Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction for Teachers, Lecturers, and Students

Chapter 1: Overcoming Resistance

Debates and Conversations

Stephen Ramsay’s controversial post, “On Building,” which he wrote as a follow-up to “Who’s In and Who’s Out” (his presentation at the 2011 MLA conference), defines the digital humanities as a process of building tools, not only using them. Such moments of gatekeeping -- argumentative positions that define or defend the digital humanities by excluding certain activities and practitioners-- are simultaneously quite common and quite controversial. Responses to Ramsay’s assertion include Larry Hanley’s argument that “building” can mean a variety of activities, Mark Sample’s exhortation not to define the digital humanities too narrowly, and the conversation generated on Brian Croxall’s blog. These posts, which are somewhat sympathetic to Ramsay’s position and tend to redefine building (rather than reassure us that we need not code to be digital humanities), should not be read as an example of what digital humanists will put in writing. In debates like these, we suspect that holding informal conversations with practitioners (whether in person or through electronic media) will reflect the true diversity of opinions on the subject.

Stanley Fish’s editorial about the digital humanities for the New York Times, “The Old Order Changeth,” was published on December 26, 2011 and met with immediate and vocal responses from the digital humanities community. Fish engaged with these responses in two follow-up posts in January of 2012, “The Digital Humanities and the Transcending of Mortality” and “Mind Your P’s and B’s: The Digital Humanities and Interpretation.” For a sampling of the responses to Fish, try these blog posts by Ted Underwood and by Mark Liberman. Refer also to Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, the primary digital humanities text Fish is engaging with in his trilogy of blog posts.

Resources for Learning Coding and Other DH Skills

One trusted program that many digital humanists have used successfully and recommend to neophytes is Codecademy. The regional centres for Ladies Learning Code in Canada provide workshops at introductory, intermediate, and advanced levels for women who are interested in learning code. Annual summer workshops or bootcamps, such as the annual Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria, British Columbia and the Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School, are excellent choices if you can spare a week or two. (Because both offer friendly, robust communities of practitioners at all levels, they will also help you connect with other digital pedagogues.) You can also choose to enroll in courses from the Digital Pedagogy Lab, which offers online courses and in-person courses.

There are, of course, other resources beyond those commonly used within the digital humanities. You can search for local workshops or bootcamps, for example, or attend courses at your own institution. Browse The Open Education Consortium or Coursera for open-access courses offered by universities. A variety of free or freemium (where introductory resources are free, while some premium offerings come at a cost) resources are trusted by the broader programming community, including the Khan Academy and Treehouse. Keep in mind, though, that your best bet may be starting with a simple website builder. See Table 4.1 on page 64 of our book, or the web companion to Chapter 4 for a guide to resources for building websites. 

Efficiency Tools

We live in a culture of “lifehacks:” tips and tricks circulating around the internet to help simplify or streamline various tasks, bringing the aesthetic and methods of computer hacking to everyday life and labor. The popular LifeHacker blog chronicles general lifehacks (their posts on learning how to code are also helpful, especially one that covers how to approach coding step-by-step and another that identifies resources by the language you wish to learn). The academia-centered ProfHacker gives “professor hacks.” A collectively run blog hosted by the Chronicle of Higher Education, ProfHacker is an excellent source of information about how to use these productivity tools as a teacher and scholar. One very popular post by Brian Croxall, for example, summarizes how to use Twitter during a conference. Considered as a body of blog posts, ProfHacker could also be considered a fantastic introduction to the digital humanities all on its own, but for our purposes here, use ProfHacker to find efficiency tools that will work for you.

Popular tools include bibliographic services like EndNote, Zotero, and Evernote, the annotation tool Hypothesis, and communication systems that offer certain advantages over LMSs (learning management systems, i.e., Blackboard and Canvas), like Slack (Zach Whalen has written a fantastic blog post about using Slack in the classroom). More advanced users should consult Kieran Healey’s “Choosing Your Workflow Applications,” which combines practical advice and a theoretical framework for selecting a suite of software applications and equipment that work together in efficient ways. Try “The 50 Best Smartphone Apps for Teachers Arranged by Category” from TeachThought if you would like a greater number of options. (You can also find an updated version here.)

Keep in mind, though, that the most useful tools and tricks in LifeHacker, ProfHacker, and other sites refer to programs that boast high-quality instructional guides, user support systems and/or informal peer communities. And only by regularly searching for new efficiency tools can you keep updated about the latest updates or programs. (You can also continue checking technology websites, such as CNET,, and Gizmodo, and PCMag, the latter of which frequently runs “roundups” of the best efficiency tools, such as this one for 2017.) We advise the lifehacks and efficiency tools with a major caveat, however: the rhetoric around lifehacking is often misleadingly utopian. We do not promise that efficiency tools will solve any institutional difficulty or problem with work-life balance, but rather that when used judiciously, they will help you avoid some unnecessary repetition of labor and minimize the chaos of developing new lesson plans, syllabi, and assignments.


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