Aaron’s Day of DH

Hi Everyone,

My day of DH has just finished up, which means I finally get to write a blog post! Though it is 8:06 (EST), you can rest assured that I am adequately ensconced with my laptop and ready to give you a bit of a run-down of what DH looks like from a small college perspective.

Like so many others before me, I am an alumnus of the ETCL. I’ve just finished up my first academic year as an Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities and English at Penn State Behrend. We are the largest commonwealth campus of Penn State, tucked up in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania on the shore of Lake Erie. Our campus is a world leader in plastics engineering with strong programs in business and, just recently, Digital Arts, Media, and Technology! I’ve been working with an exceptional group of people to develop the curriculum on a new undergraduate major that collects a diverse set of digital practices to engage with the social and cultural issues of the 21st century. We offer students the opportunity to specialize in digital video production, photography, digital animation, data visualization, digital archiving, and text analysis! We’ll be offering all the prerequisites for the major this coming fall. Needless to say, we are absolutely thrilled about all this.

As part of this new major, I have also been lucky enough to establish the Penn State Digital Humanities Lab this past year. We have been working on building our online presence and internal working documents throughout the year. The Lab is being conceived as an undergraduate focused research space that offers the resources for faculty from across the humanities to collaborate with students on a range of projects. This summer, for example, our first cohort of young DHers will be completing self-directed research fellowships in the Lab. Their goal will be to contribute to the fledgling 12th Street Project and present their findings at our undergraduate research conference. In the words of the project’s About page,

The 12th Street Project is a major collaborative effort of the students and faculty at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. Hosted by the Penn State Digital Humanities Lab, 12th Street collects the history, culture, and contemporary voices of those living in Erie, PA. The project takes its name from a major street in Erie that has been lined with factories and businesses throughout the region’s history. We take 12th Street as a microcosm of the social, cultural, and economic forces that have shaped the region since the mid-19th century. Together we are charting the history of the region in an effort to imagine its potential futures.

It is a contemporary history project that will include creative as well as critical works. Photography and poetry will be placed alongside cultural criticism and theoretical works; student authors will find a voice alongside professional authors who are experts in their field. We’ll be building the site in Omeka and use the Neatline add-on to plot this aggregate cultural and economic history along the street for which the project is named. We’ve had interest already from various community groups and even the Erie Chamber of Commerce! We are really excited for the potential community impact of hosting an open project for contributions from both student and community members.

So, my today of DH was spent attending various campus level meetings and drafting an article or two on the curriculum and pedagogy work we’ve been doing this past year. Thankfully, my day was broken up with a great meeting with one of our research fellows. It was so great to see how his proposed history of rail in northwest Pennsylvania is shaping up! Of course, since he’s also a professional photographer, you can guess that he’ll have a pretty fantastic looking project to contribute about our rail history. You may not be aware, but Erie was the site of the great Gauge War of 1854!

DH, from the south shore of Lake Erie, looks to be collaborative, open, and local. We are not really even thinking about DH as DH. Our students are working as cultural workers, and the tools most appropriate for this work so happen to be digital tools. They are a kind of social entrepreneur who are deeply invested in their community, both on and off campus. Our students are energetic, excited, and fearless. Needless to say, I’m just thrilled to get to work with them!

Happy day of DH everyone!


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