Oh the places they’ll build!

If you talk to almost any professor at Davidson, we’ll say that our students are the best part about working here. I’ve got to agree (though I’ve got some pretty inspiring colleagues, too). And while lots of folks like to bemoan the decline of Generation X, Y, or Z in the age of smart phones and social media, I’ve seen them do some remarkable work with their new-fangled gadgets.

Excerpt from Dr. Seuss cartoon of hills, a castle and arch, and balloons floating into skyOn or about December 2013, Davidson College unfolded “Davidson Domains,” an initiative that “allows students, faculty, and staff to register their own domain name and associate it with a hosted web space, free of charge while at Davidson College. With their Domain and corresponding web space, users… have the opportunity and flexibility to design and create a meaningful and vibrant digital presence.” The website you’re reading now is hosted on Davidson Domains.

 

To encourage students to build in their domains, I’ve begun to assign more digital projects, with groundbreaking results. Because one good project inspires another, I’ve finally created a page with links to a sampling of their work.  This post is really just a way to announce that I’ve added this page to my website (which, next to my students’ projects, is looking sadly in need of a major reno. I wonder if Property Brothers do digital.)

I hope you—and future students—will have fun exploring these projects. The quality, difficulty, and sophistication vary, and you can’t always tell just by looking which projects required the most ingenuity and effort. But sometimes a project’s limitations can be more instructive than its smooth operations. This is a principle embraced in Digital Humanities (DH): failures and mistakes are opportunities to learn. In fact, if you haven’t failed at something, you probably weren’t taking big enough intellectual or creative risks.

The other thing you can’t always detect when you look at these projects is the collaborative effort that went into them. Creating digital scholarship almost certainly requires collaborating with others who have the expertise you need to realize your vision. And collaborating with others means practicing good, clear communications and negotiating the inevitable conflicts, hiccups, and frustrations. Successful digital projects require good project management and effective teamwork—skills that aren’t always developed in the individualistic, competitive framework of academia. My students haven’t just learned to make cool stuff online, they’ve learned to make cool stuff together.

home page of Index of Modernist magazines, with header menu and image of a manual typewriter.So I feel the love for all these projects—warts, glitches, broken links & all (okay, some of the obvious typos bug me). Of course I’ve got a few that are especially close to my heart. Since 1991, dozens of students have contributed to the ongoing construction of the Index of Modernist Magazines, with several major overhauls along the way. The most recent incarnation, which is something like the Index 5.2, was designed by Peter Bowman and Sabrina Shepherd, who picked and customized the theme. You may think it’s a significant achievement because it looks so good, but just as astonishing is the fact that I, who might be a bit of a control freak, let students take the wheel. That’s another principle of DH: let go of the controls. Because as I’ve learned (the hard way), things will quickly spin out of control, and you won’t even know why.

My mantra has become: In DH, there is no expertise, only courage and resilience. Oh, and a lot of Googling around to see if someone out there in the interwebs can answer your question.

Black & White photograph of a farmer behind a plow and horse. A black hole has been punched through the photo blocking out the top of the horse's head.There are lots of other projects I love—Ela Hefler’s photo essay on Killed Negatives slays me; the photographs themselves are haunting and her insights illuminating. Leah Mell’s digital remediation of Mina Loy’s Songs to Joannes tries to realize Loy’s vision for her long poem. Casey Margerum brings her musical ear to her project, Sight and Sound, making audible the importance of dialect in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, while Sarah Gompper and Maura Tangum devote their artistry to Reviving Frances Simpson Stevens.  

Charlie Goldberg and Erin Golden apply their interdisciplinary intelligence to George Schuyler’s 1931 satire Black No More in Schuyler’s Economic Allegoryexploring the economic validity of the narrative and its relevance todayI have even less acumen for battle histories than I do for economic models, but Henry Meza Flores, Cole Moore, Jeffrey Peng, and Lucas Tanaka’s StoryMap of “First Sino-Japanese War” rivets my attention, pairing a detailed narrative with ukeyo-e prints depicting each battle scene in horrific splendor.

Meredith Foulke and Ellie Rifkin’s ingenious project, Sleeping with the Dictionary, may not look as slick as some of the others, until you realize that these are English majors who know how to code and built their site from HTML scratch, developing an interactive poem generator that I can now use whenever I want to teach Harryette Mullen. The best part: I don’t have to know how to code to use it!

But truly, I love them all, and as soon as I start to list my fondest, I just want to add more and more. So check out my new webpage of student work and see which ones you like the best.

 

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