Learning and teaching

Since August I have been the new assistant professor in this new subject of “Digital Humanities” here at Bern. It is a strange thing in many ways, to be in a post that never existed before, has no defined curriculum or degree program, and does not belong to any institute or department—just the humanities faculty at large.  I really am making it up as I go along.

This term I am teaching two courses: a six-unit seminar Introduction to Digital Humanities, and a practical workshop on Tools and Techniques for Digital Humanities. This is the second time I’ve taught the Intro seminar—it’s a small group but they are interested and engaged, and I do have some fun with what I assign them to read. The goal for that class is to give the students some idea of what DH actually is, in all its definitionally-elusive glory. (In fact they may very well be looking today at all of your answers to the question of what DH is!)

The other course—the one for which I am preparing today—is the Tools and Techniques workshop. Like everything about my job right now the class is new and experimental, and the content has to be kept reasonably generalist, so this isn’t an in-depth introduction to digital textual scholarship with the TEI or anything like that. I made the decision at the beginning to incorporate Python into most of the lessons in some form, and as a result my poor students have had to watch me work out, by trial and error, what sort of computer interaction skills I can take for granted these days and what is familiar only to people who were using computers in the 1990s. (For example, the command line. It was only once I saw most of my students trying, quite reasonably given modern UI design, to use the mouse to fix typos on the command line that I realised how unnecessarily hard I was making things for them. But it would simply never have occurred to me until I’d seen it that that was a problem!)

Tomorrow’s class is about web publishing platforms, for which I intend to concentrate on WordPress and Omeka (if I can get the latter installed, which quite honestly I’m having problems with at the moment!) It’s going to be relatively light on programming for once – I’m not going to cover HTML and CSS and all that jazz in a single 1.5-hour session – but I hope by the end of it they will have a good idea how and where they can put interesting things online and (if I get Omeka running after all) what kind of visualization tools they can play with.