Expanding Communities of Practice: The Digital Humanities Research Institute Model

Lisa Rhody (lrhody@gc.cuny.edu), CUNY Graduate Center, United States of America y Hannah Aizenmann (haizenmann@gc.cuny.edu), CUNY Graduate Center, United States of America y Kelsey Chatlosh (kchatlosh@gradcenter.cuny.edu), CUNY Graduate Center, United States of America y Kristen Hackett (khackett@gradcenter.cuny.edu), CUNY Graduate Center, United States of America y Jojo Karlin (jojo.karlin@gmail.com), CUNY Graduate Center, United States of America y Javier Otero Peña (javo01@gmail.com), CUNY Graduate Center, United States of America y Rachel Rakov (rrakov@gradcenter.cuny.edu), CUNY Graduate Center, United States of America y Patrick Smyth (patricksmyth001@gmail.com), CUNY Graduate Center, United States of America y Patrick Sweeney (pswee001@gmail.com), CUNY Graduate Center, United States of America y Stephen Zweibel (szweibel@gc.cuny.edu), CUNY Graduate Center, United States of America

In his preface to
Doing Digital Humanities: Practice, Training, Research
(2016), Ray Siemens points out that imagining digital humanities as a community of practice wherein participants come into conversation with one another over shared approaches to craft establishes a “methodological commons” where fields intersect by sharing their work processes. Presenting a taxonomy of approaches to training that span from the informal to the formal within the methodological commons, Siemens suggests that the variety of possible approaches builds an infrastructure for “self-determination” in humanists’ approach to learning useful skills. Somewhere between informal consultations and formal degree programs, short courses and “bootcamps” offer professional and research skill development opportunities that scholars can choose from based on their most pressing needs.

Digital humanities skill development cannot be automated; it is resource intensive. It depends upon a limited number of people to deliver highly personalized training to relatively small cohorts of scholars–a model that is difficult to fund and harder to scale. As interest in and demand for training in digital humanities research methods continues to increase, overall capacity to reach the needs and interests of diverse populations of scholars in the wide range of institutional contexts where they do their work has not kept pace.

Committed to building a vibrant community of scholars who deploy a critical use of digital technologies in their teaching and research, the CUNY Graduate Center will run its fourth week-long digital research institute in January 2018. Between 2016 and 2017, GC Digital Initiatives offered a combined 100 hours of instruction on digital research methods to more than 100 students, faculty, staff, and librarians across the CUNY system.


Our institute model has focused on reducing the time required to develop new curricula through sharing and versioning, expanding the number of participants per institute through collaborative learning environments, and supporting participants through community-building. The success of our model is demonstrated by continued, growing interest from students, faculty, and staff each year.

As interest in digital humanities at universities, museums, libraries, and archives increases, so too does the demand for faculty, administrative staff, librarians, postdocs and graduate students who are tasked with expanding DH research and teaching capacity with relatively few resources. With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, we will be expanding our model to create a sustainable, reproducible model for digital methods training that can be adapted and used in a variety of institutional contexts. Our institute model is designed to integrate feedback so that it can be replicated, modified, and reproduced in new contexts, lowering the barrier to entry for digital humanities scholars by meeting scholars where they are rather than requiring participants to travel to receive training.

In June 2018, 15 individual participants will participate in the first Digital Humanities Research Institute. The DHRI emphasizes foundational technical skills, such as the command line, git, Python, and databases, that provide a flexible technology “stack” and that better enable DH researchers to become more confident autodidacts and mentors in their own right. While participants develop familiarity with useful tools, they learn more importantly how to navigate a computer’s information architecture, read technical documentation, and reason through simple systems, leading to a greater conceptual vocabulary and increased confidence approaching technology with a critical eye.
As participants learn skills to support their individual research goals and professional growth, they will also learn how to lead similar digital humanities institutes in their local communities over the following academic year. Through the process of iterating, refining, and building the institute model, we intend to share the lessons learned to increasingly wider communities of learners and build a network of curricular models and support.

Our poster will feature curricula, pedagogical materials such as datasets, and resources developed for the ten-day residential institute, where participants will explore interdisciplinary digital humanities research and teaching with leading DH scholars, develop core computational research skills through hands-on workshops, and begin developing versions of the DHRI for their own communities. We will share lessons learned and provide information about forthcoming institutes. Short video clips will feature our unique approach to digital humanities pedagogy and

interviews with previous institute instructors and participants.

Appendix A

  1. Crompton, Constance, Richard J. Lane, and Ray Siemens.
    Doing Digital Humanities: Practice, Training, Research. Routledge, 2016.

GC Digital Research Institute

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