This summer, a group of faculty at University of Houston achieved Badge 1: Foundations of Digital Humanities (DH) Project Development, a component of the inaugural Micro-credential in the DH program. Led by UH Libraries and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Data Science Institute (HPE DSI), the micro-credential represents the educational element of the joint Digital Humanities Core (DHC) initiative.
The program was designed to address scholarship priorities at UH by researchers, for researchers.
“The DHC is part of the University’s investment in expanded infrastructure for interdisciplinary research – in particular, for research that addresses timely and complex societal problems,” said Taylor Davis-Van Atta, head of Research Services at UH Libraries. “The curriculum incorporates strategies around project planning and development, understanding data collection and management processes, and issues of labor and funding in a methodical way, while taking into consideration the particular context of a researcher, and recognizing there are different timescales, incentive structures, and disciplinary norms in play.”
Tenure-track or promotion-eligible non-tenure track faculty interested in building and securing funding for a public or digital humanities project completed Badge 1 with a plan and proposal in place.
“As researchers, we know our best strength is our relationship to the research we do,” said Linda García Merchant, PhD, public humanities data librarian. “Faculty have amazing ideas for projects—content development is never an issue. What our micro-credential program does for researchers is scaffold the practice of DH into planning and funding the three phases of project development: discovery, prototyping, and production, giving researchers a manageable approach to DH scholarship.”
“This partnership between the Libraries and the HPE Data Science Institute has been very productive and satisfying and also shows the value of having a core facility in DH,” said Claudia Neuhauser, PhD, interim vice chancellor/vice president for research and director of HPE DSI. “The testimonies of the participants of our summer micro-credential program clearly show the value of this structured program to give our researchers the tools to effectively develop and carry out research projects in the DH.”
For Melody Yunzi Li, PhD, assistant professor in Chinese Studies at UH, the program helped to boost her project, which examines anti-Asian racism during the pandemic in 2021 using Storymap as a technological and educational tool. Being a part of the micro-credential cohort inspired Professor Li to think about DH on a new level, through readings, group discussions, and public lectures on relevant topics.
“I am honored to be part of the first cohort,” Li said. “Linda and her team are very knowledgeable in building the DH projects/program and this is a great start to a fantastic institutional program. It’s important to build a DH infrastructure for the school.”
The micro-credential program in DH fills a critical need for incorporating tech into research and teaching, particularly its structure of continued support throughout the journey.
David Mazella, associate professor in the department of English, immediately applied to the program when he learned it was open, inspired by the prospect of direction and support to move his project forward. It’s a study of authors, genres, and events depicted through English-language texts published in three British Atlantic cities, London, Edinburgh, and Philadelphia, within the target year.
“My project has been in progress for several years, and I’ve used successive teams of undergrads and library experts to help build up the datasets and visuals grounding one peer-reviewed article, with others in progress,” Mazella said. “Building datasets and interpreting data generally requires a PI directing a team, often a team of student researchers, as well as specific expertise (e.g., visualizations, data wrangling, website construction) unlikely to be found in a single individual.”
The micro-credential in DH program is essential to bring scalability and efficiency to the pursuit of DH projects such as this, and subsequently, recognition of high-impact work and funding support.
“The micro-credential program is important because UH, like most schools, needs to be able to make DH research and teaching, which is importantly collaborative, multidisciplinary and problem-driven, work at a larger and more sustainable scale,” Mazella noted.
Jo McIntosh, a PhD candidate in literature, lauded the program for its collegial structure. “After days two and three of ideation and data management planning, I had a structure and timeline for my integrated literature and DH dissertation, including with whom to meet and what to ask for and share in those meetings,” she said. “That crystallized over the following two days, and in Week 2, I felt both a sense of confidence about the meaningfulness of my dissertation project and confidence that I can apply for external funding.”
McIntosh, whose project involves the first digital-born critical edition of the first known text of its kind written and published by a woman in English, Mary Wroth’s The First Part of the Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, was pleasantly surprised by the wealth of applicable knowledge and continued access to DH guidance she received from Badge 1. “Grants were a magical unknown that I thought I might get a chance to learn about—someday,” she shared. “However, the access to software, grant application learning and support plus the follow-up appointments with Dr. García Merchant are elements of choosing UH to do my doctoral work that I did not anticipate.”
A pilot plan for customized micro-credential in DH programs for classes of graduate students will begin in fall 2023, and classes of undergraduate students will begin in spring 2024.
“The training will prepare students to assume places within project teams and contribute not only to a particular project but to the broader cohorts of scholars who are emerging from this program at all levels,” said Davis-Van Atta. “The DHC will also be introducing new resourcing and programming targeted at infrastructural and project support over the course of this academic year.”