On Liberal Arts Campuses and Comp-Rhet Classes

My university—Fordham University—does not (yet) allocate the resources to DH that CUNY does. We do not yet have a Digital Humanities Center, and our DH community is just beginning to coalesce around a Digital Humanities Initiative (faculty) and GSDH (graduate student) group. Given these structural limitations, I read “Why Should Liberal Arts Campuses Do Digital Humanities?” with some curiosity.

While Fordham is not a liberal arts institution, I recognize many of the challenges Bryan Alexander and Rebecca Frost Davis ascribe to small colleges; fortunately, many of the opportunities also hold true. The piece has compelled me to consider more seriously the role that our grad student teachers can play in incubating DH on campus.

Where Fordham does commit significant resources and support is for its Comp-Rhet program. It seems to me that this program, a reservoir of young, mostly tech-savvy graduate students, presents the symbolic center from which to spring DH. Practices developed in Comp-Rhet could disseminate to other classes and departments via the Faculty Technology Center.

As professors in training, TA’s tend to be receptive to new pedagogical tools. At the same time, however, TA’s must balance courses with research—their respective dissertations. Alexander and Davis’s suggestion that liberal arts educators pursue a collaborative model, in which, “students contribute to faculty projects, rather than taking away from faculty research time; and they support each other, rather than relying solely on faculty members for support and supervision” (381), would find warm welcome among (overcommitted) PhD candidates.

What would DH in Comp-Rhet look like? Several of the blog posts offer models. In “Visualizing Millions of Words,” Mills Kelly discusses Google Ngrams, which, in visualizing keywords, provides a way to talk about—he would say a “doorway” into—corpora and notions of canonicity (405). Or perhaps new forms can invigorate student writing and cultivate new critical thinking skills, as Mark Sample discusses in “What’s Wrong with Writing Essays.” And Trevor Owens makes a compelling case for using a public course blog to think about audience, writing for future readers, and the production of history (410-11). Many of these issues, central to classes like Comp-Rhet and Texts and Contexts, are made more immediate through DH, and it seems to me the Fordham DH community ought to concentrate on—and gain visibility from—the Comp-Rhet program.

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