[Humanist] 24.855 attracting students and colleagues

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Apr 6 09:10:59 CEST 2011

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 855.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Carlos Monroy <carlos.monroy at rice.edu>                   (101)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.845 attracting students

  [2]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (27)
        Subject: attracting computer scientists

        Date: Tue, 5 Apr 2011 17:04:41 -0500
        From: Carlos Monroy <carlos.monroy at rice.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.845 attracting students
        In-Reply-To: <20110405073646.598521277E0 at woodward.joyent.us>

Sorry for the lengthy reply, but the discussions "literature brought 
virtually to life" and "attracting students," truly inspired me, 
and--from my own experience--I believe they are connected. The former 
seems to explore new ways for presenting literature (e.g. using virtual 
worlds). The latter, addresses the challenges in making the humanities 
attractive to the students. As Willard commented in the original post, 
"This is the problem of representing our field in such a way that a 
potential student would want to devote him- or herself to it." Having 
worked in STEM-related educational games (Science, Technology, 
Engineering and Mathematics) for the last three years, and in digital 
humanities/digital libraries for over ten years, lack of interest in 
STEM fields/careers is also alarming (see NSF, National Academies, White 
House and similar reports). I argue that the lack of interest, or better 
put, lack of inspiration is not exclusive--although perhaps more 
dramatic--in the humanities.

Last week, during a meeting in the preparation for a grant proposal 
aimed at inspiring middle and high school students' interest in 
Electrical Engineering (EE and Computer Science enrollments have dropped 
in recent years), the discussion centered on the questions, what can we 
do to inspire kids to this field? What should we do, to make them wonder 
about the beauty of electrical engineering? And eventually say, "I 
want to be an electrical engineer." After all, isn't that electronic 
gadgets surround us, and we used them for almost everything? Attendants 
to that meeting included EE professors, educators, museum experts, math 
teachers, and computer scientists, since we are looking at an innovative 
approach. I was deeply touched when one of the EE professors, an 
emeritus one, former dean of engineering, and an authority in the field 
said, "I remember that listening to an old radio my dad had, inspired 
me to electrical engineering. Since that time I always wondered how is 
it possible that sound generated miles away could be heard in this small 
box in front of me."

My first thought was, aren't these the same questions about 
"inspiration" in the humanities? So to answer Willard's question, 
"So let me ask for our field: what would attract (have attracted) 
you?" With a background in computer science, I was initially attracted 
to digital humanities, by the beauty of the artifacts under study and 
the challenges their analysis posed to me from the computing stand 
point. I remember seeing digital copies of the original books of Don 
Quixote and the attempt to recreate the original manuscript written by 
Cervantes, followed by a large collection of artworks and an extensive 
biography of Picasso, the poetry of John Donne, and the sense of mystery 
associated to nautical archaeology and shipbuilding techniques since the 

A couple of weeks ago I shared with the Humanist the story of the 
partnership between whyville.net (a virtual world mostly for children 
with more than 6 million users) and the Great Books Foundation to foster 
reading (especially classic books). I shared it because an experiment we 
conducted in embedded a science game in that virtual world, produced 
interesting and positive results. In response to that post, I received 
an email from a very respected scholar, the editor of a well-established 
digital humanities project in the classics, who referring to our work in 
science games stated, "I have been thinking about what could be done 
in the same way in the Humanities." His statement confirmed some of my 
thoughts about using games for dissemination of scholarly collections, 
making them more attractive to a digital generation. Can we use games to 
make Cervantes, Donne, Picasso, Nautical Archaeology, History, Art, the 
Classics, Philosophy, Music, etc. more appealing and inspiring? I'm 
not advocating that games are the only solution, or that my intention is 
to replace the original artifacts and scholars, but rather, the urgent 
necessity for inspiration coupled with our empirical results in using 
games for fostering science careers, seem to support this claim.

In a similar way, our approach to EE demonstrates that this is a 
multi-disciplinary effort. In a different domain, but sharing some 
similarities, during a recent presentation by Mauro Ferrari (a 
mechanical engineer and researcher at the Methodist Research Hospital 
Institute in Houston), talking about their innovative nanotechnology 
treatment to cancer, explained how their approach relies on NASA 
technology to accurately target cancer cells, a procedure that requires 
physicists and mathematicians. Wait a second; I always thought that 
cancer treatment involved only medical doctors. Not quite anymore. Maybe 
in the near future, the same could be said of literature, history, and 
other humanities disciplines. At present, some on-going DH initiatives 
already demonstrate similar degrees of innovation, and I look forward to 
the day the same can be said more generally about DH.

In conclusion, I am convinced that this is a great time to be in this 
field (DH), the challenges are huge, but so are the ingenuity and 
innovation of so many scholars, researchers and practitioners. Referring 
to DH in the English Departments, Matt Kirschenbaum states: "the 
digital humanities today is about a scholarship (and a pedagogy) that is 
publicly visible in ways to which we are generally unaccustomed, a 
scholarship and pedagogy that are bound up with infrastructure in ways 
that are deeper and more explicit than we are generally accustomed to, a 
scholarship and pedagogy that are collaborative and depend on networks 
of people and that live an active 24/7 life online. Isn't that 
something you want in your English department?" To this I add, isn't 
presenting these fields in innovative ways to students that consider 
e-mail to be an outdated technology, worth the try? After all as 
Negroponte (co-founder of the MIT Media Lab) eloquently says "Computing 
is not about computers any more. It is about living."


Carlos Monroy, Ph.D.
Gaming Research and Development
Center for Technology in Teaching and Learning
Rice University
Houston, TX
voice: 713.348.5481
fax: 713.348.5699
carlos.monroy at rice.edu

        Date: Wed, 06 Apr 2011 07:57:33 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: attracting computer scientists
        In-Reply-To: <20110405073646.598521277E0 at woodward.joyent.us>

I've asked recently what might attract students to the digital 
humanities. Let me add a somewhat different question to the mix: what 
attracts or might attract computer scientists? Interesting problems, of 
course -- but what kind? How do computer scientists see this field? What 
stands out as especially challenging?

Note that I am *not* asking what a computer scientist would find 
engaging about problems in the traditional humanities. Rather I am 
asking what about the digital humanities attracts him or her?

I'm relatively confident that calling a person a "smart 'dumb computer 
scientist'" is not a good opening move. Of course it's a joke, but one 
should always wonder why particular jokes are being told. I admit having 
to struggle to understand the stereotype being invoked when first I 
heard this expression. All I can imagine may be indicated is the 
stereotypical attitude those who think of themselves as thinking take 
toward those who make things (and by implication don't think). A long 
social history stands behind that stereotype, one we would do well to be
rid of.

I am supposing that to make good relations between the digital 
humanities and computer science requires that we understand how computer 
scientists see us, what they see in us that would draw them into 
collaborative relationships. So, what sort of creatures do we appear to be?

Candor is welcome, really.

Professor Willard McCarty, Department of Digital Humanities, King's
College London; Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western
Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.isr-journal.org);
Editor, Humanist (www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

More information about the Humanist mailing list