Digital Public Humanities

Day/ Time: T/TH 1-2:30pm
Location: Seminar Room, John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage (2nd floor)
Office Hours: Thursdays 11:30-1pm or by appointment (my office is down the hall from the Seminar Room in the JNBC)
Email: james_mcgrath[at]
Twitter: @JimMc_Grath
Course Hashtag: #dhJNBC

Course Description

 What is digital humanities and how does it impact and intersect with the field of public humanities? Digital humanities work involves new approaches to reading, writing, research, publication, and curation: digital tools help us examine digital and non-digital material in innovative ways, and digital modes of communication help us reach new and wider ranges of audiences. While many of you are no doubt aware of the ubiquity of digital technology and the massive amounts of time people spend with digital media, my hope is that this course provides students with the opportunity to create digital projects and utilize digital tools to further their academic and professional interests.

 In this course, students will:

  • Examine the recent (and still developing) history of digital humanities and the uses of digital spaces and tools by cultural institutions, academics, and other parties (artists, activists, community reps) interested in various forms of public engagement
  • Consider the place of digital initiatives less as a stand-in for “analog” work and more as projects in conversation with physical archives, exhibits, and events
  • Review best practices for the creation, management, publication, promotion, and preservation of digital exhibits and objects
  • Complete a project (ideally something you can add to your professional portfolio) designed to circulate publicly that demonstrates your familiarity with digital tools and contexts

Links and additional information on course readings can be found on the Schedule page of this site.

Important updates about the course will be circulated by me via email. We’ll also have a blog that will be hosted here: details on its use below.

Required Materials

Reliable web access. Given the nature of this course, it’s essential that you be able to get on the web on a regular basis. Please see me if you have any questions about this requirement or if you’d like to talk about resources here at Brown.

Digital hosting for your project. You are not required to pay for a web site, but we will discuss the advantages / disadvantages of having server access / using a free site (WordPress, Tumblr, etc.). Do not worry about this requirement on the first day of class: we’re going to talk about various content management systems and platforms early in the semester, so you’ll want to review your options and think about what works best for you and your work.

-You are not required to bring a laptop, tablet, and/or smart phone to every class, but access to web materials during class discussions may be extremely useful.

There is no required textbook for the course, but there may be moments when recommended additional readings might point you in the direction of texts available via the library’s resources.

-I’ve chosen #dhJNBC as our course Twitter hashtag. You are not required to use Twitter or use it in the context of this class (beyond brief occasions where you may be asked to review how public humanities scholars use Twitter). That being said, students who use Twitter in professional contexts (or may want to) should feel free to use it.

Course Readings

Course reading are outlined in the semester calendar. Direct links to readings can be found on the course site. If a reading is not publicly accessible online, I’ll get it to you by other means.

Course Policies

I expect that students will regularly attend class sessions, keep up with readings, and submit graded work on time. I also assume that students will participate in class discussions and be respectful of their peers in said discussions. Please contact me ASAP if you have any questions or issues related to the course. I’m also happy to meet with students during office hours or by appointment.

Major Assignments and Grading Breakdown

Blog Posts and informal writing (40% of total grade)

Blog posts are ideally designed to circulate on our course web site. I imagine that they will be 750-1000 words in length. When relevant, posts should include images, hyperlinks, and other forms of media. That being said, if you’d rather publish your material on your own personal site, you are free to do so: you’ll just have to provide a brief note on our course blog letting readers know where to find it.

Consider the blog a collaborative digital project that we’re all working on together (though you should also consider me the Project Manager of said project). For the sake of convenience, I imagine we’ll just host the blog on the course site. Early in the semester, we’ll talk a bit about what the aims, audiences, and voice(s) of the blog might entail. I have my own ideas, but I’m open to your thoughts. If you’re new to WordPress, don’t worry: I’ll be available as a resource for questions about formatting, etc.

I’ve outlined four types of posts below. You have a lot of flexibility within these parameters (multimedia posts, collaborative posts, interviews, etc.), so we can talk about these options and my expectations if you have questions. I’m more interested in content that is valuable to you and to readers.

Informal / journal writing: Material posted to our digital sites (Google Docs, Slack, etc.) where you begin responding to readings, brainstorming blog posts, and developing ideas for projects. (10%)

Blog Posts

    1. Digital Project “Case Study”: You will write and publish a blog post that reviews at least one digital project in-depth. This project doesn’t necessarily have to be a model you seek to imitate in your own work, but taking that approach might be useful to you. (10%)
    2. Social Media and Public Humanities: You will discuss some dimension of the role of social media in the field of public humanities. You may also decide to take a more active / participatory role in social media here (and document that in your blog post): crowdsourcing information on Twitter, brainstorming the circulation of your own digital project on social media, creating a Twitter bot or Twitter archive, etc.

Mystery Post! Aka a post related to at least one reading / resource discussed in class: While you have a degree of flexibility with each assignment, this one gives you even more flexibility. I’ve provided this as an option with the understanding that different students might have different interests / responses to particular topics. That being said, some of you might end up writing about the same texts / projects, which is fine with me. (10%)

3. Digital Project Debrief: To be completed towards the end of the semester. Here I’d like you to think about your objectives, resources, completed work, next steps, etc. (10%)

Digital Project (60% of total grade)

In addition to reading work related to digital and public humanities and examining digital projects, your major project for the course will involve the creation of a digital project. Over the course of the semester, you’ll be developing a digital project that reflects both your research / professional interests and your familiarity with digital contexts and tools. You can choose to think of all of the assignments listed below as part of a larger digital project. Conversely, it may help some of you to think of these as mini-assignments that are linked rather than one big project.

I am open to the idea of collaborative work between students as well as external collaborators. I’d like this project to mirror the kind of project development work that is done outside of classroom settings wherever possible. Talk to me early and often about your ideas, frustrations, etc. Your ideas re: projects can (and most likely should!) change over the course of the semester.

Imagine this project as version 1.0 of work that might develop further beyond the course (supported by collaborations, additional funding, and the luxury of more time and feedback). Ideally, this project will become part of your professional development: something to show prospective employers via a digital portfolio, work that gets further disseminated in conference presentations and/or journal articles, etc.

For the purposes of the course, I expect you to demonstrate:

-A familiarity with best practices re: the development and prototyping of a digital project

-An interest in creating a project that will be of particular use to a clearly defined audience

-The use of a digital tool, platform, and/or content management system that you had not previously used extensively

Digital projects take time and involve lots of resources: for example, the Our Marathon digital archive project that I worked on spanned two and a half years. Digital projects are also works in progress: you may not come out of the class with a fully-formed resource or initiative. But you will come out with an awareness of how projects are imagined, planned, executed, and circulated in initial forms to professional and public audiences.

Here’s a breakdown of the major components of your digital project:

-Ignite Talk: You’ll give a brief presentation to the class on your initial project idea (modeled on the “Ignite” style of rapid-fire presentations) (10%)

-Formal Project Proposal: You will write a more formal proposal (inspired in part by the areas highlighted in the NEH’s Digital Projects for The Public grant program, but the formatting may vary depending on your project) (20%)

Digital Project 1.0: You will complete the project (or the first iteration of the project). Circulating all or some components of the project itself publicly is not required, but encouraged (30%)

We’ll also discuss the best venue (digital, physical, or both?) to curate your work for the JNBC community and other interested parties here at Brown (and beyond, depending on the digital components)? More broadly, how might we think of the work we’re doing this class as work that impacts the JNBC at-large and student interest in digital work and contexts?

There will be particular points in the semester when you’ll have time to work on your digital projects in class: see the schedule for particular dates.