Digital humanities minor enables students to explore life’s questions through technology

May 29, 2019


Digital Innovation Lab

When Tyler Caruso ’20 was considering which minors might pair well with a marketing major, he never thought a bloodsucking vampire would influence his decision.   

Caruso took a Learning Community course called Signals and Noise in 2018. The class combined information theory and literary analysis to explore moral, ethical and philosophical questions.   

“We used a computer program to analyze dialogue in Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” Caruso said. “We realized the female lead only speaks for 10 percent of the book. It made me question a lot about gender balance.”  

This experience helped Caruso, who hopes to work for Google someday, see the benefits of minoring in something that would teach him useful computer skills, while also allowing him to examine social issues. He declared a minor in digital humanities shortly after taking the course. 

Students in this multidisciplinary program take six digital-intensive courses that revolve around project-based experiences intended to bring humanistic concerns into non-humanities spaces.

“Students acquire competence in data mining, data analysis and visualization, basic programming, and web design,” said Professor Jared Green, director of the Digital Humanities program. “On the humanities side, they develop persuasive writing and critical thinking skills while broadening their cultural awareness and reach.”

Green believes the study of data and the humanities pair well and together allow students to sharpen their lateral thinking and creative problem-solving.

“Data is only useful when it’s interpreted,” he said. “It’s always been the work of the humanities to develop structures for pattern-recognition, analysis and interpretation. The questions the humanities have formulated for millennia—questions of meaning, value, ethics, morality, truth and freedom—are as essential for approaching what we might make of any data set as they are for Plato’s dialogues, Shakespeare’s sonnets or John Cage’s music.”

The minor runs in partnership with the MacPháidín Library’s Digital Innovation Lab. Professor Scott Cohen, director of the lab, uses the space to pilot emerging technologies that enhance learning. The lab includes a podcast studio, a virtual reality room and computer workstations.

“Technology has invigorated my teaching because it forced me to think about what I’m doing all over again,” Cohen said.

MacPháidín Library Director Cheryl McGrath serves as the lab’s Library Consultant.

“The lessons learned in lab are invaluable,” she said. “When creating a podcast, for instance, students develop skills that are transferable across various careers. Whether it’s editing, teamwork, or addressing clients, students become well-prepared for post-graduate life.”

Psychology major Rowan Pereira ’19 parlayed the skills she acquired in her Digital Humanities courses into an internship with The Kit Marlowe Project. This digital exhibit serves as an open-source collection of Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe’s works.

“I transcribed and encoded Marlowe’s works for this database,” Pereira said. “I’ve gained an appreciation for the time that goes into encoding even one webpage.”

Breaking New Ground

The introduction of the digital humanities minor is just one way Stonehill is using technology to explore topics within the humanities. The College’s new music technology minor enables students to create music by recording instruments, mixing multitrack recordings and making music videos.

James Bohn, a music professor who directs the program, said students of all experience levels learn to adapt to a shifting music industry dominated by technology.

“The minor is approachable to people who love music but don’t have a traditional music background. Music should be for everyone. Students with nontraditional backgrounds often develop the best projects with our technology.”

Green said he is pleased by Stonehill’s willingness to break new ground with these minors.

“There is a sense of discovery that makes this exciting,” he said. “I’ve appreciated the chance to be in the classroom with students from diverse majors that are different from those that typically gravitate toward my more traditional literature courses.”