Digital Humanities in Middle and High School: Case Studies and Pedagogical Approaches

Alexander Gil (, Columbia University Libraries y Roopika Risam (, Salem State University y Stan Golanka (, Trevor Day School y Nina Rosenblatt (, Trevor Day School y David Thomas (, Trevor Day School y Matt Applegate (, Molloy College y James Cohen (, Molloy College y Eric Rettberg (, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy y Schuyler Esprit (, Create Caribbean, Inc., Dominica


While scholarship on pedagogy in digital humanities has been growing, its focus has largely been on graduate and, to a lesser extent, undergraduate education. Yet, digital humanities pedagogy—namely its value for cultivating 21st century literacies tied to the production of knowledge and the ability to interpret digital media and computation—is as valuable, this panel argues, for middle- and high- school students as it is in higher education. Given that we are pursuing what Matthew Kirschenbaum describes as forms of «scholarship and pedagogy that are bound up with infrastructure in ways that are deeper and more explicit than we are generally accustomed to» (60), this panel examines the work of instructors who are beginning to plant the seeds of these new “customs” early on in humanities and social science training.

Using digital humanities pedagogy in the middle- and high-school classroom, panelists argue, can redress gaps in these literacies. It enables students, as Mark Sample suggests, “[to think] through their engagement with seemingly incongruous materials, developing a critical thinking practice about process and product” (405). In this way, the approaches to digital humanities pedagogy in middle and high schools articulated by panelists are not an attempt to teach students particular technical skills, applications, or platforms. Rather, this pedagogical approach enables students to envision a relationship between themselves and knowledge production.

The approaches to digital humanities voiced in this panel are rooted in digital humanities pedagogies in higher education, particularly project-based approaches to humanities knowledge that foster collaboration. As Tanya Clement has argued:

Like pedagogy intended to teach students to read more critically, project-based learning in digital humanities demonstrates that when students learn how to study digital media, they are learning how to study knowledge production as it is represented in symbolic constructs that circulate within information systems that are themselves a form of knowledge production. (366)

In the case studies and pedagogical approaches discussed by panelists, the project form complements more traditional forms of knowledge production and evaluation in the classroom. As Brett D. Hirsch argues, this “introduces a new mode of work that emphasizes collectivity and collaboration in the pursuit and creation of new knowledge” (16). While these new modes can be linked to participatory forms of culture, made possible by low barriers for civic engagement and creative expression online (Jenkins et al. 9), panelists make the case for greater attention to pedagogies that offer instruction to middle- and high-school students in collaborative production.

However, as panelists argue, middle- and high-school pedagogies for digital humanities require attention to the unique needs of students in curricula, the developmental trajectories of the students, and the socio-economic dimensions of these students’ lives. In light of these concerns, what are the biggest challenges to doing digital humanities in middle and high schools? Which methods are most valuable and practically achievable? And how can we effectively prepare teachers to incorporate digital humanities into their teaching practices? In this panel we bring together an international team of researchers and faculty already engaged in answering these questions and implementing curricula in schools of education, digital humanities centers, and high schools. Our goal is both to present models and facilitate discussion with broader digital humanities communities about pedagogical infrastructures, methods, long-term goals, and the exciting possibility of cultivating digital humanities pipelines through intervention in middle and high schools.

Panel moderator: Alex Gil, Columbia University Libraries

Designing Digital Humanities Pedagogy Infrastructures for Teachers

Roopika Risam, Salem State University

While digital humanities pedagogy has increasingly received attention from practitioners who want to teach their own students more effectively, how do we prepare
teachers for the challenging task of engaging with digital humanities in their own classrooms? This talk offers an answer to this question by examining the digital humanities pedagogy infrastructure for middle- and high-school teachers designed at Salem State University. I first discuss findings from a study undertaken with teachers in Massachusetts to identify their attitudes towards digital humanities. The results indicate lack of knowledge about digital humanities but significant interest in incorporating computational approaches to humanities into teaching. Teachers also raised concerns including the time needed to learn technologies and teach them to students, cost of software and hardware, uneven access to computers or the internet in classrooms and for students at home, fear of implementing unsuccessful lessons, and a lack of professional development opportunities for digital humanities.

This talk then considers the interdisciplinary graduate certificate in digital studies that Salem State University designed in response to the study. The program provides professional development while addressing teachers’ perceived obstacles to including digital humanities in their teaching. I discuss the relationship between study results and program design, focusing on development of core courses, selection of elective courses, differentiation of course delivery methods, integration into existing master’s programs, and creation of a directed study for curriculum design. To illustrate the impact of the program, I describe my work advising a team of teachers and administrators in the graduate certificate program who were planning technology needs for a new school building under construction and designing technology-infused curricula in English and History. While core and elective courses gave the teachers and administrators a solid background in digital humanities, a group directed study assisted the team with developing a scaffolded curriculum across middle-school humanities courses, designing classroom technology, and creating a professional learning community to provide in-school pedagogical support for teachers.

Finally, this talk discusses a follow-up study with graduates of the certificate programs that assessed program outcomes. These outcomes include assignments implemented by teachers in their classrooms, exemplar student work, and a marked difference in attitudes and perceptions of teachers who completed the certificate in comparison to those who participated in the initial study. Based on the outcomes and the success of the graduate certificate program, Salem State has begun integrating digital humanities pedagogy directly into its teacher training programs. Consequently, this talk argues, this digital humanities pedagogical infrastructure for teachers serves as an effective model for addressing the barriers to incorporating digital humanities into middle- and high-school curricula for teachers who are already in the classroom and those preparing for teaching careers in the humanities.

Digital Inquiry: The History of Youth

Nina Rosenblatt, Trevor Day School

David Thomas, Trevor Day School

Stan Golanka, Trevor Day School

On September 12th, 2017 Trevor Day School, an Independent School on the Upper East Side of New York City, launched two sections of an advanced history course entitled
Digital Inquiry: The History of Youth. This course was the culmination of seven years of curriculum development work that began with a November 16th, 2010 article in the
New York Times about Humanities 2.0 and the Stanford Republic of Letters Project. After an initial round of research we came to understand that digital projects had a role to play in our High School History curriculum. This realization coincided with our adoption of inquiry-based learning pedagogies. In a fundamental way, we argue, the techniques and disciplines involved in digital humanities allow high school students to conduct their own independent research in digital archives and become producers of history in their own right.

In order to motivate students to collaborate and learn unfamiliar working methods, we developed our course around a subject that would engage all students. We wanted a subject that would not require a textbook, was accessible to juniors and seniors in high school, and would lend itself to seminar style classes. In addition, we wanted to be able to supplement the subject matter with texts illuminating the nature of historical narrative, archives, and the use of digital techniques in academic research such as the paper by Lauren Klein, “The Image of Absence: Archival Silence, Data Visualization, and James Hemings” in
American Literature Volume 85, Number 4, December 2013
The resulting course delved into the history of youth, looking at how being young is experienced and imagined differently in different times and places, and what we can learn about a society from its expectations for and attitude towards its youth, while teaching them production and analysis techniques for them to create new representations of that history.

The final consideration was to craft a series of lesson plans to embed a digital humanities knowledge-production laboratory in the class. The course lab was divided into three modules: Digital editions and markup (an introduction to the fundamentals of plain text and markup), digital collections/exhibits (an introduction to the fundamentals of metadata and databases), and cultural analytics (an introduction to the fundamentals of algorithmic thinking and data mining). Through these modules the students were immersed in the process of selection, digitization, mark-up, the creation of a database/archive, data extraction and cleanup and data analysis, all driven by the imperative to create and interpret history.
Technologies taught included, but were not limited to, command line, git, GitHub, plain text editors, Markdown, YAML, Jekyll, Omeka, Python and Voyant Tools. These technologies were directly tied to the variety of ways in which historians collect “data” including using literary, psychological, sociological, statistical, and visual sources, working towards creating our own historical knowledge using the digital tools for collecting, visualizing, mapping, and analyzing the information.

In this panel we will present the results of our two course prototypes, lessons learned, future improvements, and argue for a generalizable model of instruction for high schools in the United States based on our experiences.

Digital Literary Studies in the High School Environment

Eric Rettberg, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

What are the challenges of adapting a course in Digital Humanities and Digital Culture from the pedagogical environment of the university to that of the high school classroom? What new challenges arise from asking minors to produce digital and public scholarship, and how can digitally inflected scholars and teachers foster innovative humanities work in school environments bound to pre-existing curricula? In this talk, I use my experience adapting a class in Digital Literary Studies to the high-school level to share unexpected challenges and opportunities and to suggest digital work as a strategy for promoting the humanities to administrators, peers, and students in STEM-oriented high school environments.

In early 2016, I left higher education to teach in the English department of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a state-funded boarding school for students talented in math and science. Given the immediate appeal of classes combining humanities with computing for STEM-focused students, I naively expected that I might be able to simply bring a college elective for English majors to my high school students. The actual challenges of doing so, however have been instructive: administrators have been less familiar with the existence of the methods of the Digital Humanities, digital assignments have had to be reframed to accommodate shared practice among teachers in my department, my school’s technology environment has needed to be customized to accommodate the software installations that I took for granted before, oversight from administrators, colleagues, and parents has been more intensive, and without the support staff available to me at my higher education institutions, I’ve had to think creatively around constraints. By demonstrating small-scale digital humanities work in core classes, designing a week-long intersession class on a similar topic, and sharing my knowledge of University-level digital humanities, though, I’ve been able to design a class that has colleagues and students excited.

Heeding Ryan Cordell’s call to embed digital humanities instruction in larger narratives beyond “recent scholarly revolution,” I treat digital humanities praxis as one of three major components of change in literary production and study in the digital era. In addition to digital humanities projects centered on historical texts of students’ choice, students read and discuss fictive works that represent cultures of technology in the digital era and computationally enabled works of electronic literature. Throughout the class, students sample digital humanities practice in lab sessions and build small-scale web resources and undertake digital-humanities experiments in group projects. By exploring electronic texts, they begin to more fully recognizes the affordances of digital technologies, and by reading print texts that represent digital culture, they think about their own roles as consumers of and creators of digital tools and cultures. While my school’s student population and focus are especially suited to the STEAM focus that a class like this one offers, my experiences suggest that students at a wide variety of high schools would be engaged by these materials and skills.

Impact od Digital Humanities on High School History and Heritage Teaching and Learning in the Caribbean

Schuyler K Esprit, Create Caribbean, Inc.

The experience of Create Caribbean Research Institute, the first Digital Humanities center in the English Speaking Caribbean tells an interesting story of how digital humanities can covertly and explicitly reshape the curriculum in history and literature of the Caribbean without necessarily requiring a massive paradigm shift of the national and regional curriculum requirements.

In Dominica (where Create Caribbean operates) and the Eastern Caribbean – among other islands – the secondary education curriculum responds to the mandates of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) who sets the CSEC and CAPE syllabi for high school and post-secondary certification in the region. These examinations frame the education curriculum for the five to six years of high school in many islands and many educators in this system find themselves bound to deliver content in limiting and limited methods in order to ensure that students simply meet requirements to excel at subject exams at Caribbean History and English B (Literature), which has a heavy focus on Caribbean Literature.

However, students leave with an abstract and formalized understand of Caribbean history and culture, without a nuanced understanding of its relevance to their own lived experiences and the implications for their future. Create Caribbean uses digital humanities projects to reframe the conversation and disrupt traditional methods for learning. One of these projects uniquely highlights the potential for technology to change the face of education in Dominica and to get students more invested in Dominica’s history and culture. This project, made by students for students, can be found at The college student change-makers of Create Caribbean’s internship program build digital humanities projects with a primary and secondary student audience in mind. The example of highlights one way that a collaboration with a national organization has allowed for a broader consideration of the methods of heritage and culture education for students while actually providing solid academic source material for their formal study requirements.

This presentation will discuss the origin, process and impacts of the Dominica History and Imagined Homeland digital projects of Create Caribbean as examples of disruptive secondary education. The presentation will also address the ways in which the projects have attracted the attention of high school teachers and transformed their interests in using technology to revise classroom experiences when they face limitations in adjusting other curricular frameworks.

Precarity and Practicality: DH, New Media, & Secondary Education

Matt Appegate, Molloy College

Jamie Cohen, Molloy College

In 2015, faculty at Molloy College in Long Island worked with faculty and administrators to found the Baldwin High School New Media Academy, a co-organized effort to bring the study of New Media and Digital Humanities to underserved high school populations in Baldwin, New York. Working collectively, faculty at both institutions have established a curriculum and internship path at Baldwin High School that exposes students to methods of DH praxis and principles of New Media in a variety of means and environments (high school, college, in-person, online).

Our curriculum is based on five modules and two college-credit bearing courses. Our modules include Critical Making, Digital Storytelling, Multimodal Composition, Online Expression, and Social Media. Our college-credit bearing courses are Introduction to New Media and College Composition (the course is taught entirely on the methods of multimodal composition). Each module is integrated into existing high school courses, i.e., Social Studies, English, Wood Shop, etc., where students take college-credit bearing courses in their junior and senior years. Ultimately, the “academy” concept introduces students to DH methods and New Media in a gradated process–students choose their academy prior to entering their freshman year of high school and are enrolled in courses that employ our modules.

Our curriculum is based on principles of social good; it emphasizes both civic engagement and social justice, and provides sample assignments with grading rubrics for each module (Ratto). The civic-minded focus of our curriculum was developed in consultation with Baldwin High School, and fleshed out over 18 months of training. Our curriculum attempts to account for the precarious position women and people of color already inhabited in online spaces and demonstrate how DH methods and New Media principles can be mobilized to empower students via digital tools and languages.

The focus of this paper is to report on our work with underserved high school populations and relay the challenges of bringing this kind of material to a secondary education setting. We focus on the practicalities of bringing DH methods and New Media principles to high school (i.e., funding, time, expertise, bureaucracy), as well as the necessary training that takes places between high school and college faculty (PT days, on campus conferences, and student events). Finally, we discuss the opportunities that working with underserved high school populations provides both politically and pedagogically. In this context, DH operates on a minimal scale, but addresses communal needs.


Matt Applegate is an Assistant Professor of English and Digital Humanities at Molloy College. His work focuses on critical theory, digital humanities, digital literacy, and screen studies. His work as appeared in
Theory & Event,
Cultural Politics,
Cultural Critique,
Telos, and more.

Jamie Cohen is the director, co-founder and assistant professor of the New Media program at Molloy College in New York. Jamie is the author of
Producing New and Digital Media: Your Guide to Savvy Use of the Web
(Routledge 2015) and his published and presented research focuses on memes, YouTubers, populism, VR/AR/MR, and digital media literacy. He is a fellow of the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Schuyler K Esprit is the Director of Create Caribbean Research Institute at Dominica State College, the first Digital Humanities center in the Caribbean. Dr. Esprit holds a PhD in English literature from University of Maryland – College Park. She is a scholar of Caribbean literature and cultural studies, and postcolonial theory. She is now completing her book entitled
West Indian Readers: A Social History and its digital companion, both of which are historical explorations of reading culture in the Caribbean. She is currently Dean of Academic Affairs at Dominica State College.

Stan Golanka is Director of Academic Technology at Trevor Day School. He teaches computer programming and co-teaches Advanced History: Digital Inquiry. He holds a MA in Computing in Education from Teachers College at Columbia University.

Eric Rettberg teaches English at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. He remains an active scholar of modernism, experimental poetry, sound studies, and the digital humanities. His work has appeared in
Comparative Literature Studies and
Jacket 2.

Roopika Risam is an assistant professor of English and English education at Salem State University. Her research considers the intersections of postcolonial cultures, African diaspora studies, and digital humanities. She is the author of
New Digital Worlds: Postcolonial Digital Humanities in Theory, Praxis, and Pedagogy (Northwestern UP 2018) and her work has recently appeared in
Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016,
Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, and
South Asian Review.

Nina Rosenblatt teaches US History, Art History, and Advanced History: Digital Inquiry at Trevor Day School. She holds a PhD in Art History from Columbia University.

David Thomas is Chair of the History Department at Trevor Day School, he teaches European History, Advanced European History, The History of China, and Advanced History: Digital Inquiry.

Appendix A

  1. Clement, Tanya. “Multiliteracies in the Undergraduate Digital Humanities Curriculum: Skills, Principles, and Habits of Mind,” in
    Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles, and Politics, ed. Brett D. Hirsch (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2012), 365-88.
  2. Cordell, Ryan. «How Not to Teach Digital Humanities.», 1 Feb. 2015,
  3. Hirsch, Brett D. “</Parentheses>: Digital Humanities and the Place of Pedagogy.”
    Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles, and Politics, ed. Brett D. Hirsch (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2012), 3-30.
  4. Jenkins, Henry and Ravi Purushotma, Margaret Weigel, Katie Clinton, Alice J. Robison.
    Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21
    Century (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009).
  5. Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?”
    ADE Bulletin 150 (2010): 55-61.
  6. Ratto, Matt. “OPEN DESIGN NOW.”
    Open Design Now, Netherlands Institute for Design and Fashion and Waag Society,
  7. Sample, Mark. “What’s Wrong with Writing Essays?”
    Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 404-5.

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