DH Minor Interviews

A Collection of Interviews on the Interdisciplinary Minor in Digital Humanities

By Leighah Beausoleil (Fall 2022)

Students have begun to make their way toward completing Framingham State University’s Interdisciplinary Minor in Digital Humanities (DH), established in 2021.

The requirements for the minor include Introduction to Digital Humanities, a 300-level DH course, and a DH internship. The remaining two courses for the minor can be chosen from two separate lists—one course in computer science and one related course in the humanities.

English professor, Dr. Kristen Abbott Bennett, who teaches in the minor, said she first became interested in digital humanities when attending the Shakespeare Association of America annual meeting in 2015, where she was introduced to the Map of Early Modern London’s digital exhibit. The director, Janelle Jenstad, invited her to co-teach a course on text encoding at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Abbott Bennett said. Following that she taught a course on the topic at Stonehill College while still working closely with the University of Victoria. She added, “Working with students from across the world - they exchange work across the continent—it was a very powerful experience.”

When Abbott Bennett began teaching at FSU in 2018, she said there was “a sense of urgency” to continue teaching digital humanities. English professor, Dr. Bartholomew Brinkman, who directs FSU’s emerging Center for Digital Humanities, had been teaching DH in a variety of English classes since arriving at FSU in 2013, including through the use of the Modern American Poetry Site, and had been working to establish a significant digital humanities presence at FSU.

English professor, Dr. Desmond McCarthy, who had been chair of the department at the time, said he had the idea for the minor after attending an “inspiring” January professional development workshop. During this particular session, Abbott Bennett and Brinkman, who McCarthy described as “both nationally, even internationally, renowned digital humanities experts,” along with history professors Dr. Joseph Adelman and Dr. Sarah Mulhall Adelman were all present and each shared the value of digital humanities with the other attendees.

“I had an aha moment,” he said. “I pulled them all together at the end as everyone was getting ready to leave and I said, ‘We should design a minor in digital humanities.’ And I think they didn't think I was entirely serious, but we started having meetings.”

McCarthy described himself as a “guide” in planning out the minor and the courses involved as he is “not a tech person,” and by the following semester the minor had been established. “What's great about the minor is that it serves every humanities department equally,” he added. “It is not owned by any one department. It's housed in English, but every humanities department has equal say and equal weight within the digital humanities minor, and I anticipate that it will grow in the years to come.”

Brinkman said, “Since arriving at FSU, I have been advocating for DH in the classroom and across the University so that students can better understand this rich intersection of the humanities and the digital.” He sees the interdisciplinary minor as a major validation of this work: “The DH minor gives students opportunities to explore age-old humanities questions through new digital tools and methods, and to open up entirely new questions.”

He added, “It helps students be more flexible and robust interdisciplinary thinkers and to gain new skills—including technical skills and transferrable skills like collaboration and long-term project management—that are not always foregrounded in the traditional humanities classroom.”

Abbott Bennett said, “It gives us perspective.” She said the world is not “linear” and working with digital humanities allows people to overcome held biases. “I think it can help us get a more even-handed view of a given situation,” she added. “It also is a great tool for enabling accessibility—using universal design practices and making information accessible to more people in real time.”

Dr. Joseph Adelman said he was introduced to digital humanities through his graduate research of the circulation of news and media. Though he will teach a digital humanities course for the first time this fall, he said he has incorporated digital projects in history classes in the past. For example, in 2015, Adelman said he taught an American Revolution history course and with it having been the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act protests, he had his students research newspaper databases and then formulate tweets to be shared on the Twitter account. “They had to think about, ‘How am I going to express what's going on, in the voice of 250 years ago, within the space of 140 characters, using the research that I've done?’” Adelman said.

He added, his students learned to do the research and then think critically about how to “communicate it to a public audience and convey it in this other way.” Adelman said having a minor in DH gives students the opportunity to use “cutting edge” tools and learn skills they will be able to use both in their major and their workplaces.

Haley Hadge, a junior English major, decided to become a DH minor after taking the introductory course with Abbott Bennett to fill a general education requirement. With a love for both digital technology and the humanities, Hadge said the minor was exactly what she was looking for. Hadge added she enjoys the exploration of various websites and tools that she previously did not know existed. 

She said she also appreciates “the opening up of education and making it accessible to more people, so it's not locked behind these barriers, whether it be monetary or just the location of where you're studying at. “The more I learn about it, the more I realize I don't know, and to me, that's really exciting,” Hadge added. “It's just encouraging and makes me want to dig in deeper, so I'm just excited to continue to learn.”

Rain Cormier, a senior English major, was unhappy with the courses included in their previous minor and while taking the DH introductory course with Brinkman they were encouraged to explore more of the DH minor. Cormier said they had already completed a coding class and had been enjoying the work involved in the DH course, adding they have a love for spreadsheets—a characteristic they thank their Autism for. They said they hope they can someday use the skills gained from the DH minor for work at a nonprofit. Cormier added the cross section between digital technology and the humanities creates a little “corner,” where two of their interests align, and the minor allows them to “hang out” in it.

Olivia Nicolazzo, a senior English major, entered college as a computer science major when she realized neither the school nor the major were the right fit for her. Transferring to FSU and taking up the English major, Nicolazzo said she retained much of her interest in computer science, which encouraged her to take on the minor. “I'd like to be a librarian and that involves a lot of databases, a lot of specialized skill sets, and digital humanities,” she said.

Nicolazzo said since taking on the minor it has been “just really interesting. “Even if you think you're not very technologically adept, or on the opposite side, you're not that into humanities,” she added. “I think it's great for people who are looking to branch out of what they're really used to. I think it's given me a lot of skills that I wouldn't have otherwise picked up on.”

Meggan Law, a junior English major, became interested in DH when she took the introductory course with Abbott Bennett. “She was a phenomenal teacher and just the way she presented the new material and everything—it was really attention grabbing,” Law said. “From there it just spiraled into, ‘Well, what else can I do with this kind of thing?’ It was something I just really wanted to pursue.”

With aspirations to be a published author, Law said DH is useful in helping her “visualize” her own writing. Law said to her, DH is the ability to surpass the surface level of data, dig deeper, and explore the “cracks,” adding she encourages everyone to “at least give it a try.”

Kelsey Rhodes, a senior English major, said she was encouraged to take on the minor due to her interest in Library Science, but what really got her to pursue it was her love for “digging deeper into texts.” Rhodes said, “I have long enjoyed gathering as much information as I can and visualizing it in different formats to come to new conclusions and ask larger questions.” She added, “The digital humanities allow me to visualize information in new ways, gather more information, and ultimately formulate questions I would not have been able to otherwise.”