Goes High Tech

With new initiatives and pioneering instruction, Dyson College is poised to become a leader in educating students through the evolving arena of digital humanities.

This is definitely not your parents’ classroom. Today’s students of language, literature, history, and other humanities subjects are utilizing specialized computer databases, new software, and other tech tools to discover answers about our past and provide new insight for our future. This uniquely modern approach—known as the digital humanities—is transforming education, and thanks to forward-thinking faculty members and an innovative lab established in partnership with the School of Education, Dyson College is at the center of the revolution.

“Learning is in transition,” says Assistant Professor of English Kelley Kreitz, PhD. “In our classrooms, that looks like giving students more involvement in contemplating what we know and how we know it, and finding ways to involve students in projects outside the classroom.”

Creative coursework

While it can’t replace traditional research and writing exercises, utilizing technology is opening doors and providing new opportunities for scholarly inquiry by allowing unprecedented access to information and resources located anywhere in the world. It is also creating new possibilities for collaboration and academic contribution.

“Humanities scholars are truly harnessing the power of digital tools to push the boundaries of their research,” says Adjunct Associate Professor of History Maria Antoniou, PhD. “Art students can work on the creation of digital exhibitions where the curation and presentation of materials is a useful pedagogical exercise in examining questions of cultural value. Literature courses often encourage students to reflect on the role of space and place in a literary text. Geographic information system tools might prove to be of great help in a project that requires students to draw maps of geographical places visited by characters in a text.”

Antoniou’s hypothetical examples mirror what’s actually happening across the University, starting as far back as the 1990s, when Distinguished Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies Martha Driver, PhD, taught an interdisciplinary multimedia course in which students created websites in response to reading medieval and early modern literature. Driver still regularly receives inquiries from faculty around the world about the project, and she and Professor of Art William Pappenheimer have collaborated to offer The (Virtual) Poets Walk (INT 299V) for a second time to students in the Honors College in the fall 2019 semester.

According to the course description, the class was inspired by the Central Park Literary Walk, and students explore medieval and Renaissance poetry through the use of contemporary mobile technology.

Distinguished Professor of English Mark Hussey, PhD, also taps into technology in his courses. “Whenever I’ve used digital tools in a literature class, it has been to demonstrate variant editions of a text side by side, something that the digital environment is particularly useful for,” says Hussey. The founding editor of Woolf Studies Annual, a scholarly journal on the works of Virginia Woolf, he has contributed significantly to the creation of digital information on this seminal modernist author.

“Humanities scholars are truly harnessing the power of digital tools to push the boundaries of their research”

During the fall 2018 semester, students in Kreitz’s Latina/o Voices: Transnational Currents In American Writing (LIT 211U) class utilized digital tools in their analysis of Latina/o writers and their work. For one project they worked in groups to complete an archival analysis of various Latinx publications.

“We went to the New York Public Library to look through newspaper archives, find covers of Latino American–focused newspapers, and figure out the messaging and audience,” says Arin Goldsmith ’20. “It was interesting because I didn’t really consider that something like these archival databases was available. As a result, I discovered the Lincoln Center digital archives, which is extremely relevant for me as a BFA in Production and Design for Stage and Screen major.”

When Goldsmith and her classmates told Kreitz of the limited amount of centralized information available online about some of the Latina/o writers they were studying, Kreitz developed another project using digital humanities techniques. The students held an edit-a-thon to create entries on the writers for Wikipedia, the online open-source encyclopedia.

“We created a jumping-off point to allow anyone to see that these individuals were important people who contributed to our culture,” says Goldsmith.

In the [Babble] Lab

Pace’s Babble Lab was established in 2016 as its own jumping-off point, to further “re-imagine humanities instruction to prepare students with the knowledge, skills, and creativity necessary for active democratic participation in our digital age.”

“Babble Lab is the first digital humanities lab focused primarily on bringing teaching together with research,” says Kreitz, who co-directs the lab along with Associate Professor of Educational Technology Tom Liam Lynch. “We are also unique in including K–12, as well as higher education, in our thinking about digital humanities pedagogy.”

Currently, two of the lab’s key enterprises are BardBots, which connects the humanities and computer science in using robotics to analyze the work of William Shakespeare, and the Mapping New York City’s Nineteenth-Century Latina/o Press project. Through the mapping initiative, launched last year, students are painting a new picture of this vibrant community of writers and alternative media once centered alongside traditional publications such such as The New York Times around what is now Pace’s New York City campus.

During the spring 2019 semester, the Babble Lab team joined other New York City universities in hosting the annual New York City Digital Humanities Week (featuring workshops on digital humanities methods and tools for faculty and students) and opened a new virtual reality studio. The VR venture is a collaboration with Professor of Art William Pappenheimer.

“We are looking to make Pace a model of a new approach to higher education that traverses the boundaries of the humanities and the STEM fields,” says Kreitz. “Our goal is to prepare students not only to be nimble and strategic as they pursue their own career paths, but also to demonstrate leadership as they engage with the social, political, and ethical issues of the twenty-first century.”