The DH program at W&L began informally in 2012. The Dean of the College held discussions with a core group of faculty, librarians, and information technologists for one year. During that year, the group identified challenges and developed a vision plan.
Our long-term vision encompasses our primary challenge: DH was originally developed for research and, hence at a small liberal arts college, it requires adapting research-oriented digital practices as teaching strategies to enhance critical thinking among undergraduates.
We have already begun tackling the challenge of DH at a small liberal arts college and have set out on the journey toward our long-term vision. In 2013, the Dean of the College established the Digital Humanities Working Group (DHWG) and the Digital Humanities Action Team (DHAT). The Working Group is primarily designed to encourage awareness of and participation in DH at W&L. Guided by the Working Group, the Action Team is a resource for partnering with humanities and social science faculty in exploring digital approaches to teaching, learning, and scholarship. The Action Team is a joint initiative of the W&L Information Technology Services (ITS) and the University Library, and it is staffed exclusively by these two units. In sum, the Working Group provides the vision and the Action Team implements the vision. Significant overlap in membership exists between the two groups to ensure effective communication.
Capitalizing on our institutional vision and implementation structure, we have made significant accomplishments in the past two years, all of which are described in our recent article in The Academic Commons, “Launching the Digital Humanities Movement at Washington and Lee University: A Case Study.”
Our accomplishments to date include the following:
- We received funding from the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) R1 Collaboration program (a Mellon-grant funded initiative) to establish a partnership with Scholars’ Lab, a research-oriented, digital project incubator at the University of Virginia (UVA). The funding supported DH planning meetings at UVA, a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) workshop at W&L, and the development and implementation of the first Introduction to DH course at W&L.
- We held a kick-off introduction to DH in 2013 at our annual Fall Academy for faculty professional development featuring Bethany Nowviskie from Scholars’ Lab. In an effort to reach beyond the early DH adopters, we followed our introduction with a DH workshop series and a Winter Academy Day of DH. Because these sessions were open to other liberal arts colleges in the region, we hosted attendees from Virginia Military Institute and Sweet Briar College.
- In March 2013, we presented the first DH session at Science, Society and the Arts, a two-day, multidisciplinary W&L biennial conference featuring student research. Attendance was standing room only.
- We have developed an in-house suite of data-gathering and visualization tools consisting of an online, form-fed database (Forms Builder), a mapping tool (Mapplication) that leverages the Google Maps Application Programming Interface (API), and a timeline builder (Timeline) based on MIT’s open source SIMILE project.
- We coordinated the DH Incentive Grant Program. These internal grants were designed to encourage humanities and social science faculty, who were not early DH adopters, to replace their traditional end-of-term writing assignments with DH projects. Winners received a $1000 planning grant and support of the Action Team to help with implementation. To date, 16 courses require a DH project in lieu of a traditional term paper.
- We received support from, and coordinated with, the administrator of the W&L Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) program for further development of courses with DH projects. This collaboration is evidence of our intent to unify STEM with humanities and social science courses of study.
In June 2015, we received an $800,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation titled “DH Studio: A Digital Humanities Pedagogical Innovation.” Focused on curriculum development, this grant will fund the following:
- Develop and implement one-credit DH Studio courses. As lab courses for the humanities and the humanistic social sciences, these weekly courses will give students the opportunity to discuss the context of a topic, examine the important research questions guiding the DH methodology, review exemplary scholarly projects, and gain significant hands-on experience exploring relevant tools. Each DH Studio course will be a co-requisite to one or more full-credit courses in the humanities or social sciences.
- Provide DH summer research funding for faculty and student assistants to develop DH research projects and disseminate the results.
- Continue our DH Incentive Grant Program to encourage innovation in curricular development that incorporates DH projects in humanities and humanistic social science courses.
- Strengthen our successful DH pedagogy workshop series by combining it with a distinguished DH Scholar Speaker series at W&L.
- Send a team of faculty and staff to the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) each year at the University of Victoria.
- Establish a program for graduate students from the University of Virginia to provide teaching assistance in our intensive four-week Spring Term courses.
- Provide funding for student teams to attend targeted Digital Humanities workshops or mini-conferences within the United States.