mellon Scholars Program in the Arts and Humanities at Hope College

How is your program’s structure/focus unique?

The Mellon Scholars Program in the Arts and Humanities was launched in 2009 with a $200,000 partnership grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Liberal Arts Colleges Program. It is based at Hope College, a medium-sized, residential liberal-arts institution in Holland, Michigan, on the west side of the state, not far from Chicago. The Mellon Scholars is a 24-credit program emphasizing interdisciplinary, faculty-student collaborative research, experiential education, and engagement with what we are calling the “Digital Liberal Arts.” Admission to the program is competitive, applicants need a faculty sponsor, and it is limited to first- and second-year students. Mellon Scholars participate in a cohort-forming, interdisciplinary seminar on traditional and digital approaches to scholarly research, writing, and presentation in a variety of forms, as well as the writing of grant proposals. After that students may choose from a variety of “experiences,” including intensified (“Mellonized”) courses, independent studies, collaborative research projects, a semester of research at the Newberry Library, or—beginning next year—at a funded internship experience at our “Digital Liberal Arts in the Workplace” program in Philadelphia. We are highly visible at our college’s annual research celebration; we sponsor student and mentor participation in conferences such as the National Council on Undergraduate Research and Posters on the Hill. And we have a competitive summer fellowship program that supports students working on their own projects with faculty and staff support. This year, the Mellon Foundation provided the program with an additional $500,000 to support our ongoing activities, and to foster more collaboration at the regional and national levels. Membership in the Praxis Program has been a crucial component of that; next year, in partnership with the Matrix Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University, a member of Praxis, we are launching an expanded faculty development series, led by one of their advanced graduate students, and based in a new Digital Liberal Arts Center, provided by our library.

Examples of a successful outcome (broadly defined)?

We measure the success of our program in several ways, not limited to the following:

  • The transformation of our college from one that was known for collaborative research in the sciences and social sciences towards one that also has comparable engagement in the arts and humanities. In three years, our annual research celebration has changed from an event that primarily showcased STEM projects to one at which students in the arts and humanities now give about one-third of the presentations.
  • A growing portfolio of online projects, especially ones that involve multiple students and faculty members across cohorts and disciplines and have the possibility of community engagement. Our Website shows some of those projects, and we are excited to be launching a large, archive-based, interactive publication on the history and culture of Holland, Michigan.
  • Engagement in the digital liberal arts by faculty and students beyond the Mellon Scholars Program. Increasingly, we are creating a culture in which students expect to develop digital projects in their classes, motivating more faculty to adopt new approaches and participate in opportunities for development and support for mentoring. Our applications have been increasing, our retention from our first to our third cohorts has improved from 30% to 60% to an estimated 80%, and our active tutorial board has been growing steadily since the founding of the program, from five to almost twenty faculty and staff members.
  • Successful placements after graduation from the program, including graduate school, fellowships, entrepreneurship, and immediate employment. In our first cohort of five students, one went to Harvard for musicology, another to the Sorbonne for art history; another received a Fulbright to Spain, one is the associate director of the Kigali Orphanage in Rwanda, and another is a director of social media marketing while working towards a career as a nonfiction writer. We want to reverse the narrative that arts and humanities students struggle after graduation.


The challenges are multiple, complex, and ongoing, but I think the standout, major challenge was that most faculty members, staff, and students knew little about the Digital Humanities, and more than a few faculty members seemed opposed to it as a distraction from traditional scholarship. We built the program on an established collaborative research model while finding ways to cultivate a cohort of supportive faculty across a range of disciplines who were willing to develop in a digital direction and to encourage their students to create online projects in addition to papers. Longer-term, we hope to obtain a commitment from our administration to sustain the program beyond the remaining four years of the grant; at present, they seem to view the program as a short-term intervention to shift the institutional culture, though it is unclear whether that shift will continue from its own momentum if the program is phased out. I would argue that engagement with new technology is going to be a long-term struggle that will need continuing support, possibly through more comprehensive curricular reform and faculty development initiatives in partnership with other institutions.

Draft Remarks from David F. Bell, Duke University

599. The Praxis Network: Rethinking Humanities Education, Together and in Public

The PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge, Duke University

David F. Bell, Co-Director

The PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge at Duke University is in its second year of operation, funded internally by Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School, and the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke. My co-director, Cathy Davidson, and I realized two years ago that PhD students at Duke, mainly in Arts and Sciences, needed a space for experimenting with digital research and pedagogical tools, the very sorts of tools that are destined to become a part of their professional research and teaching profiles very quickly once they have finished their degree. The PhD Lab has not been about recruiting PhD students to do digital humanities work, but, rather, about giving them an experimental space where they can discover together what digital tools can bring to their research and pedagogy.

As for the motivations of the students participants in the Lab, they are well aware that becoming university professionals in a context of increasing interest in various forms of online and flipped classroom formats, they will be called upon to demonstrate their knowledge of digital tools and perspectives. At present, one cannot always count on the home departments and programs of PhD students to be supportive of forays into digital work. For understandable reasons, of course, because intense concentration on disciplinary work in a field is a necessary part of what it takes to become a credible PhD researcher, and training that appears to divert effort from this central task can be seen as distracting by directors of graduate studies. This has the unfortunate occasional effect of isolating PhD students from their peers in related programs and preventing them from experimenting with digital approaches. The PhD Lab is conceived as a place where PhD students can meet and work together, where they can see what students in other disciplines are doing and exchange creative ideas about how to use digital tools and approaches. I want to add as well that at the beginning of the our first year in the Lab, Cathy and I received a passionate request to join the lab from a Master of Fine Arts student in Duke’s MFA in Experimental and Documentary Studies program. We were lucky enough to say yes, and we quickly discovered that the design experience and vision of the MFA students enriched the perspectives of the PhD students: this year five of the twenty-two members of the Lab are MFA students.

The model for work in the PhD Lab is not the course or the seminar or even the certificate program. We expect the participants to self organize, to create groups interested in exploring particular tools or particular digital approaches. But the first thing we ask our lab participants to do is to begin to manage their online profiles by creating a website, generally in WordPress, where they present their professional work in whatever form makes them comfortable. An informal survey of MLA members involved in searches at their institutions last year indicated that a substantial majority had looked for information about job candidates online. There is an inevitable public face to the research in which PhD candidates are engaged, and it is in their best interest to present their work as succinctly and persuasively as possible from their own perspective.

I would say that our clearest successes at this point have been in giving the Lab participants the confidence to introduce digital approaches into their TA teaching contexts, because, as we know, PhD candidates are not only students, they are also—and simultaneously—teachers. Gaining the proficiency to manipulate certain digital tools and discussing with others the most enriching and efficient ways to introduce them into a classroom has produced tangible results in the Lab.

Examples of PhD Lab outcomes:

Mary Caton Lingold’s “Studies in Music Genre” writing course sound essays:
and her “Sounds of the South” class sound essays:

Amanda Starling Gould’s “Augmenting Realities: Technoscience, Digital Art, & Electronic Literature” WordPress course site:

Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies, produced by the graduate students in Cathy Davidson’s spring 2013 course on 21st Century Digital Literacies:

Digital History series organized by the historians in the Lab group:

Cathy Davidson’s Coursera course in which PhD Lab students have been invited to participate:

The soundBox group, supported by the PhD Lab, is exploring ways to incorporate sound into scholarly presentations and arguments:

Prompted by a PhD Lab discussion about FERPA and student privacy issues in the classroom in courses where public blogs and other public digital tools might be used, Kevin Smith, Duke University’s Director of Copyright and Scholarly Communication, produced a brief best practices document for the PhD Lab students:

Praxis Network and Vulnerable Times

We’re delighted that our panel on the Praxis Network is included among the sessions related to this year’s presidential theme, Vulnerable Times. A brief post about the panel and how it fits into the theme is available on the MLA convention blog.

The session will be open to the public, so all are welcome! To learn more about the Praxis Network prior to the session, please visit praxis-network.org.

We look forward to the discussion in Chicago.

Session Description

Session 599 (#s599), Saturday, 11 January, 3:30-4:45 p.m.

How can humanities programs better equip students for a wider range of careers, without sacrificing the core values or approaches of the disciplines? While not new, the question becomes more urgent as public funding for the humanities shrinks and the proportion of contingent faculty grows. Rather than see these pressures as threats, however, many programs see in them an opportunity to develop vibrant programs that take a broader view of possible methodological approaches, research products, and desirable career outcomes.

The participants in this proposed roundtable are all members of the Praxis Network, a new international partnership of graduate and undergraduate programs that are making effective interventions in the traditional models of humanities pedagogy and research. They represent programs that are embarking upon collaborative, interdisciplinary, project-based approaches to humanities education.

The Praxis Network features graduate programs at the University of Virginia, Michigan State University, CUNY Graduate Center, University College London, and Duke University, as well as undergraduate programs at Hope College and Brock University. By bringing together a collection of diverse programs that all aspire to similar goals of increasing the effectiveness of humanities educational practices and making their methodologies more widely applicable, we hope to spark ideas among institutions that are exploring similar initiatives. Each roundtable participant will give brief remarks to introduce their program, leaving substantial time for broader discussion and questions.

The partnership is one of three complementary projects in the Scholarly Communication Institute’s latest work on rethinking graduate education. A recent SCI study on the level of career preparation provided by graduate programs makes it clear that most graduates and their employers find that they do not gain many of the skills that are important in their professional environments—such as collaboration, project management, and communication with varied audiences—through their graduate programs. The Praxis Network provides a closer look at select programs that have taken unusual and effective approaches to addressing some of the issues that the survey uncovered.

Beyond preparing students for a broader range of careers, the Praxis Network programs also provide excellent models for the relevance of humanities scholarship in a changing public landscape. With federal and state funding for higher education facing tremendous pressure, making humanities scholarship meaningful to a much broader audience is critical. Fortunately, scholarly work is becoming increasingly available to a broader and less specialized public, whether through open-access journals, via blogs and personal websites, or as standalone digital projects. The programs in the Praxis Network address these two trends by encouraging students to develop public-facing projects that are accessible to non-specialists, without sacrificing disciplinary rigor. In fact, the students’ research output shows that encouraging students to think critically about their intended audience helps them to better grasp not only what is appropriate for the general public, but also what matters to their academic peers.

Humanities programs have the opportunity to better serve their students as well as the public by examining our core values and rethinking the methods we use to teach them. Increased public engagement is not only valuable to general audiences, but also healthy for academic disciplines and for individual graduates. Still, a great deal of work remains before humanities departments will commonly evaluate their success through outcomes other than tenure-track job placement. For wide-scale change to be possible, programs must find it valuable to equip students for varied careers in universities, libraries, cultural heritage organizations, non-profits, government offices, and more.

The programs in the Praxis Network show the tremendous potential of encouraging students to approach humanistic inquiry in new ways as the discipline moves toward embracing increased collaboration, meaningful public engagement, and an ethos of openness and exploration. Bringing together representatives of each program in a roundtable discussion will provide a fruitful opportunity for others in the humanities community to learn about the developments, to ask questions relevant to the goals and directions of their own institutions, and to spark new ideas for growth and change.