‘Digital Commons’ becomes meeting place for ‘new’ Humanities

Relevance. It’s a word that takes on new meaning daily, or even quicker in the digital age. So what does it mean for the Humanities — a study that evokes traditional images of students studying the Classics, delving into prose and patterns, with deep and meaningful discourse between students and faculty? What does it mean for multi-tasking college students who have shorter attention spans and higher expectations for graphic stimulation?

Assistant Professor Chuck Rybak and his colleagues in Humanistic Studies see relevance not as an ending to the traditional Humanities but as a greater opportunity for sharing the Humanities — ancient and modern languages, literature and philosophy and religion, history and the visual and performing arts — than ever before.

Rybak and a number of his students and colleagues interested in furthering the “public humanities” are also delving into the “digital humanities.”

Just in its introductory stages, Rybak has created an online “Digital Commons” where his students can explore the humanities without the barriers of classroom and library walls and receive unlimited feedback on their projects, research and ideas from a public, instead of within the confines of a small group discussion or faculty feedback.
Check out the commons, and some of the projects of both Rybak’s students and colleagues. Look for the “projects” link.

“Unlike a website, this ‘commons’ is meant to be more participatory with chronicled twitter discussions, blogs that provide for public feedback, and examples of technology that allow us in the Humanities to analyze and disseminate like never before,” Rybak says. “Just the digitizing and archiving of books allows us to create tools (software) that can help us interpret classical research in entirely new ways. There is the statistical element — we can analyze text in ways with algorithms. I can search hundreds of years of digitized texts for themes. In the English canon we used to have to rely on the ‘great works,’ but the digitized Humanities allows us to bring back those works that were forgotten, or that we now have more time for.”

In independent study projects, students work with Rybak to explore the Humanities and share them in the digital environment. Students might use Google maps, or digital timelines, for instance, to create more dynamic reports or visual highlights. Students can use hypertext or word clouds to visually convey meaning.

“We take these important skills and digitally, we can provide a forum that extends the study, and the conversation, and the projects beyond the walls of a classroom. The opposite would be something referred to as the ‘cul-de-sac pedagogy’ where students walk in, hand in their papers, and leave,” Rybak said.

Rybak envisions a time when UW-Green Bay students will actually create the software or the tools that help support the future of Humanities. As is, the project has provided deep interdisciplinary opportunities for he and his students.

“Because of this project, I have collaborated with faculty in computer science and graphic arts… colleagues I may have never met. These projects showcase interdisciplinarity at its core and the outcomes that naturally come with it — critical thinking, rhetorical skills, argumentative skills, etc.”

To understand more about the Digital Commons, check out the blog page and two projects: Google mapping of the House of Leaves and the timeline for In the Lake of the Woods.

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