Scholars Gain Technical Skills and Pass Them on to Hundreds More, Thanks to the Digital Humanities Research Institute

By 2022, over 400 humanities scholars will have benefited from the train-the-trainer model of the Digital Humanities Research Institute. Lisa Rhody, who leads the DHRI, is shown conducting a workshop at a past institute.

By Lida Tunesi

Before coming to the first Digital Humanities Research Institute, DHRI for short, at the Graduate Center in the summer of 2018, Binghamton University Art History Professor Nancy Um had wanted to make the same thing happen at her own school: Create a space where humanities scholars could learn foundational technical skills and knowledge.

“We had been offering a workshop here, a workshop there, but we never got any traction,” Um said in a video interview taped one year after she attended the institute. Her campus colleagues, she added, had shown “flickers of interest that we couldn’t move forward on.”

The Digital Humanities Research Institute gave Um the skills and opportunity she and Binghamton Digital Scholarship Librarian Amy Gay needed to build momentum. After attending the institute in 2018, Um and Gay led a similar, four-day program back at Binghamton.

“When I saw the opportunity to do this, I just knew it was something I had to go for,” Um said. “And it has been amazing.”

The 2021 Digital Humanities Research Institute, led by Lisa Rhody, deputy director of GC Digital Initiatives and director of digital fellowship programs, will go virtual, with a new group of scholars attending online from July 6 to 15. As with the first attendees, this year’s participants, many of whom come from schools that serve large numbers of minority and underrepresented students, will then go on to host similar institutes at their home campuses, and afterwards report back to the DHRI to share their experiences.

Via seminars, skills workshops, and project development labs, DHRI aims to give humanities researchers a strong base in digital and technical skills. This new expertise serves projects such as analyzing texts computationally, digitizing collections from museum storage archives, and visualizing historic land and demographic changes with maps. In addition, the DHRI takes a train-the-trainer approach, enabling participants to host their own programs and pass on the knowledge they’ve gained.

“We’re seeing an increasing demand on faculty, staff, and students to expand their range of research methods to account for increasing quantities of data and publication venues to reach wider audiences,” Rhody said. “The DHRI gives researchers the tools to meet that demand.

Before creating the DHRI, Rhody and Professor Matthew Gold, director of the M.A. Program in Digital Humanities and the M.S. Program in Data Analysis and Visualization, ran a series of week-long digital research programs open to CUNY students, faculty, and staff in 2016 and 2017, supported by a CUNY-wide Strategic Investment Initiative grant. A $250,000 Institutes in Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities award from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) allowed Rhody to expand the institute and open it up to people from across the country, hosting the first DHRI in 2018 and supporting those who went on to host their own institutes.

After the success of the first round, GC Digital Initiatives again received $250,000 from the NEH to run the DHRI a second time. The pandemic pushed plans back by a year, but GC Digital Initiatives received $162,000 via supplemental CARES Act funding to make the transition to a virtual DHRI for 2021 and to make the curriculum, with tutorials, reading materials, and more, freely available online.

Thanks to the train-the-trainer model, the DHRI has spun a network of teaching and learning that reaches more people than the CUNY institute could alone. By 2022, more than 400 researchers around the U.S. will have benefitted from the DHRI through local versions of professional development workshops 

“The DHRI shows how the Graduate Center's Digital Initiatives have become a national and even international model for digital scholarship,” Gold said, “thanks to the strong support of the institution and the amazing work of our graduate students, faculty, and staff.”

Attendees learn skills such as navigating their computer and manipulating files through the command line, rather than a “point-and-click” workflow, and how to collaborate on projects using git software and the GitHub website. Participants also learn the basics of programming with Python, and how to create maps with geographic information systems, or GIS, software. Other seminars teach participants how to plan and host their own digital humanities institutes. The foundational skills learned at the DHRI set researchers up for continued digital learning throughout their careers.

“I believe that we have the opportunity to expand access to necessary professional development training more rapidly and equitably,” Rhody said, “by reaching humanities scholars in their own communities and in ways that best reflect their local values and interests. Scholarship in the interest of the common good — a Graduate Center value — is at the heart of what DHRI is designed for.”

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing.

Submitted on: JUL 6, 2021

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