Brett Bobley, Director, and Jennifer Serventi, Senior Program Officer in the Office of Digital Humanities (ODH) at the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) answer some questions about NEH-funded professional development opportunities in the digital humanities and how they might benefit faculty and staff at small liberal arts colleges. Several Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities are now accepting applications. Check out the list with application deadlines under “Upcoming Dates and Events” on the ODH home page. Recently I asked Bobley and Serventi to explain why faculty and staff from institutions in the NITLE network should consider attending one of these institutes. Read on to see their answers to my questions.
What are the Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities?
The Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities are professional development opportunities for faculty and staff in the humanities to learn about these new technology-based approaches to enhance their scholarship and teaching. The Office of Digital Humanities of the NEH hopes to increase the number of humanities scholars using digital technology in their research and teaching and to broadly disseminate knowledge about advanced technology tools and methodologies relevant to the humanities.
The grant program works like this: An institution (typically a college or university) applies to the NEH to lead an institute. In their application, they describe the topic for the institute, the syllabus, the faculty lecturers, and how many people they can support as participants. If selected for funding, the institute receives a grant from the NEH to host the institute and also cover the travel costs for their faculty lecturers and participants. During the next stage, the newly-funded institute sets up a website and hosts their own open call for participants. Typically, the participants can be faculty members, librarians, museum staff members, advanced graduate students, or other folks relevant to the topic. Potential participants will have to fill out an application form and perhaps a short essay and send it to the institute to be considered.
Many of these institutes are very popular – so if you are keen to be a participant, it is good to send in your application to attend far in advance. A list of the current offerings for the Institutes program may be found on the ODH section of the NEH website.
Since these topics are advanced, do participants have to be doing research in the digital humanities to qualify?
It really does depend on the particular topic. Some are squarely aimed at researchers. Others also are appropriate for librarians, academic technologists, or university administrators. During the application process, potential participants should describe why they would be a good fit for the particular opportunity. They should clearly describe in their application materials what they hope to learn by participating in the institute and discuss how the topic relates to their current scholarly interests.
Are these institutes appropriate for faculty and staff at small liberal arts colleges? Have past participants come from small liberal arts colleges?
Yes, the topics covered by institutes are very appropriate for faculty and staff at small liberal arts colleges. And they have been part of past institutes as both institute faculty lecturers and participants. For example, Anne Kelley Knowles from Middlebury College and Diana Sinton from the University of Redlands were faculty lecturers for the scholarship track at UVA’s Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship in 2009. Also in 2009, Alex Juhasz from Pizter College was a participant in the USC’s Vectors-IML Summer Institute on Multimodal Scholarship. Patrick Rashleigh from Wheaton College was one of the participants in George Mason University’s Summer 2010 One Week | One Tool Institute. And in summer of 2011, Kathleen Fitzpatrick from Pomona College will be a faculty presenter at two of the institutes: the Evaluating Digital Scholarship institute at UVA and the Vectors-CTS Summer Institute on Digital Approaches to American Studies at USC.
Faculty from smaller colleges and universities play a very important role in the digital humanities. In fact, when the New York Times recently wrote a lengthy survey piece on the digital humanities, one project they focused on was the NEH-funded Digital Mappaemundi project, lead by Martin Foys and Shannon Bradshaw of Drew University and Asa Mittman of California State University, Chico.
How can these institutes help advance scholarship and teaching at small liberal arts colleges?
Participants in these opportunities will not only learn about new approaches and methodologies in digital humanities to use in their own scholarship and teaching, but also have opportunities to meet other scholars and staff working on complementary projects. These institutes are an opportunity for faculty to become part of the larger community of scholars learning to apply digital technologies and techniques to research and teaching in the humanities. Given its scope and the technical skills required, much of the scholarship in digital humanities is collaborative. These institutes offer a chance for participants to engage with their colleagues to share ideas and insights.
Are any of this year’s institutes particularly appropriate for beginners or faculty from specific disciplines?
All of the institutes would be appropriate for faculty from a variety of disciplines depending on the teaching or research goals of the particular faculty member and the curriculum to be covered during the institute. That being said, the University of Denver’s Institute for the Digital Humanities should provide a nice introduction to using multimedia tools for research and teaching in various humanities disciplines and the Institute for Globally Networked Learning in the Humanities from SUNY’s Center for Collaborative Online International Learning should be of great interest to teachers seeking ways to make international connections for their classrooms.
How do this year’s institute topics reflect current trends in the digital humanities?
We have some wonderful topics for this year that speak to larger issues in the digital humanities. UVA’s Evaluating Digital Scholarship is considering how the field of literary studies “evaluate[s] and grant[s] credit for born-digital scholarship” and asks “What are the intellectual stakes of such work, and how might we better understand the changing nature of scholarly inquiry and communication in a digital age?” In addition to scholars from literary studies, the institute’s directors are hoping to include “administrative or institutional leaders engaged with policies related to peer-review and promotion/tenure” as participants.
Addressing the issues raised by Digging in Data Challenge, at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte’s Computer Simulations in the Humanities, participants will study how to use computer simulations and modeling techniques on large collections of humanities materials.
Other topics in this year’s offerings include digital methods in archaeology aimed particularly at beginning scholars, connections and collaboration in international education, and new modes of and venues for scholarly communication.
What happens when participants return to their home campuses? Once the institutes are over, what kind of follow-up support is available?
Often the institutes have provided for formal follow-up opportunities for participants to continue their conversations and receive additional guidance on research efforts. For example, UCLA’s Networks and Network Analysis for the Humanities Institute is hosting a conference in the Fall of 2011 for the participants from the Summer 2010 institute to reconvene to discuss their post-institute efforts. Similarly, the University of Denver’s Institute for the Digital Humanities provides an opportunity for a follow-up teleconference in December 2011 and a two-day in-person meeting in September 2012 to carry on the discussions and activities begun at the initial five-day institute held in June 2011. We also know that the connections made at the institutes lead to ongoing conversations among the participants in more informal ways as well. For example, some institutes are using Twitter as a way to continue and broaden the discussion during and after the conclusion of the in-person institutes. Anyone can follow the hashtags #geoinst (for the Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship) and #anthologize (for the One Week|One Tool Institute).
We do hope that faculty and staff at small liberal arts colleges consider applying to attend one of the Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities. Not only are they great fun, but the institutes provide an introduction to exciting approaches and methodologies that can be applied to scholarship and teaching in the humanities.
In addition, we’d also encourage liberal arts colleges to consider applying to host and lead a conference next year. Our next application deadline is February 16, and the guidelines are available on the NEH website.