Skills Session: HASTAC + PhD Lab

Thursday, October 25, 2012 - 3:00pm to 4:01pm

Hi Digital Scholars:

What: First Skills Session: HASTAC, Twitter, Google Drive (followed by enganging discussion; ideas of how to deploy these ditigal tool effectively!) Plus - discussion about future workshops.

When: Thursday, October 25, 2012, 3:00 - 4:00 pm

Where: Smith Warehouse Bay 4, Room 107

Do: Fill out this google form (both tabs: "Contact/Info" and "Skills")


Looking forward to the event:




I probably won't be able to make this meeting, as I'm in DC for most of the semester. So I wanted to leave a few thoughts here:

  • I'm willing to share what I know of the skills I've listed on the doc in/at future workshops, if workshops are short.
  • We need a badge system for the lab! It'd be nice to document what we learn from and teach each other in a more official way.
  • Relatedly, I'd be interested in, at some point, discussing more generally what labor and "learning digital skills" means as a graduate student. The time I've spent learning and teaching skills with others at Duke has been mostly undocumented and entirely uncompensated, and (sadly) it generally doesn't count for much when it comes to my professional profile. I enjoy the goodwill and camaraderie it fosters, and I like collaborating with people, so I've learned to "spin" those experiences in a way that will count for people who otherwise don't value these experiences. However, I'm not sure such a model is sustainable within our current structure of graduate education, especially in my discipline (English). Each extra experience is time spent away from the things I'm actually being evaluated on within my department. Added to this already unstable concoction is the fact that grad labor is cheap, readily available and all-too-easily exploited under the guise of "opportunity." I feel lucky to be at Duke, where my workload allows me to participate in plenty of (strictly speaking) extracurricular communities, which have truly and amazingly been transformative to my thinking; my colleagues at other institutions aren't so lucky. 

I know that's a lot -- but it's been on my mind lately, and I'd welcome the opportunity to discuss these ideas with others.


Whitney, I am also really interested in having a discussion about what labor and learning digital skills means as graduate students. And this doesn't even have to be limited to learning digital skills. Doesn't so much of what we learn and teach each other take place outside of the classroom or any system of evaluation? Although I am wondering if the framework of "digital knowledge" would allow us to develop different insights on this question. I'm especially interested in continuing this discussion in light of the e-rubric workshop, but instead of talking about evaluation of our students we would think of the consequences of evaluation for our own work. 

Anyway, sorry for the half-coherent late night response. I just wanted to show enthusiasm for your post before I had time to follow it up with something more thought out!


Raul posted information on a new book "Digital Labor." Haven't had a chance to look at it yet but it might come in to play here. 



I'm very much in favor of Whitney's suggestion of badges, both from the practical side of feeling like we've accomplished something and from professional side of showing others we’ve accomplished something. My only problem is having no idea how to implement such a system. Anyone know of (trusted) resources out there? Isn't FHI working on a badge system? 


Whitney, this is an absolutely essential question for graduate students.  So much of what grad students do is beyond the standard measurement and assessment mechanisms for success in a graduate program.  But if you look back at the debates of the last 40-50 years about how to evaluate "human capital" or "social capiltal," which became essential economic categories after WWII, you quickly see that measuring such things is devilshly difficult--and economists often make unwarrented assumptions about the "value" generated by human or social capital.  The intensely personal effects on grad students of the unspoken and poorly assessed parts of their training are part of a broader ongoing problematic analysis of the meaning and worth of human and social capital.  In a "knowledge" society, it's not just the number of machines you have, it's the synergy of the minds you create.  Can you measure that by the number of years of schooling in the labor force, or the highest degrees earned?  Crude measures, indeed... So, how do you measure the worth of the kinds of digital scholarship and skills grad students are developing?  Just want to situate the question in a broader context.

I'd also put in a plug for broadening the perspective in a more immediate way:  faculty members in universities face related dilemmas.  A humanist in an Arts and Sciences faculty is generally going to be largely on her/his own for the adventure into digital scholarship and pedagogy, as Petra Dierkes-Thrun amply demonstrated in yesterday's workshop on her M(Miniscule)OOC.  Who knows when or whether she will get any institutional recognition for her efforts, which means that she went into this domain largely out of her own intellectual curiosity and dedication to the public dimension of her research and teaching.  And I'd add to this discussion the pointed and rich comments Mark Anthony Neal made during the library's social media workshop this week:  the university as an institution really does not yet know how to value the public scholarship dimensions of faculty members' work--and digital scholarship and teaching is certainly closely related to the question of public outreach, I htink.  This is no discernible formal way this is assessed in promotion decisions at present.  Although I believe the momentum is building.







What a great, thoughtful thread!   Let me know if you would like any of our Digital Media and Learning team to come talk to the PhD Lab about badges and alternative assessment systems.   In the meantime, here's some resource material:


Whitney, one thing I've been thinking about is, what if coding was made to count for the language requirement? Obviously, that would meet with a lot of resistance, but a petition, whether it was successful or not, would at least put digital humanities on the radar as a research and teaching skill as legitimate and valuable as reading knowledge in a foreign language - if not, in some cases, more so. It would start a conversation that wasn't just limited to people who actually work in the digital humanities. 


Actually, as long ago as the 1980s, universities began accepting a computer language as a "foreign language" from non-computational students.  I'm not sure if that is still done anywhere, but it was a thing, back in the day. 


So was the idea, pioneered I believe by Rutgers, that some PhD's would be teaching PhD's and, instead of a dissertation, you would write a three-part project:  (1) an original contribution to scholarship, the length of a serious, major, publishable journal article;  (2) a pedagogical article, arguing with a literature review and all, for a certain pedagogical position, also the length of an article and with the intention of publishing it; and (3) some kind of hybrid--such as an article about teaching the scholarship.   I could imagine that would be a model for digital humanities PhD's today, although I'm not sure if that alternative form exists anywhere any more. 


While there is no official momentum towards adding coding languages as an acceptable foreign language requirement at my department, there are a few people who are beginning to talk about it. I'm curious how one would be constructed to match the format and scope of the existing language requirements. Would it be just one coding language, or would it be several? Would it be a well-established coding language or one that is less tested? And how would students then learn the language requirements? Would a class be constructed specifically for humanities students learning code for DH-related work (a tough sell, as there probably would be only one or two students per term who might take it), or would it be either a mentor or self-taught model concluding with some kind of proficiency exam? If the requirement is designed to provide students with more skillsets and tools to do work that they would already be doing, coding fits the criterion well. At the same time, I anticipate that many would argue that coding languages are too ephemeral to stake one's requirement on, and that they would be "picked up" regardless in the process of doing digital work (while one might never otherwise learn to read French, for example).


When I first read Whitney's message, I felt both hopeful and a little overwhelmed. I was hopeful that a graduate student in the humanities could spend time (albeit extracurricular time) learning technology. I was overwhelmed at the thought that the work goes uncompensated. As a person who is new to the digital humanities and pretty much to all social media (minus facebook), I feel like the learning curve is a such a steep slope. Perhaps, I have brought this upon myself. While my college classmates were keeping up with all things digital, I was wondering around Latin America learning Spanish and grappling with Santo Domingo's frequent apagones (black outs). Now, I'm wondering what it means to adventure into the world of digital humanities at this point in my graduate career (third year); the self-questioning I undergo seems oddly familiar and I realize I felt the same way when beginning my studies of French and Portuguese. The main question: will the benefits outway the costs?

Thank you David for your insights and Clare for bringing up coding as language. While I agree that assessment is important, as Cathy says, it is not entirely clear how knowing technologies will benefit graduate students in the future. This is what makes the opportunities we have at Duke so exciting. Since the space of the university is changing, we will just have to see where we all fit in. One thing is certain, however, and that is that learning a new language--be it French, Portuguese, or coding--can only help...So, we need to talk about assessment. It would also be great to talk about which skills are most useful to learn. I know the later point will depend on one's discipline of study, but it would be helpful to have a forum on which tools seasoned Digital Humanists have found most useful.


At unc, coding can count as a required language.however that makes stuents choose betweenlearning spoken languages and ee reallywant to create a generation of technoliterate monolinguals who are studying, of all things, literature, much of which is informed by prcedents from more than one language? Should coding languages not be additions to the curriculum texture than replacements for part of it?


I have followed the tread dealing with skills and digital learning with a rather skeptical position due in part to the amount of years I have spent dealing with the digital, but also from my experience with the analogue world and the interconnections I have made between the digital and the analogue .

Perhaps, it is important to highlight the interlinked relationship between humanities and the digital in order to point out the importance of the body, subjectivity and knowledge process that come out of learning “coding” as a language and the importance of knowing the back side of these technologies in order to advance the humanities and have a conscious use of digital technologies.

I am not sure if many of us are able to look critically to the many ways in which knowledge of “humanity” are connected to the so called “modern languages,” to linear chronology, Euclidian geometry, to Cartesian rationality, the ideology of the visual as a dominant model of representation erupting with the printing industry in the 1600’s and mathematical model of thoughts, and to systems of non-humanity such as slavery.

For some reasons, there a few (maybe too many) people who continue arguing about the digital as a “modern” and “contemporary” process obscuring not only cosmic, chaos and entropy as processual no linear cartographies, but also historical facts such as that computational systems are as old as the Black Egypt and that computers were invented in Germany of the 1600’s.  What could the digital humanities do without an understanding of Borges’s Hypertextuality?

Many of the pioneers net artists of the 90’s (the time of the information highway and the expansion of Silicon Valley) are discussing the possibilities of a post-technological future; are reluctant to spend their quality times in facebook, twitter or electronic lists; and are finding ways to create hybrid analogue-digital local network structure that are not visible to the colonial matrix of the Internet. Nevertheless, there is an increasing fascination with the marketing of digital technologies by multinationals at the expenses of the public ignorance of the coding, of information architecture, of the control of the social medias by a state system of surveillance, of the neo digital slavery and of the fact that these digital technologies are connected to the complex multinational imperial system of mining, social exploitation and environmental destruction in the so called “global south.”

I am a fervor defender of code as a language because learning how it operates changes the basic structures of the so called “modern languages,” of linear chronology, of Euclidian geometry, of Cartesian rationality, and of the ideology of the visual as a dominant model of representation. When a person is taught how to map interactivity, that learning process promotes a sense of hypertextuality that is related not only to digital technologies, but also to geometries that are closer to the sensorial system and to cosmic understanding of space, temporality, movement, speed  (chaos, entropy, fractals). Even the basic understanding of the 256 hexadecimal colors creates a rupture with the way in which we imagine the ideology of the visual, proving that there are other ways of visual representation that are deeper that the mark on the surface and the ideal of perception as an object oriented process.

I do believe that today’s generation of digital humanity scholars deserves a historical understanding, as well as the understanding of the process materialistic construction that goes behind the production of digital text such as information architecture, coding and hipertextuality. After all, we are living in the times of rupture, of breaking and delinking from old paradigms and of interconnecting knowledge across disciplines.


I reread this just now and am really blown away by the eloquence of this comment.  I agree entirely that code is a language that helps one understand structuring principles.  My code is decades old but my former obsession with Artificial Intelligence and my (always poor) Fortran undergirds much of the way I see the world to this day, almost as living immersed in another culture changes one's view of one's own culture and all others.   Thanks for writing this.  


I wish I could come to this, too, but I'll be out of town at a conference. I'm interested in future sessions, though! I've been trying to learn JavaScript and keep on getting massively stuck, so I could use some help, if anyone else is interested in that. Also, this is a great post - I hope we are able to talk as a group about some of the issues Whitney and others have raised here (some of these came up during the panel last week on navigating digital media as academics, but I'd be interested in seeing where this conversation continues to go).


Participate virtually! Join us before, during, or after the event via the open document posted below.

Here is our Twitter 101 agenda for Thursday's PhD Lab Skills session. Please feel free to add to the agenda and resources.