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Building, Making, and Creating in the Humanities Classroom

Photo by Kristen DelValle.

One of the things I find the most compelling about the digital humanities is its focus on building. Stephen Ramsay’s “On Building,” says that those involved in the digital humanities are fundamentally interested in making things – rather than exclusively focusing on the genre of criticism. I don’t believe, by the way, that criticism and building are (or have to be) mutually exclusive, but I do find his description of Alan Liu to be particularly interesting.

Being a man of great range, he [Liu] has gone on to do other very brilliant things (most significantly, in media studies), but I doubt very much if he’d be associated with DH at all had he not found his way to shop class with the rest of us bumbling hackers in the early nineties. He’s one of many crossover acts in DH, and those of us with less talent are surely more honored by the association. One of the reasons the DH community is so fond of Alan is because we feel like he gets it/us. He can talk all he wants about being a bricoleur, but we can see the grease under his fingernails. That is true of every “big name” I can think of in DH. Every single one.

The images of the craftsperson, the mechanic, and the carpenter circulate through my mind when I read this passage. As someone who teaches English, I want to make literature matter to students by showing them how it can be used to help them creatively think in other aspects of their lives. Those who do not go to graduate school, for example, may not particularly care about the intricacies of William Blake’s life (perish the thought!), but they may be inspired to integrate his visual imagery into their own creative work or take  from his ideas.

Ultimately, I’d like to use this session to brainstorm a pedagogy of making in the humanities classroom. My interests are obviously focused on literary studies, since it is my discipline, but I’m also interested in broader questions of making in the humanities. What would a pedagogy of making look like? How can we distinguish it from (yet also draw inspiration from) creative writing courses, shop classes, and studio art classes? What rubrics and assignments can we create? How can we use content from humanities courses to teach the methodologies of making things in different modalities? And what are the limitations/possibilities for implementing larger curricular changes so that dissertations, theses, and other traditionally written academic performances could be rethought in terms of building?

About the author

Roger Whitson

I graduated in 2008 with a Ph.D. in English at the University of Florida. Since then, I held a Brittain Fellowship at the Georgia Institute of Technology, as an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow at Emory University's Digital Scholarship Commons (DiSC), and finally, as an Assistant Professor of 19th Century British and Anglophone Literature at Washington State University. I'm primarily interested in scholarly publishing and social media, especially the ways they connect with the teaching and scholarship of Romantic British poet/artist William Blake. I'm also really interested in visual rhetoric, multimodal composition, digital pedagogy, and comics and graphic novels. I have a HUGE passion for THATCamp, having attended SE last March, Prime in June, and Pedagogy in October. I also wrote a little bit on "Why I Love THATCamp" (http://bit.ly/o6h3Lw).

  • Sara Q. T.

    This has been on my mind when it comes to designing library spaces. Remember how tablets re-sparked the whole “content consumers vs. content creators” flurry? How much *building* do our physical campus buildings allow? Not just libraries, but classrooms, too. Out students should have room and encouragement to tinker and experiment. Will definitely look forward to soaking up the discussion for this one.

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