Session 599 ~ The Praxis Network: Rethinking Humanities Education, Together and in Public

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This review is from the 2014 MLA convention. The full convention program can be viewed here.
Review by Victor Jesus Del Hierro @VictorJDH
Presiding
Katrina Rogers, MLA
Panelists
David F. Bell, Duke University
Matthew K. Gold, New York City College Of Technology City University of New York
Kevin Kee, Brock University
Cecilia Marquez, University of Virginia
Kelli Massa, Univeristy College, London
William Albert Pannapacker, Hope College
Donnie Sackey, Wayne State University

For description of programs and overall project, visit praxis-network.org

Session Description (from Program):
How can humanities programs better equip students for a wide range of careers, while also fostering methodological expertise and public engagement? This roundtable will discuss a few possible approaches as seen in the Praxis Network, a new international alliance of graduate and undergraduate programs that are making effective interventions in traditional models of humanities pedagogy and research.

Transcripts of all the speaker’s remarks are available here.

The prepared remarks by each panelist were introductions to various programs affiliated with the Praxis Network at each institution respectfully. For detailed notes on each program I recommend visiting the transcripts at the site mentioned above or visiting the praxis-network.org.

The common goal amongst the programs was to provide a space for graduate students to practice and produce in digital spaces. We heard about the importance of placing interdisciplinary scholars in the same room, the issues with promoting Digital work amongst students, and ultimately a game of rhetoric when marketing Digital scholarship to everyone. Every one of these programs and institution represented deserve our attention and love. At CUNY the Digital Fellows work as a DH “Geek Squad,” spreading the word and helping folks with digital projects, Brock University has fully embraced and has become a leading program in Game Studies, UVA’s inaugural class produced the Prism tool, and London College provides a direct line into industry with various internships. What was most interesting about the panel, however was the Q&A that ensued.

The major questions from this discussion asked:
– How do we get more undergraduates involved?
– How do we get more Graduate students involved?
– It’s fine that students have all these great resources for getting involved in DH, but What about Faculty? How do faculty get more resources to get involved?

While not every panelist had the opportunity to answer the question, when the questions above were asked the standard answer from some panelists were to give a “boot straps” effort. I find it important to point this out because of my experience attending DH conferences and constantly being frustrated with white males not being conscious of their privilege. Especially when we considered Victor Villanueva and the myth of bootstraps, to be told multiple times in a single panel to pull up my boot straps and get to work can be frustrating and insulting. The oversight in this advice is that all of the institutions in the Praxis Network had programs committed to Digital scholarship, meaning, the boots were provided.

However not everyone on the panel was limited to bootstraps. Katina Rogers shouted out the Digital Humanities Summer Institute as a good opportunity to get trained and introduced to DH. DHSI is one solution, other panelist pointed to actual accessibility issues that if addressed, could easily attract more folks to DH. Cecilia Marquez brought up the issue of DH pushing out people of color. Donnie Sackey pushed for projects to work more closely with communities outside the university in more collaborative ways, warning of the possible colonial nature of DH projects. Sackey’s warning is an important one to consider given that because DH is in the domain of the Academy, their efforts can often be unconscious of the actual users or communities to benefit from projects. Furthermore, these projects could take data from communities and receive acclaim for their perceived work without ever actually impacting a community.

Based on the conversation from this panel and other discussions I have heard with DHers being frustrated with lack of participation I can say, Digital Humanities may not be attracting more people because it can be exclusionary in the way it presents itself, not necessarily because people do not want to do the work. These panel provided some ideas for getting involved while helping us think about the implications of the questions presented.

Bio: Victor Del Hierro is a first year PhD Student at Michigan State University in the Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures Department. He is from the Juarez/El Paso borderland and studies Cultural Rhetorics.

About Author(s)

Laura Gonzales is an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Writing Studies at the University of Texas, El Paso. Her research focuses on highlighting the benefits of linguistic diversity in professional and academic spaces.

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