Closing Remarks: Digital Humanities Research Institute, June 2018

The following are my comments from the closing public lightning talks by participants from the Digital Humanities Research Institute on June 20, 2018. Tomorrow, participants will return to The Graduate Center, CUNY to share their progress and to begin drafting recommendations about leading Digital Humanities Research Institutes (DHRI) at your own institution. The slide show from the lightning round presentations can be found below. Follow us on Twitter at @dhinstitutes and #DHRI to hear more Monday, June 17 – Tuesday, June 18th to her more.

Welcome to those of you physically present here at the Segal Theatre at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York and to those of you following along on the live streaming of our event, to the concluding ceremony of the NEH-sponsored Digital Humanities Research Institute (or DHRI) which will feature presentations from our sixteen participants.

DHRI is an ambitious continuation of work begun well before I arrived at the Graduate Center in 2015. GC Digital Initiatives, spearheaded by Matthew Gold and born out of long-standing faculty strengths in digital humanities, public history, and media studies, centers such as the New Media Lab and the Mina Rees Library, has enjoyed a lively history of creating communities of scholars, technologists, and teachers invested in the critical and creative use of technology to support the research, teaching, and service missions of The Graduate Center and CUNY. While I’m leaving a good bit of hard work out of this brief history, the model in place at the Graduate Center has informed the DHRI through a continued centering of community-based and engaged technology education and use. In 2015, Matt Gold with the help of Patrick Smyth and a number of digital fellows drafted a grant proposal for a CUNY-wide call titled the “Strategic Investment Initiative.” Characteristically, that proposal prioritized the strengthening of our human research infrastructure by proposing two “bootcamps” or digital research skill intensives. When I arrived in December 2015, we were already on our way to creating the first of what would become four Digital Research Institutes over the next 3 years. We believed then, as we do now, that the best approach to growing a technologically engaged and innovative research infrastructure is not through the continued purchase of equipment, but through a continued investment in people. By building a strong community, we improve opportunities for all.

This has been the guiding ethic behind the GC Digital Fellows program, which is one of three digital fellowship programs that are part of GC Digital Initiatives, and also the guiding impetus toward the creation of these NEH Institutes. In order to create a sustainable, flexible, and resilient community across our CUNY network, we developed a model for digital research methods and skill training in the humanities that we felt could best respond to the needs of our diverse and wide-ranging CUNY network. We wanted to build a sustainable and expanding community of practice, a culture of open exchange, an impulse toward active and iterative learning, and a curriculum that addressed foundational concepts, in order to build a strong base upon which to grow.

The curriculum that we developed locally here as part of the GC Digital Research Institute, we believed, could serve as a resource to help other humanities communities; however, we felt strongly that the curricular materials themselves did not make the institute. Rather than just posting the curriculum and leaving it at that, we decided to address what we saw as a particular need–that many humanities scholars in a climate of decreased travel funding and increasingly contingent employment contexts–don’t have access to learning foundational technical skills that undergird the learning of more niche digital humanities tools and methodologies. While efforts such as the Digital Humanities Summer Institute in Victoria and HILT offer much needed, highly effective, and even community-oriented approaches to the expansion of digital humanities practice, more support is necessary in local contexts, at HBCUs, at community colleges, at liberal arts colleges, at regional universities, etc.

With a wealth of experience serving a diverse student population, we felt that our CUNY institutes–more than just a curriculum, but also a pedagogical approach–could be useful to others as a means to bring training to scholars where they are and along the way to support an expanding network of faculty, staff, librarians, and others whose job descriptions included “expanding digital humanities communities” without, perhaps, internal institutional support.

The DHRI, then, is both a curricular as well as a social intervention into the expanding community of digital humanities practice. Our goal is to provide tried and tested curricular materials combined with a pedagogical approach, assistance with planning and outreach, and connection to a community of emerging leaders in digital humanities research, workshops and methods. So far, this is where our first 10 days together have focused, and what you will see today is a kind of pivot, where participants who came to learn, leave to lead us, lead one another, and lead their campus communities toward thinking about how to best integrate digital methods and research into their local contexts.

Each participant today will present a brief overview of how they will take the materials we’ve assembled and the conversations here and use them to grow their own communities of practice. Over the course of the year, each participant will have 20 hours of support from us, but more importantly, they’ll continue (as they’ve done so well so far) to learn from one another and support one another–and in turn we will continue to learn from their leadership.

Next year in June, each participant will return to report back about their experience. In an extension of our own ethic to do the most good with the resources we are privileged to have, our ambition is to use our experiences and our reflections to help those who may also want to build similar dh communities of practice at their local organizations. We hope that our piloting, experimenting, and prototyping will lead to lessons that prove useful for others. And, we have good reason to believe, based on the 137 applications that we received for this institute, that there are many others who are interested in expanding their communities through learning.

Let me come back to those 137 applications, if I may. We had many strong applications. Each of them made incredibly moving cases for why they and their organization would be an excellent candidate for the Institute. Out of that pool, more than 115 have asked to stay on a listserv so that they can continue to hear updates, see the curricular materials, learn about new opportunities, and follow along remotely. I think all of us feel a real responsibility to continue to keep those who are not here as present in our minds as those who are when perhaps the valuable and necessary work of community-building feels hard.

Any collaborative endeavor depends upon the shared willingness to participate, to hear, to grow, and to actively engage with one another, and the DHRI is no exception. Fortunately, the group of 16 participants who joined us this week and whom you will hear from shortly have proven to be an outstanding, generous group. I am excited for us, excited for their local organizations, and excited for our own expanding community of practice that they are the ones leading the way. They have been patient and resilient, thoughtful and questioning, and the success of this idea that we can build a network of digital humanities research institutes is in good hands.

I want to thank Provost Joy Connolly for her support of our GC Digital Research Institutes, and this NEH award. Also, Matthew K. Gold, Advisor to the Provost on Digital Initiatives, has been an important advocate for our work leading up to the institute and throughout our conversations. Stephen Zweibel has been an excellent collaborator who designed new content for the institute and has helped throughout. Also, many thanks to the GC Digital Fellows for teaching workshops, leading discussion, setting up, taking down the room each day, reading exit slips, and taking care of all the details big and small throughout the past 8 days we’ve spent together. They include: Hannah Aizenmann, Jojo Karlin, Kelsey Chatlosh, Patrick Sweeney, Patrick Smyth, Javier Otero Peña, Rachel Rakov, and Kristen Hackett. Also, a special word of thanks to Tom Ribitzky who has done so much of the administrative and logistical work. Of course, much of our thanks go to Kalle Westerling, our Institutes Coordinator, whose efforts during this past week and a half, as well as the previous 6 months, has been invaluable. He has handled everything from name tag design to slides to staffing and supporting workshops. Kalle’s been helping to design curriculum and moderate the GitHub repository, as well as helping to think about how to continue to support your efforts all year long. Please join me in offering everyone a round of applause as we welcome our first set of participants to begin presenting their work.