Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles and Politics
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13. They Have Come, Why Won’t We Build It? On the Digital Future of the Humanities

Jon Saklofske, Estelle Clements, and Richard Cunningham


So many of [the] best-educated, best-placed people are too invested in old
social models and old visions of history.

Walter Russell Mead, “The Crisis of the American Intellectual” (2010)

They seem to feast on technology and have an aptitude for all things digital.
Don Tapscott, Grown Up Digital (2009)



In this chapter, we will suggest ways of implementing digital humanities instruction for students who, as Don Tapscott’s research shows, comfortably “watch […] movies on two-inch screens,” “text incessantly, surf the Web,” “make videos, collaborate” and “have a natural affinity for technology”.1 These students came into a world in which the digital age was in a comparatively infantile state and have shared their adolescence with the adolescence of our culture’s digital era.2 We start from the premise that these hi-tech immersed students are the vast majority of current enrollees in post-secondary education in the developed world, and therefore it is past the time at which widespread introduction of digital humanities curricula would have been a timely intervention in their collective education. Our title plays off the apparitional voice heard in “Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa,” the W. P. Kinsella short story memorialized as the 1989 feature film Field of Dreams: “If you build it, he will come.”3 We hold the situation in higher education to be the inverse of that desire. Rather than simply needing to attract students, higher education needs to respond to the overwhelming presence of those who, as Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan argue, “multitask and parallel process with ease,” “have shorter attention spans, especially when faced with traditional forms of learning”, and “complain that books make them feel isolated”.4 As Tapscott so effectively documents in Grown Up Digital, “the Net Generation has arrived,”5 so we ask: why have we not yet built what its members need and have every right to expect? Why have we not yet developed and implemented curricula more appropriate to today’s digital reality and tomorrow’s digital prospects than to the Gutenberg-era world in which most currently employed university faculty grew up?

Below, we begin with a discussion of at least some of the reasons for institutional resistance to change in the face of the explosive take-over by digital culture of what is variously called print or analogue culture. Following that, we introduce evidence that argues strongly for the recognition that the current post-secondary student generation has had a qualitatively different experience of technology from previous generations, and that they have been and are immersed in digital culture. From there, we will outline possible methods by which digital humanities could be integrated into existing programs and, in some cases, existing courses.

On the whole, we hope this chapter will be received as a call to action for those in the digital humanities, those wondering how to get involved in the digital humanities, and those who simply recognize that higher education needs to do something before the forces arguing in favor of home schooling, practical skills, and conformist ideologies in opposition to social engagement, theoretical sophistication and free, critical thinking convince our youth that higher education really is a waste of time. That call to action is a call to see the digital humanities as an opportunity rather than a threat, and as an opportunity to reinvigorate tertiary education in a manner that complements and participates in the “real” world of the student, rather than situating itself perpetually in opposition to the lived experiences of “the net generation.”

Institutional Resistance

Universities are by nature conservative entities. In the best understanding of conservation, universities preserve and profess Matthew Arnold’s definition of culture as “the best that has been thought and uttered in the world.”6 Although Arnoldian notions of culture and of the role of the university have long been out of fashion, passing along to new generations “the best that has been thought and uttered” is, we think, a reasonable interpretation of what “conservative” should mean when applied to the humanities side of the university campus—and perhaps anywhere else. Unfortunately, there is a more bureaucratic conservatism awake and at work there. Too often, universities embrace the status quo simply because it is the status quo; far too many of those who work on university campuses around the world work to conserve the ways things are done simply because it is the way they have grown accustomed to doing things. Perhaps it is how, when they were undergraduates, they saw their professors do things. Perhaps it is how, in graduate school, their supervisors taught them to do things. Perhaps it is how mentors taught them when they were, or now that they are, junior faculty. This is not to say people consciously fight change or refuse to adapt simply because changing or adapting would result in new ways of doing and of being. While there may well be some for whom such motives are operative, most are probably motivated more by inertia, a simple desire to stay in a zone in which they have grown comfortable.

The fear of change is often threatening because it is a species of the fear of the unknown. This kind of conservatism—the kind that resists change because of an admixture of comfortable familiarity with the way things are, complacency, and fear of the unknown and untried—often seems more prevalent in the old than in the young. Older faculty members have worked their way through the processes of renewal, tenure, and promotion, have shepherded others through those processes and in so doing have become invested in current systems, current structures, current ways of doing things, and the current state of the university. But in our experience, it is a mistake to believe a simple young/old dichotomy brings much explanatory force to the question of our title: “Why won’t we build it?” If universities embrace change like nudists embrace hedgehogs—not willingly and not often—it is not simply because young faculty and young administrators have not yet had their chance to change the world.

If only the old were afflicted with ingrained resistance to change, solving the problem of reflexive resistance would be comparatively straightforward: take the old out of the offices of power (limited though such power always proves to be) and place youthful new hires in those offices. But in the words of Canadian novelist and academic Robertson Davies,

The world is burdened with young fogies. Old men [and women] with ossified minds are easily dealt with. But [women and] men who look young, act young and everlastingly harp on the fact that they are young, but … nevertheless think and act with a degree of caution that would be excessive in their grandfathers, are the curse of the world. Their very conservatism is secondhand, and they don’t know what they are conserving.7

We fear merely replacing older office-holders and decision-makers with younger ones might simply create situations in which change is not merely shrugged off for reasons of comfort and complacency, but actively impeded out of a misguided sense of conservatism. Sometimes putting a younger person in an office with decision-making power only means more energy is available to oppose meaningful change. Thus, despite the fact that “the Net Generation has arrived,” a digital humanities curriculum can often face more opposition than support even from younger members of faculty.

Resistance to change can also be an unintended consequence of the oppositional relationship that seems increasingly characteristic of relations between administrative personnel and faculty. The roles of administration and faculty often blur, largely because university administrators typically come out of the ranks of faculty. In this shadowy arena, each side becomes suspicious of the other: administrators still seem to think of themselves as researchers and educators but, given that their teaching and research activity are all but suspended due to the demands of their positions, they no longer are. On the other hand, faculty often think they need not concern themselves with the institution’s financial health, when from an administrative perspective they are precisely the people best placed to help the university through trying financial times. Both sides claim that they have first right to the use of the university’s name and, as a result, both sides question the loyalty of the other. The oppositional politics that emerge from these blurry contests offer very few occasions for significant change to be effected by either side. When one side proposes change, the other side too often opposes it on a matter of general principle—whatever “they” propose cannot be good for us and for “our” institution.

Administrative concerns certainly include budgetary concerns, and nothing closes off discussion of potential innovation faster than a fear that it will require more or new resources in addition to what is presently provided. In the words of Roger Rosenblatt’s fictional but true-to-life character Professor Manning in the novel Beet, “The bottom line. As soon as that phrase crept into the language, [the] country was cooked.”8 More optimistically, Gordon Davies took a longer historical view when he reminded us that “there has always been a tension between the university and the funding source that could control the thought” from the church to the crown to the corporation, with the appropriate response being some version of insisting “that the earth goes around the sun even if it doesn’t comport with what the Holy Father says.”9 But even those who know the sometimes-hardscrabble history of the university and celebrate its recurrent triumphs over adversity recognize the futility of proposing any innovation likely to raise the cost of program delivery, or likely to sweep funding from under the feet of established programs. Therefore, the introduction of a digital humanities curriculum, overdue though it is, must be feasible and unthreatening—at least on financial and pragmatic grounds—to existing curricula.

The conservatism of the old, the misguided conservatism of “young fogies,” institutional inertia, and the perpetually present “current” financial climate all line up as formidable forces resisting the change digital humanities represents. But there is another reason why humanities faculty members might oppose what digital humanities so effectively represents. The humanities scholar has traditionally conducted their critical, analytical, and speculative inquiries into the human condition from a position institutionally constructed to be, or to enable the scholar to pretend to be, outside the actual condition of humanity. To be human is to be part of a mob. By nature, humans are social beings. There is no such thing as one human. If ever we were to degenerate to there being only one of us, the extinction of the human species would already be complete.

Nonetheless, the university has allowed, enabled, and encouraged professors to conduct research and perform their teaching duties as though there were no one else involved, as though no help were required, as though the community of scholars with which even the most misanthropic professor engages were only a devoted audience waiting with baited breath for the profound utterances sure to come from the mouth or the pen of the solitary scholar. If the university and its professoriate find themselves undervalued by twenty-first-century society, at least some of the blame must be laid at the feet of these mock-individualists. But more importantly, the ideology of the lone scholar has a tenacious grip on our institutions of higher learning—except perhaps in the sciences, where the practice of collaboration has been normative for longer than the working life of current-generation scientists. The final form of institutional resistance to which we draw attention, therefore, is that of the “lone” scholar who sees the collaborative model of the digital humanities as a threat not merely to a way of working, but to a way of life. It is immaterial that the threatened state of being was always a chimera. People believed in it to such an extent that they were able to design their cycles of productivity to conform to it: when the office door is open, I am available; when it is closed, I am working.

To build a digital humanities program in answer to the fact that society and its university-age citizens have changed will not require us to confront and overpower all of these forces of resistance. However, we do need to be aware of them. And we should be aware, to the extent possible, of the motivations—conscious or not—of those who bring them to bear in department or faculty meetings, at meetings of university senates or other governing bodies, or in consultations or confrontations between faculty members and administrators or students or other faculty members. Awareness of the causes of resistance, and of the motivations behind them, can enable builders of digital humanities courses and programs to work strategically as we attempt to drag our most conservative of social institutions further into the digital age.

Why the Net Gen is Different

In Multiversities, Ideas, and Democracies, George Fallis reminds us,

We live in extraordinary times. We are living during a technological revolution. Advances in computing, communications and information technologies are so rapid, so extensive and so transforming as to constitute a revolution comparable to the industrial revolutions. This is changing the way things are made, the way institutions are organized and the way we communicate. The character of our age is defined by the information technology revolution.10

When we started our research for this chapter we would have disagreed with Fallis’s characterization of our moment in history as “revolutionary.” Indeed, we have not yet completed our own internal debate on whether the more accurate term is “revolution” or “evolution.” But much of the evidence gathered does indeed suggest that “revolution” is more than mere hyperbole.

Hilbert and López conclude their article on “The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information” with the assertion that “the world’s technological information processing capacities” are “growing at clearly exponential rates”.11 Hilbert and López noted that during the two decades under examination, from 1986 to 2007, information that was previously stored in analog format (paper, vinyl records, and analog film formats) but had been migrated to digital formats increased from 0.8% to 94%. They point out that in 1986 the calculator “was still the dominant way to compute information” and as such it represented 41% of the 3 × 108 general-purpose million-instructions-per-second (MIPS) of computation. By the year 2000 the personal computer represented 86% of the 2.9 × 1011 MIPS. Worthy of note is the fact that by 2007 videogame consoles represented 25% of the total of 6.4 × 1012 MIPS of general-purpose computation taking place on the planet.12 Hilbert and López distinguish between general-purpose computation as that which can be controlled, tasked, and re-tasked by humans interacting with the machine, and application-specific computation, such as is embedded in electronic appliances or visual interfaces. Their research shows that in the seven years from 2000 to the end of their study “the introduction of broadband Internet […] multiplied the world’s telecommunication capacity by a factor of 29, from 2.2 optimally compressed exabytes […] to 65.”13

This research makes it indisputable that there have been profound changes during the lifetime of most of the planet’s current inhabitants: between 1986 and 2007, “general purpose computing capacity grew at an annual rate of 58%.”14 Seen in this context, the question of whether such profound change occurring in such a short historical period is revolutionary or not becomes almost a distraction. Consistent novelty amid constant change is merely the way things are for all students born into what Tapscott has labeled the “Net Generation.” In this world of constant and continuing technological growth and adaptation, current students have no experience of a time when, with apologies to Bob Dylan, “the times [were not] a-changin.’” For them, technological change—and the power and control it affords—are as integral to reality as was political instability to a French peasant during the Hundred Years’ War.

In Grown Up Digital, Tapscott reports the findings of an extensive data-collection exercise undertaken by his research team in a dozen developed and developing countries. The research on which Tapscott’s book is founded was a four million dollar project “funded,” as he writes, “by large companies.”15 As part of this research, data was collected from 9,442 people through interviews, surveys of Internet users, and ethnographic studies. His data set is large and his conclusions well founded. As noted above, he labels the current generation of students the “Net Gen,” an abbreviation of “Net Generation.” In Tapscott’s scheme, Net Geners were born from January 1977 to December 1997. One of the observations made in Tapscott’s industrial study is that “the Net Geners have grown up digital and they’re living in the twenty-first century, but the educational system in many places is lagging 100 years behind.”16 This gap between what they find and what they want and need in education is due in part to the fact that Net Geners “want to customize things” and “make them their own,”17 but institutional education is still mostly predicated on a capitalist model driven by an outmoded and centralized concept of copyright, institutional ownership, and professorial authority.

For Net Geners, “speed is normal. Innovation is part of life,”18 while educational institutions—especially universities—innovate reluctantly and change slowly, and then only after extensive agitation, discussion, debate, revision (usually aimed at minimizing the impact of change), and prodding. Tapscott calls the model he considers to be an accurate description of too much of the present educational system “the sage-on-the-stage approach to instruction,”19 and we find little basis to challenge this description. It is a model that has been practiced since the Middle Ages, since the earliest days of the university. (We might challenge Tapscott’s assertion that the educational system is lagging only 100 years behind.) It is a model that was reinforced when books were handcrafted, expensive, and scarce. The one who had the book—or at least had the greatest sustained access to the book—was, reasonably enough, recognized as the authority on what the text had to offer. Those who wanted to learn would gather in a hall to glean what they could from the master’s teachings.

When Gutenberg’s moveable-type printing press came along, eventually the cost and relative scarcity of books became less significant factors. With this, perhaps we would expect the sage-on-the-stage model to have changed more than it did. From the vantage point of the early twenty-first century, there is much to be thankful for that the sage-on-the-stage model survived as long as it did; certainly we should be grateful for the retention of expertise to guide readers through the core texts. But the role of the expert can be retained even as control of content loosens, and the media, through which students encounter content, change. The sage must step off the stage and circulate in real and virtual realms where the reason for their authority lies not in their elevated position but in their ability to demonstrate the validity of whatever assertions they advance. Net Geners seek to replace the university’s traditional “culture of control with a culture of enablement,”20 and the digital humanities offer many opportunities for this to happen.

Pedagogical Approach

The challenges of implementing digital humanities in pedagogy are complicated by what Luciano Floridi has dubbed the Infosphere: “the environment constituted by the totality of information entities—including all agents—processes, their proprieties, and mutual relations.”21 The blurring of boundaries between the analog and digital environments as they consolidate, coupled with the deterioration of borders between the learning space and the “outside world,” require increased skills in self-regulation, discernment, and analysis of information (that is, critical thinking), and collaboration.22

Digital humanities pedagogy also raises fears—such as the easy ability to plagiarize “intellectual property” from online, or the requirement of student-centric learning in a mutable online environment—and concerns regarding how new technology can be provided for students. Educators must work together with both students and administrative powers to acknowledge the existence and consequences of the ubiquity of technology in the learning environment. The circumstances raised uniquely by the Infosphere must be addressed through numerous philosophical and technological provisions to ensure successful education in the tertiary-level classroom.

Philosophical requirements demand a number of creative methods and realistic ways of thinking about the consequences of the cultural shift into the digital age. Certainly, there is a need for openness to the inclusion of new technology and information exchange formats (such as social networking) implemented in new and unique ways. The elastic boundaries of the Infosphere insist on collaborative education models to provide students with the opportunity to access and to build upon new ideas collectively, whilst maintaining the ability to create new thoughts independently. Further, students need not only collaborate with academic colleagues, but also with their wider community. The mutable nature of the digital environment demands flexibility, so that students can be allowed to bring their own ideas, knowledge, questions, and topics into the learning environment, as opposed to the strict set of guidelines that might be imposed by an instructor or administration.

Initially such freedom may seem daunting, but it can also be a liberating experience if one considers that this allows educators to share their own passions with students. If educators’ expectations are clearly outlined, students’ own passion for a subject can flourish alongside those of their academic facilitators. The opportunity to self-regulate their research means students are free to explore what they love best about a subject; in turn, this liberates educators from having to “hand-hold” their students through a subject. Furthermore, we must recognize various means of knowledge contribution through unique and differing methods of communication. Students should push the boundaries of traditional communication to present their intentions as authors with clarity. Educators should create assignments designed to provoke original means of knowledge presentation. Assessment strategies should provide feedback that includes visual or aural material in addition to the written word.

Practically, such steps require equipment and call for technological requirements to be met, and these requirements are more easily handled at the tertiary level than in secondary schools. Policies designed to protect minors and to prevent legal action in primary and secondary institutions currently restrict the techniques and pedagogical tools that educators in these institutions might otherwise use. But such policy-driven restrictions are unnecessary in universities, where students are not minors (and are therefore accountable for their own actions) or, if they are minors, the institution is considered in loco parentis and has the authority to waive such restrictions as those that obtain in the pre-tertiary system. Consequently, at the post-secondary level, pre-existent online resources (e.g. Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter) can all be harnessed to assist in educational endeavors.

A second issue from which tertiary education is released is the need for uniform access to identical resources—a move necessary in pre-tertiary education in order to promote a fair and equal learning environment for all students. But if post-secondary students choose to use different tools than those offered by the institution they should be free to do so. While some students have access to computers better equipped for film editing, others may possess mobile phone technology with the ability to capture high quality digital video. This alleviates many of the financial obligations universities find prohibitive, while introducing new technological opportunities to both staff and students. In this model, learning is student-centric and individual, allowing students to provide feedback to—and communicate amongst—themselves, using a variety of media and hardware. Just as it might be ideal for universities to provide students with access to new forms of technology and means of communication, students should also be allowed to introduce new tools and technologies to one another. A move toward tertiary education inclusive of digital humanities does not necessarily call for more technological apparatus than currently can be found in universities; rather, what is required is a change in the way we engage with such tools, and the willingness to open the classroom to technologies suggested by the student.

The practice of a digital humanities philosophy such as the one outlined above can be established through engagement with online resources. Social networking sites, such as Facebook, have the potential to assist in educational organization—to create class groups, circulate assignment information, and entice student participation and group work. Facebook, for example, might also be employed to create alternative educational opportunities, such as role-playing scenarios. Youtube might be used to promote supplementary lectures in a subject area, or to create and share streams of video feedback for dissemination or assessment.23 Weblogs provide students an opportunity to reflect on their thoughts and to gain new perspectives with classmates, while online resources such as the personal websites of professors or notable authorities grant access to new information in a subject area months before it appears in a print edition. The preprints of Luciano Floridi’s work that appear on his website ( offer an example of this method of accessing an author’s most current thoughts on a topic. More experimentally, distance between academics and students with similar interests can be alleviated through the use of online environments such as Second Life.24

Integrating Digital Humanities into Existing Programs

Integrating digital humanities into existing university programs and courses need not be a Herculean, much less a Sisyphean, task. However, various scales of adoption will require different levels of adaptation. Financial feasibility need be an issue only if a separate digital humanities department is considered. While this is possible, from our perspective it is not desirable: we assert digital humanities as a means of breaking down the exclusivity of disciplinary silos and encouraging exposure to technological opportunities across disciplines. Having a trans-disciplinary foundation, digital humanities operates somewhat antithetically to the established model of university organization into departments and faculties. Positing it as a “distinct society,” as a new independent discipline, would distort the applicability and potential of the digital paradigm shift. Furthermore, it would only encourage competitive, insular, conservative reactions from existing departments.

Undergraduate programs are already ripe for the introduction and integration of digital humanities ideas and practices, since most already seek to establish networks of experience between disciplines, combining a breadth of knowledge acquisition with the focus provided through a declared major. Thus, developing a digital humanities curriculum might be more easily accomplished if it is presented as an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, process. An initial step in such an evolution will be to work digital humanities into current curricula; such integration will require collaborative adoption. A persistent challenge to this will be ensuring that all involved are, and remain, on board. Digital humanities is not inherently about seeking new worlds or traveling in new directions, but exploring new methods of travel and considering new modes of cooperation—it is about reconfiguring the academic journey itself. Those involved need to be inspired and encouraged by solid leadership. Administrative understanding and support is therefore crucial. Such support can be as simple as acknowledging digital humanities as a priority in an institution’s strategic plan, or as complex as working out a system of inducements and rewards to encourage professors to join digital humanities experiments in pedagogy (and in research).

To integrate digital humanities into existing curricula, it is important to remember that digital humanities is not a discipline, not a theoretical approach, and not an end in itself of research or teaching practices. Rather, it is a means of scholarship and pedagogy that embraces the digital frame as its knowledge environment, inclusively and self-consciously moving beyond the exclusive and often unacknowledged hegemony of print cultural paradigms. To enable this means, the integration of digital humanities perceptions into existing programs will require the co-ordination of collaborative relationships between existing humanities, social sciences, professional studies, and computer science programs. Essential disciplinary players are likely to include literature, computer science, political science, sociology, philosophy, art and media studies, communication, psychology, history, languages, the performing arts, religious studies, and economics.

Faculty Participation

No matter how gradually it is done, changing universities into sites of digital engagement with both contemporary and traditional material requires that faculty be committed to exposing students to the most pertinent and useful processes and paradigms. But start small. Offer to guest lecture on digital humanities related topics or applications in colleagues’ courses. Collaboratively create electronic resources and bibliographies and make such assets accessible university-wide. Arrange to integrate informational links and pages on personal, departmental, faculty, and library websites. Give lectures or sponsor visiting speakers at your university on digital humanities-related research. Such initiatives will create awareness and a place for digital humanities in your institution.

Following a coordinated effort to raise the visibility and awareness of digital humanities within institutions, initial integrative steps should involve populating, or at least peppering, a university curriculum with digital humanities-related content and practice. Introductory courses in the above-listed disciplines should be encouraged to contain a unit or module on digital humanities theory and praxis. Usefully, digital humanities reflections could be explored at the end of existing courses as a comparative way to consider some of the more traditional curricular structures to which students have been exposed in the rest of the course. For example, in the final few weeks of first-year English Literature courses—in which students typically develop a communicative and rhetorical awareness by studying examples drawn from 500 years of Western poetry, prose and drama—students can be exposed to digital humanities-related material and practices, such as digital archives, e-lit, digital games, text analysis, and data visualization. This complement to a historical and genre based introduction to literature will reveal the potential impact of the digital revolution on print-based traditions, born-digital materials, and digital opportunities for knowledge creation and criticism. This initial incorporation of digital humanities-inflected material into established introductory courses can expand to incorporate assignments throughout the year as the use of wikis, virtual narrative worlds, and collaborative data visualization find their way into other courses.

Upper-level undergraduate courses can draw on students’ initial exposure in introductory courses and extend students’ digital humanities understanding and practice by upgrading and diversifying assignment and participation opportunities. Enhancing pedagogical practices with digital humanities frameworks creates the possibility to experiment with “humanities labs.” These digital spaces—akin to their scientific counterparts—can be procedural and process based environments where quantifiable experiments are done and the results of methodical processes related to larger hypotheses: one can explore the activated complex of literature and literary modes of analysis in a more participatory and networked way. One of the most desirable consequences of the collision between literary studies and digital humanities is the generation of these “humanities lab” spaces, experimental sandboxes where engineering and understanding can work in tandem. For example, in an upper-level romantic literature course taught by one of the authors of the present chapter, students both play and build interactive narrative spaces that are designed not simply to narrate or translate a book-bound story, but to construct a rhetorical argument about the book. These persuasive games are designed to offer a counterpoint to traditional essay argumentation, and students actually come to understand the all-too-often naturalized and unquestioned essay format in profound and useful ways after working through these alternatives. Roger Whitson, a romantic period scholar, teaches a course on William Blake and Media ( at the Georgia Institute of Technology, in which he engages his students via Twitter, Zotero and collaborative blogs.

Student engagement is the key advantage of such pedagogical evolutions, and what the implementation of digital humanities-related theory and praxis introduces into existing courses is an emphasis not on the what—the facts, histories, and artifacts of course content—but on the how, on the processes and the understanding of such processes related to the circulation and function of information in all its particular disciplinary incarnations.

Following from these initial integrations, digital humanities becomes less an unknown threat and more of a common denominator that will create its own opportunity to become an option for focused study at the upper-undergraduate level. To enable students to take advantage of this opportunity, universities could modify existing program requirements to enable undergraduates to declare majors that rely on a cooperative integration of courses offered through existing departments. Taking this further, graduate program possibilities raise the prospect of solid and unique co-supervisions, mutually influential mentorships between students and supervisors and, ultimately, the opportunity to prepare students for the next generation of innovation and progress beyond the first waves of digital humanities energies and speculations.

Funding and Budgetary Commitments

What kind of institutional financial commitment will be necessary? Given that national granting agencies in North America and Europe already recognize digital scholarship and pedagogy as a primary funding and investment priority, it is not unreasonable to expect that institutional budgets ought to reflect such prioritization. However, in these times of perpetual financial crisis, our suggestion is that minimal impact on current funding formulae will be not only the best, but also the only realistic strategy to introduce and integrate digital humanities into existing post-secondary practice. While the establishment of new departments is neither desirable nor necessary, the hiring of new faculty members is also not strictly necessary, especially if hiring opportunities in existing departments are configured to encourage candidates with particular strengths in digital humanities-related areas and topics of research to apply. And even in the absence of hiring to fill existing vacancies, because teacher-scholar models encourage a feedback loop between cutting-edge research and classroom content and practice, existing faculty members are more than capable of integrating digital humanities perceptions and practices into their individual courses.

In addition, and perhaps most importantly, collaborative teams of existing faculty members from different disciplines should be encouraged to deliver course content. This can be as simple as organizing systems of guest lectures and exchanges (in which two or more faculty members agree to equally participate in, and contribute to, each other’s courses during the term), or through infrequent combinations of two or more smaller classes into a larger integrated unit to host faculty roundtables, panels, or shared student activities (in real or virtual learning environments).25 More ambitious opportunities include designing entire courses as a series of internal guest speakers from across campus invited to give their perspective on a given topic. Such an “umbrella” course could still be coordinated, administered, and evaluated by a single faculty member from a single department and remain as part of a department’s core offerings. None of the above examples require additional administrative funding or faculty time commitment, and all serve as opportunities for modeling the cross-disciplinary conversations that digital humanities encourages.

Would any new technological resources or infrastructures be necessary? The short answer is “no,” but this response is based on the assumption that most post-secondary institutions engaged in programs of higher learning have already established the necessary digital network infrastructures, resources, and access for their faculty and students. Assuming, then, that most campuses provide wired or wireless access to the internet, and that students either have their own computers or access to computer labs as a fundamental part of their post-secondary requirements, the integration of digital humanities into existing courses would not place unreasonable demands or strain on existing technological resources. Indeed, the relative ubiquity of digital media and hardware in the lived reality of the early twenty-first century is what justifies the need to engage with and explore digital humanities in the first place. When existing technological infrastructures are lacking at a particular institution, the integration and emphasis of digital humanities within existing pedagogical structures can provide the rationale necessary for upgrades toward a baseline standard of digital operation and access. Again, this can be supported administratively by a strategic and budgetary commitment to technological capability as a fundamental operational standard.

The most challenging economic hurdle to overcome could also result in the most useful and productive opportunities for the sustained development of university programs. Universities would be well-advised to consider alternative models for determining departmental budget allotments. Funding models that do not pit each department against all others—sometimes by dint of faculty complement, sometimes by counting the number of students who declare a particular discipline as their major, sometimes by counting the number of students who take courses offered by the department, whether or not they declare that discipline their major—would result in a healthier overall environment. Taking a cue from national and multi-national granting agencies that recognize, prioritize and promote collaborative research, university financial plans should be configured to encourage integration and exchange between its departments. In other words, departments could be rewarded for the amount of cross-campus engagement modeled by faculty members and made available to students.

One potential adjustment that could support inter- or multi-disciplinary programs (digital humanities or otherwise) could see different departments hosting required core (digital humanities) courses but no one department claiming those students who have declared (in our example, digital humanities) as a major concentration. An alternative to this could be to offer digital humanities as a minor concentration, or to allow specific departments to establish digital humanities as a mandatory minor concentration for particular majors. To encourage departments to participate in a cross-disciplinary digital humanities program, students who take a required course from a specific department toward a digital humanities major could contribute to that department’s numbers/statistics used in determining budget allotments. Each department would receive credit for its particular course, eschewing the competitive strategy of departments fighting over or claiming majors as disciplinary possessions or economic bargaining chips.

Administratively, faculty members from different departments who plan to offer digital humanities-related courses would be expected to collectively determine program requirements for digital humanities majors, garner senate or governing-body approval for such curriculum modifications, and rotate advising responsibilities. While this might be met with resistance by faculty members who already feel overwhelmed with university-related service responsibilities, it reflects a decentralized program model that would require an initially larger time-commitment to establish, but not much more than a continuing committee responsibility to sustain.


Ill-conceived, inflexible, conservative practices are likely to doom universities in the near and middle term. Resistance to change ought to be recognized as the suicidal attitude it is in today’s post-secondary environment. Taking a wait-and-see attitude that cautiously preserves the status quo is akin to choosing an unnecessary slow death over the possibility of an innovative cure. In an era of budget crises, enrolment uncertainty, and an increasing lack of connections between university-level career preparation and professional practice, it would be foolish to ignore an opportunity to reinvent and reconsider existing paradigms and practices. Digital humanities represents an already-established movement away from the doom-inviting stasis of the secondhand conservatism of universities that know the Net Generation has come, and yet decline to build the education system Net Geners both want and need.

While it may seem unpleasant for many to envision universities other than as the medieval institutions they still resemble in so many ways, it may seem equally (or even more) unpleasant to imagine them as the corporations and businesses that others seem to expect them to be. The corporate model, as unpleasant as it is, has two things going for it: historically, this is the corporation’s moment; and, practically, corporate success involves taking risks, embracing diversity, and attempting to lead trends rather than follow them.

Seeing universities fail is, fortunately or unfortunately, a very real possibility in the frightening (but also opportunity-laden) historical moment in which we find ourselves. We believe that failing to integrate digital humanities into higher education’s collective consciousness will likely precipitate a large-scale failure of university-level humanities studies as the rest of the academy—indeed, the rest of the world—continues to move beyond knowledge systems that no longer account for significant chunks of a world already transformed by technological and communicative evolutions. This is not a doomsday scenario, but one that confirms the inevitable change in perception and the expansion of pedagogical possibilities that digital humanities affords. As Tapscott has demonstrated, “the Net Generation has arrived.”26 Whether the changes necessary to accommodate that generation’s needs, desires, and proclivities is recognized as an opportunity, or resisted as yet another assault on the status quo, may depend on the success of digital humanists in convincing administrators and faculty colleagues that “they have come, it is high time we build it.”


1 Don Tapscott, Grown Up Digital (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009), 9, my emphasis.

2 This characterization is based on the empirical data recently presented in Martin Hilbert and Priscila López, “The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information,” Science 332, no. 6025 (2011): 60–65.

3 W. P. Kinsella, Shoeless Joe (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982), 6.

4 Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan, iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alternation of the Modern Mind (New York: Collins Living, 2008), 25.

5 Tapscott, Grown Up Digital, 6.

6 Matthew Arnold, “Literature and Science,” Discourses in America (London: Macmillan, 1885), 122.

7 Robertson Davies, “The Table Talk of Robertson Davies,” in The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies, ed. Judith Skelton Grant (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1979), 310–11.

8 Roger Rosenblatt, Beet: A Novel (New York: Ecco, 2008), 7.

9 Quoted in David L. Kirp, Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 144–45.

10 George Fallis, Multiversities, Ideas, and Democracy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), 178, my emphasis.

11 Hilbert and López, “The World’s Technological Capacity,” 5.

12 Ibid., 4–5.

13 Ibid., 3. An exabyte or exibyte is the equivalent of 1018 bytes. It is the next order of magnitude in the quantification of data above petabyte, which in turn sites above terabyte.

14 Ibid., “The World’s Technological Capacity,” 1.

15 Tapscott, Grown Up Digital, xi.

16 Ibid., 122.

17 Ibid., 6.

18 Ibid., 7.

19 Ibid., 8.

20 Ibid., 6.

21 Luciana Floridi, “Information Ethics: On the Philosophical Foundation of Computer Ethics,” Ethics and Information Technology 1, no. 1 (1999): 44.

22 See Luciano Floridi, “A Look into the Future Impact of ICT on Our Lives,” The Information Society 23, no. 1 (2007): 59–64; Roger Silverstone, “Regulation, Media Literacy and Media Civics,” Media, Culture & Society 26, no. 3 (2004): 440–49; and Viviane Reding, “Media Literacy: Do People Really Understand How to Make the Most of Blogs, Search Engines, or Interactive TV?” press release by the Commissioner for Information Society and Media, European Commission, Brussels, December 20, 2007,

23 See, for example, the YouTube video created by Dr Michael Wesch and two-hundred students enrolled in his Introduction to Cultural Anthropology course at Kansas State University, Spring 2007: “A Vision of Students Today,” Digital Ethnography @ Kansas State University, October 12, 2007,

24 In April 2008, for example, Henry Jenkins, Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, gave a virtual lecture on Harry Potter fandom and social justice in Teen Second Life, a version of Second Life reserved for teenage users. For a video of the virtual lecture (and the impromptu dance party that followed), see “Henry Jenkins in Second Life Talks about Potter Fandom,” YouTube, May 2, 2008,

25 For a discussion of such a virtual pedagogical experiment across multiple campuses and countries, see Matthew K. Gold’s chapter, “Looking for Whitman: A Multi-Campus Experiment in Digital Pedagogy.”

26 Tapscott, Grown Up Digital, 6.