Digital humanities: Redefining liberal arts majors

Bard College is one of several higher education institutions that is redefining interdisciplinary education with an emerging field of study: digital humanities

Experimental humanities students graduate with not only a traditional liberal arts background, but also with the ability to use current technologies to analyze information.

Colleges nationwide are redefining interdisciplinary education with an emerging field of study, digital humanities, which teaches liberal arts students the skills they need to thrive in a digital world, such as how to create an interactive map.

Bard College’s version of the program, experimental humanities, has been offered as a minor. Since the concentration was introduced last year, it has picked up a lot of steam, according to Director Maria Cecire.

The name of the concentration is meant to emphasize an interest beyond the digital world. Students who are enrolled supplement their chosen area of study with classes and projects that fuse traditional liberal arts with digital culture and experimental methods to answer the question, “How do we understand what it means to be human in relation to technology?” The core courses emphasize the history of technology, media theories and changing approaches to the humanities, as well as hands-on practical work.

The concentration works closely with other technology-based programs at Bard, including the esteemed film and electronic arts program and the computer science program.     

A topic-based approach

There are three ways that students can integrate the experimental humanities program into their course of study. For one, the approach can be topic-based. For example, Cecire said students have examined the connection between pre- and post-print culture.

One anthropology student looked at changing social relations as people increasingly interact through cellphone text messages versus more archaic forms of communication. Specific courses also address drones, gender and cyborgism, virtual environments, experiments in art and the idea of virality.

The method of analysis

Experimental humanities can also influence how students conduct their research. For example, students in some literature courses use data analysis software to discover trends across large bodies of text. They then explore these findings through close reading and historical research, analyzing traditional topics in a new, comprehensive way.

“We are really interested in having them find answers to questions that we have about the human condition via new ways of gathering information for analysis,” Cecire said.

This spring, a computer science and experimental humanities sophomore worked with Professor Keith O’Hara to design software that pulled large sets of images from 20th century films. Cecire’s “Multimediated Medievalisms” class then analyzed these images as part of discussions about changing representations of the Middle Ages in popular culture.

Representation in the modern world

An experimental humanities concentration might also define how students represent research. While Bard’s faculty still places emphasis on academic writing, they also push students to think about how other forms can open up opportunities for representation and dissemination.

Cecire described a theater and performance course that studied the life and work of playwright Bertolt Brecht. The class created an interactive map juxtaposing locations where Brecht lived at different periods in his life against places referenced in the plays that he wrote. This project allowed viewers to visualize Brecht’s life and artistic legacy in a new way.

The next generation of technological game-changers

Cecire said that in this creative economy, people need to have a wide range of skills. That includes traditional analysis.

“There is such a wealth of knowledge from the past, methods that have been put in place that can help us better understand our current moment,” Cecire said.

Experimental humanities students graduate with not only a traditional liberal arts background, but also with the ability to use current technologies to analyze information. Cecire said she believes that students in her program could be the creators of tomorrow’s breakthroughs; many graduates are equipped with the programming skills and technical vocabulary to be major players in the digital economy.

Colleges and universities around the world are developing their own approaches to the humanities education in the digital age. Cecire cited Hamilton College, University of California-Los Angeles and Occidental College as schools with noteworthy programs.

Greta Braddock
Greta Braddock brings years of fashion industry experience, including product design, trend forecasting and inventory management to her role as a writer for Tech Page One. Her work has been featured on coolhunting.com.
Greta Braddock
Greta Braddock
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