Fall 2018 DLA Review

Vermont Life magazine. Photo: Jon Olender.

It was an action-packed fall at the DLA. Our Digital Fluencies Series continued to introduce more intensive investigations of “digital fluency and critical engagement”—a key direction in Middlebury’s strategic plan. The Davis Educational Foundation-funded Digital Pedagogy Zoom Sessions brought faculty together with guest speakers in a “Hollywood Squares” style videoconference format for presentations and discussion. The Behind the Scenes series featured conversations about digital research by Middlebury faculty as well as work by visiting scholars. Our three DLA Fellows met monthly to exchange ideas about their developing digital research projects. And faculty participating in the Davis grant met to explore different approaches to and examples of new modes of digital pedagogy at Middlebury. Meanwhile, we were able to provide microgrants to support a number of exciting digital projects that are either starting up or continuing to advance toward completion.

Digital Fluencies Series

To continue to deepen the Envisioning Middlebury concept of digital fluency as a goal for students, faculty, and staff at Middlebury, we met four times this fall to focus on different implications of digital technologies for liberal arts critical thinking. In September, we explored Johanna Drucker’s intriguing concept of Speculative Computing. In October, Digital Projects and Archives Librarian Patrick Wallace helped us think about The Technology & Ethics of Social Media & Web Harvesting. In November, Dean of the Library Mike Roy led a rich discussion of Digital Publishing, Problems & Possibilities. And in December, Amy Collier shared her work on Misinformation & Bots/Sockpuppets.

Davis Digital Pedagogy Zoom Sessions

In September, our Zoom session featured (Some Ideas About) How to Teach Digital Humanities with Ryan Cordell of Northeastern University. Using his now-classic essay on “How Not To Teach the Digital Humanities,” Ryan emphasized how his courses focus on hands-on experiential learning that also delves deeply into topics in literary studies.

In October, Lauren Tilton of the University of Richmond helped us think more about public scholarly work with students out in the world at The Digital Public Humanities, Giving New Arguments & New Ways to Argue.

In November, at Using An Editorial Pedagogy to Peer Review Students’ Multimodal Texts, Cheryl Ball of Wayne State University led a marvelous conversation about teaching writing by having students themselves design their own learning goals and criteria.

Behind the Scenes

In October, a group of scholars from France and Brazil joined Middlebury faculty and staff for the kickoff symposium of the Atlantic World Forum, a new collaborative project directed by Michael Kramer that supports international scholarly collaboration through the creation of an annual digital roundtable on specific topics in transatlantic cultural history. The symposium, Creating Digital Scholarly Dialogues About Atlantic World Cultural Histories, provided a veritable feast of scholarship and set the stage for what the DLA hopes will be a transformative global digital humanities project that connects faculty and students at Middlebury to an international network of scholars for deep inquiry into Atlantic World history through digital collaboration and multimedia essay development. The project brings together primary sources with historiographic debate and will offer a model of how to connect traditional historical inquiry to experience-based learning for students. With participation from faculty and students at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and the Schools Abroad, the Atlantic World Forum will also provide a model of how to translate and disseminate knowledge for teaching and learning globally.

In November, Carol Stabile of the University of Oregon joined us to share information about her developing collaborative project, Reanimate, An Intersectional Feminist Digital Publishing Collective.

Later that same month, Norton Owen, the Director of Preservation at Jacob’s Pillow, shared the Jacob’s Pillow Interactive website through the Movement Matters See Michael Kramer’s DLA blog post about the event, Dancing In and Out of the Digital Archive.

November continued to keep us busy. Middlebury Arabic professor Dima Ayoub gave us an update on her DLA-funded digital analysis of the paratextual components of Arabic-to-English literary translations. Glossing the Glossary, Digital Approaches to Paratexts and Power in Arabic Literature explored the promising collaborations Dima has undertaken with Data Services Library Ryan Clement as well as two students, Mari Odoy ’20 and Will O’Neal ’20, who wrote about their summer experience conducting research with Dima in Two Students Take a Digital Humanities Approach to Arabic Literature. Bringing together close and distant reading tactics through data-driven text mining, Dima’s project brings digital humanities to bear on translation studies, but also makes clear that translation studies has important concepts and ideas for digital humanities. We even posed the intriguing hypothesis: are “distant readings” of literature done computationally themselves a new form of the paratext?

In December, the digital liberal arts got scientific. We also, simultaneously, got animated. At Animating Biology, A Collaboration Between A Biologist & the Middlebury Animation Studio, Animation Studio student Michelle Lehman and Animation Studio Director Daniel Houghton were joined by Heinz-Given Professor of the Pre-medical Sciences Grace Spatafora to discuss the collaborative animation work Michelle completed for Grace’s research on Streptococcus mutans, one of over 600 bacterial species in the human oral cavity. Most fascinatingly, Dr. Spatafora explained how Michelle’s thoughtful, scientifically accurate animations made her consider new aspects of her research. It was a reminder that the arts, technology (the Animation Studio uses the Blender application among other sophisticated digital tools), and science can be mutually enriching in revelatory ways. Animating science caused Michelle, herself a neuroscience major, to think in new ways about her animation and artistic work. Just as crucially, the questions raised by accurately visualizing Streptococcus mutans caused Grace to ask new questions about her scientific research.

In this way, interdisciplinary exchanges enabled by the digital liberal arts are not only about finding new ways of communicating scientific findings to a broader public (a noble goal in of itself); they can also lead to unexpected discoveries in the research itself. Animation become not just a fun “bell and whistle” added to the serious work of scientific research, but rather a contribution to the research. Similarly, the questions raised by the collaborative goal of visualizing Streptococcus mutans contributed to new skills and concepts in Michelle’s animation work. The animation enhanced the science; the science enhanced the animation. This suggested to us that when they talk to each other digitally, the sciences, the arts, and the humanities have the potential to yield new knowledge.

As a final note, we were also delighted to be joined by a large number of students at our last Behind the Scenes, and heard from them about ways to facilitate more student involvement in the DLA.

DLA Fellows & Davis Grant Faculty Lunches

Our three 2018-19 DLA Fellows—Brigitte Humbert, Natalie Eppelsheimer, and Will Nash—met monthly to share developing digital research over lunch. New research strategies and questions emerged from the mix of conceptual conversation and practical problem solving. Plus the sandwiches from Otter Creek Bakery were delicious.

Meanwhile, faculty participating in our Davis Grant focused on digital curricular innovation in student thesis work and courses in four departments—History, American Studies, Film and Media Cultures, and Sociology—continued to meet to discuss teaching ideas. Louisa Stein’s Theories of Spectatorship found students exploring the boundaries between print and digital culture by creating a printed ‘zine that they bound together into a book and then digitized; ironically, many of the printed ‘zine pages students created were printed out from the Internet, thus reminding us that the boundaries between print and online mediation are less rigid than we think, with modes of spectatorship crucial to their intermediality. Kathy Morse and Michael Newbury, meanwhile, worked with the DLA and Davis Family Library’s Special Collections division to digitize the full run of Vermont Life magazine and share it for the public through the Internet Archive; students then spent the fall exploring how to analyze the magazine and its history digitally.

Overall, it was a busy, rewarding time at the DLA, and we look forward eagerly to winter and spring 2019 events, culminating in a planned DLA Symposium in the spring of 2019.